I miss TaTa
The old house sat at the end of Marshall Street where the great gully slashed its way
across the landscape and deep in its depths the pawpaw patch grew. Sometimes TaTa
would go down into the gully until only the very top of his head would show and he'd
bring up the great green and yellow pawpaws. We'd go sit by the barrels that were stuck
in the ground where the fish lived or over under the tree that had the skin you could pull
off in long strips. He would cut them open with his big knife and we would sit with our
backs to the tree and eat pawpaws. They were soft like a banana and kinda tasted like
them but fruitier and juicier. They had two rows of big seeds that he would save and set
on the side so we could take them back after we finished. We would toss them into the
gully to thank the pawpaw patch for giving us good things to eat. But I could never go
down in the gully because I was too little and might get caught in the pawpaw patch and
cause snakes lived down there but they knew TaTa and so they let him come down for
the fruit and even showed him where the best trees were in the patch.
The little ponds for the fish were really old barrels TaTa said. He sawed them in half and dug the holes himself to make fish ponds for Miss Grace. I could go watch the fish but only if he was there cause I might fall in and then I would be the fish food.
“I’m too big for fish to eat”, I said laughing, “I am this many years old!” as I held up my pudgy hand.
The ponds had big leaves that floated on the top. Sometimes they had white flowers that smelled so good and they had a ball like thing under them. You could lie down on the edge and if you could stay real quiet the fish, all gold and silver and red and white would swim past beneath you. If you looked just right you could see the clouds in the sky and the tops of the cedar trees swaying in the breeze. Sometimes little frogs came to the pond and sometimes lizards with bright blue tails or green ones that could blow their throat up. It was bright red and they bobbed their heads up and down in a special way then blow their necks out like a big red balloon.
After we finished eating the pawpaws he would have to go back to work. I would get my horse Blackie and ride along with him. Blackie was a fiery steed and the fastest horse we had but sometimes he would gallop into the garden. Then TaTa would yell at me to “Rein that horse in or I’ll feed him to the fish!”
Sometimes my mommy would call from the back porch “Taylor, you got Jay down there?”
“Yes Miss Kitty”, he would call back, “he’s hard awork, helping jess fine.”
Sometimes Blackie got tired and needed a nap. I would take him over under the trees and we would lie down and I stayed with him so he didn’t get scared. We would look up at the clouds while TaTa sang as he hoed between the rows of tomatoes and beans and corn and squash and melons and cucumbers and lettuce and fat onions and skinny onions and long carrots and short fat carrots that were as sweet as sugar when you pulled them out of the ground. TaTa made me wash them in the fish pond before I could eat them. I’d lie there with Blackie while the sheep chased each other across the blue fields and then suddenly it would be later and TaTa would be calling me.
“Wake up Blackie”, he would call. “You two come help carry this up to the house.”
I’d get up but often Blackie would still be asleep so I would go help carry stuff up to mom. Then I would have to run back to wake Blackie up and ride him to the stable that was behind the door on the big back porch and where he stayed. He ran wild one day in the house and knocked things over and so he wasn’t allowed to come in the house except when it was raining and even then he had to stay in my bedroom.
Mom would fix us a salad for supper or cook some squash, all yellow with big slices of onion. Or sometimes my favorite, tomato sandwiches with lots of mayo on big slices of bread just out of the oven. We had lots of macaroni and cheese and sometimes we would have egg salad with crackers. Sometimes we would have ham but mostly we had veggies and pawpaws and lots of blackberries and redberries that TaTa and I had founded on the edge of the gully where the briar patch covered the grass. We would have sliced egg sandwiches and more macaroni and cheese. When it was cold we would have soup. Mom and Nixie would put some of the veggies in jars and put them down in the basement where they sat on shelves that were so high up I had to climb to see where mom put them. After we ate watermelon Nixie would make watermelon rind pickles that were pink and white and green and soft and sweet and they were really good when we did get some ham. Mom and Nixie made other pickles too. Some were round and some were long. Some were sweet and had little onion slices in them. The onions didn’t taste at all like the little onions I would help TaTa pull out of the ground, the little ones with the long green handles. Mommy would put the long green kind in the green dish and you ate the white end first and then all the green and you could nibble the green part like you were a rabbit and wiggle your nose even at the table.
