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Sunday Journal: Memories of Big Mommy soothe the soul

I hang the flyswatter next to the orange picker and the cattle prod and step backward over Big Mommy's mud boots, which haven't been muddy for years. I look at this Florida landscape framed by flaky white porch posts. My eyes touch everything: the kumquat tree, modest as ever; the ramshackle shed with rusty, corrugated tin walls flanked by banana trees; the bird feeder where a boy might expect to find at least one frog big enough to keep. Pasture and mossy oaks stretch beyond; rows of orange trees hang with spiderwebs that glint in the morning sun like filaments of light.

A faint rush like wind grows to a hum and then a roar, its sibilance peaking as a car rockets past the house before spiraling into silence once more. All at once I feel removed from this place and time.

The orange grove no longer draws me into its fragrant maze, the pasture no longer beckons me and my walking stick, and sluggish critters no longer beg me to make homes for them in jars with lids punched with holes.

My chest heaves, lungs rising and falling like a bellows coaxing the memories as graying coals grow cold. I sit on the porch swing, which groans under my weight. It never used to do that. It would squeak when Big Mommy hulled peas or shelled pecans but never when I sat there.

A guttural moan bursts through my thoughts. The cows want oranges. I shuffle toward the corral with a wagon full. They gather behind the old fence, bellowing. I grip an orange and push it through the gate to one cow, jerking my hand back at the feel of its abrasive tongue, and wipe the slobber on my jeans.

On my way back to the house, I crouch and shepherd an ant into a small crater in the sand. A doodlebug flicks sand at the ant, trying to hasten its descent into his waiting jaws. A large cactus once grew on this spot, but a hurricane took it. I used to harvest the cactus' long needles and blow them through a straw at giant grasshoppers. A cousin, in a moment of anger, once kicked the cactus. My family still laughs at that.

I step inside Big Mommy's kitchen, passing the candy jar that she always kept full, the countertop where biscuits were once rolled out, the griddle where pancakes puffed up with crispy edges. My lungs heave again.

I crane my neck as I munch on my Cocoa Puffs. Big Mommy's oil paintings adorn the walls on all sides — several clowns smirk down at the dining table, an elderly couple prays over the counter that was once home to an unlimited supply of cakes and cookies, and Jesus totes a lamb behind the old organ that has been verbally bequeathed to several grandchildren and great-grandchildren through the years. I have looked at those paintings while eating corn bread, okra, peas and greens, while pulling taffy, peeling grapefruit, playing cards and listening to stories from my elders before hugging everyone good night.

I see her nodding encouragingly, smiling as she insists I take more biscuits. I can see her stamping around the yard, plucking oranges from the ground with a device that resembled monstrous wooden scissors, her body rocking side to side with each footfall. I can see her curly white hair bent over a pot in the kitchen as she barks instructions to her helpers who are keen on learning her well-honed canning skills. I can see her teardrop-shaped eyes crinkle into a hundred wrinkles as she thanks the Lord for another part of his goodness.

I look around this Arcadia farm, once wild but now whose adventures are tamed. And what is Big Mommy's farm without Big Mommy, but the faded tracing of a discarded sewing pattern. Time erodes the temporal but leaves an indelible imprint of love from Big Mommy's generous heart to my grateful soul.

Jordan Powell is a student at Tallahassee Community College. He enjoyed family visits to his great-grandmother's farm until her death in 2009.

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Sunday Journal: Memories of Big Mommy soothe the soul 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 5:30am]

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