After dark when it was hot mommy and Nixie and me would all go out on the front porch. Mommy would sit in the swing while Nixie sat in the green rocker with the high back that makes a squeak when it rocked back and forth. I would get to run around the front yard and catch fireflies and when I caught one I would bring it up the steps and let Nixie and mom peek in my hand and watch it blink its light on and off. I would sit on the top step and watch it for awhile until I’d open up my hands and hold them up and it would fly away to dance with the other lights.
When I got tired I would walk up the steps and mommy would let me sit with her on the swing and put my head in her lap. She would sing to me until I went to sleep and soon it would be morning and I would be in my bed. The sun would be shining through the curtains that danced in the morning breeze and the smell from the jasmine and honeysuckle filled the room. I’d put my clothes on and go downstairs for breakfast.
Breakfast would be Shredded Wheat or Rice Krispies but sometimes Raisin Bran or melon or the big green grapes with red spots on them that grew way down at the end of the backyard past the fish ponds and garden near the big woods that you never go in. Or my favorite which was toast with butter and ciminun sugar on it.
Sometimes Mary would come to help in the kitchen, ‘specially when they were gonna make jelly. She would let me sit in the kitchen when she made jelly and help smush the grapes sometimes in a big bowl. I would help stir them in a really big bowl that was white on the inside and red on the outside and that had holes in it. All the juice came out and all the skins and the seeds would be left in the bowl. Then she would call TaTa and he would go with me to take the bowl down to the grape vines where we would leave the seeds and skins to thank the grape vines for giving us so many grapes that year and so there would be lots of grapes the next year.
Sometimes TaTa would bring a whole basket of apples and Mary would cut them up and give me slices of them. Then would cook them in a big pot but I couldn’t stir ‘cause it was hot. And sometimes I wanted Mary to take me out and push me in the swing and she’d say, “Can’t do that right now chile I got a bone in my foot” and I would be sad cause Mary had a bone in her foot. And she told me she had garments and ancestors too.
Mary would sing in the kitchen and I could hear TaTa singing in the backyard and she would sing a line way up high and he would sing a line way down low and it was like they was talking to each other right there at the table.
Soon it was winter again and I had to wear a big heavy coat to go outside. It was kinda green and scratchy. Mommy said it was pretty and she had made it for me and it had buttons that she would help me with and mom got a letter from my dad and he wrote me too.
Cold meant lots of soup. Mom would say, “Taylor, can you and Jay go down in the basement and get me some onions, a couple jars of tomatoes and green beans, a few potatoes and carrots?”
“Yes mam”, he’d say and down the steps we would go.
“Hold tight to the rail”, he’d say. I would reach up high and hold tight as I put my right foot down on the next step then bring the left foot down. At the bottom he would lift me up to pull onions from the string as he cut them free with his pocketknife. I loved watching him make those long strings of onions. After we pulled them from the ground he would cut off part of the top but leave a length then he’d twist another stem together and another and another until there was a long string of onions that he would hang from the ceiling in the basement.
I’d hold the onions while he got down the jars. I couldn’t hold the jars cause they were glass and glass breaks if you drop it. Then it is a big mess and mommy has to clean it up or Nixie and she doesn’t get up and down as easy as she used to she says. I would go up the steps first with TaTa behind and it was hard cause I couldn’t hold the railing with my arms full of onions but TaTa was behind me so I couldn’t fall. TaTa would always take care of me and if Blackie threw me and I got a scrapped knee he would take his big blue hanky and dip it in the fish pond and wash it off and then he’d tell Blackie what a bad horse he had been and that he was to go slow from then on. Blackie would go slow ‘til he forgot.
Sometimes TaTa would tell me stories ‘bout when he worked for the railroad and about the big engines. He would tell me how some were a two truck and some were a three truck and a 2-8-2 or a 2-6-6-6 and how one time he drove an Allegheny. He could make the sounds that a steam engine made when it was starting up and when it came to a stop. He told me how he been hurt and they was gonna fire him and Mr. John said, “Ain’t no way” and he kept his job. Then he retired and now he gets a check every month and how he missed Mr. John and he knew Miss Grace and Miss Kitty did too.
One day TaTa took me to the garage.
"Gotta get the car ready", he said. "Big day acomin."
He pulled the car out. It was big and black and he said we were gonna wash it. He filled up buckets with water that had bubbles on top and got out two big hankies. He said I could wash the wheels and I did and I could see my face in them. I washed as high as I could reach and he helped me. Then he took a hose and squirted it off and me too and got my hair all wet.
Mommy came to the back door and called, "Jay you leave Taylor alone and come in here and get dressed."
"He's no bother Miss Kitty", TaTa said, "He's helping fine."
"Well, send him in when you finish", mommy said.
We got all dressed up, and mommy and Nixie had on big hats. TaTa opened the car door for Nixie, then the back door for mommy and me, and he drove.
We went to a big place with soldiers all over. We parked and all got out and we went over where a big crowd of people were. It was a parade. All the soldiers were marching and they came and stopped right in front of us.
Mommy was all excited and she knelt down beside me and pointed at the soldiers.
"There's daddy", she said.
All the soldiers started coming towards us, a tall skinny soldier hugged Nixie, and he kissed mommy.
He pulled me over, pulled my hair, and said "Time to get you a haircut son."
Daddies are strange big people.
We all went back to the car where daddy said, "Taylor, you've done a good job."
TaTa said, "Yes sir!" and he saluted my daddy. Then everybody hugged some more and we got in the car and drove home.
The next morning it was cold out, but mommy said I could show daddy all around. I grabbed his hand and led him back to meet my favorite friends, the pansies. Each little smiling face welcomed him. Next we went over to the gully and I told him about the pawpaw patch. We went through the garden and I showed daddy where TaTa and I planted all the things last year and showed him how high they grew. Back in the back, next to the woods you NEVER go in, the grape vines were all brown and the berry bushes just stickers.
Daddy suddenly grabbed my shoulders and turned me around.
"Look," he said, "there at the edge of the woods you NEVER go in. See the rabbit?"
I looked and then it hopped. It was brown and fat and stopped every once in a while and sat real still. "
Sssh," daddy said, "Let's be quiet as a mouse."
That made me laugh, but the rabbit didn't care. He just hopped over to where there was some green grass and ate some. We watched him eat, little nose wiggling just like mine does when I eat the little green onion stems.
"Honey," mommy called, "You and Jay come in here and help get dinner ready."
Daddy and I stood up and the rabbit ran back into the woods you NEVER go in.
At the kitchen table mommy said I could make the marjerum. She brought me a bag with the pinky white marjerum and I held it while she put the color in and then I started to squeeze. I squeezed and squeezed and soon it turned all yellow. Daddy said I did it good.
Daddy said he had been in a war. That is when people fight each other. It was where all my cousins' dads were too. But they didn't see each other. Daddy said he was in Africa and Italy and Greece and Persia and France and brought me a cap that was blue with bright color thread in a zigzag all over it. Daddy said it was a prayer cap and I could wear it when I said my prayers at night.
Daddy took me for walks and he walked funny. "Do you have a bone in your foot too", I asked. "Mary has one."
"Well, not as big as it was", he laughed.
Daddy brought me a patch so mommy could sew it on my jacket. It was green and had a red sword and white star. It was pretty. And he taught me a song.
"When I was in Ahwaz
if I knew
why I was