Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tellin' Mississippi

gigi1
She's 91 years old now, my little Mississippi grandmother.

My mom made the trek a few states over and picked up my grandmother so she could see the twins and me while we spend this week in Oklahoma. The bigger kids got to spend an evening with her before they took off for the lake.

91. Ninety-one. Nine years short of one hundred.

We talked long into the evening last night, her telling stories, catching me up on all the latest news on the extended family and friends from her small town. She told me of the wedding they just had down at the church, the beautiful floral arrangements that adorned the auditorium, the sweet reception held afterward. She told me of the new babies that have been born, the college degrees that have been earned, the events of lives of people familiar to me through their repeated names and vague memories of their faces.

My Southern touchstone.

I never lived in Mississippi. It is where both my parents grew up, where their parents lived, and their parents, generations back. But many a summer, we traveled from where ever we were living at the time back to my parents' homeland, the kudzu-covered pine forests of Mississippi. And every year, the folks at my grandmother's church would admire our scrubbed faces, remark on our growth, tell us how proud our grandmother was of us. And their names and faces became a part of our definition of home. Some of them were directly related to us, some not. Some married distant cousins of mine. All of them became cherished faces, familiar and consistent, as much a part of summer as lightning bugs and ice cold Coca Cola in real glass bottles.

gigi2Many of them are gone now, my grandmother's contemporaries, the people she worshiped with, had coffee with, had potlucks with. Had life with. My grandmother still keeps up with many of their grown children and those children's children. And when I see her, when we get the babies down a little early, when the house grows quiet and she can take the conversational stage, she begins to talk. She weaves a variegated tale of old memories and new narratives. She knits threads of family lines and folklore into a fabric of familiarity. She provides the back story, reminding me of everyone's maiden names and how they are related to so-and-so. She builds character analysis, providing a short biopic of each person's lineage, education, vocation, illnesses, triumphs and difficulties.

She makes a little town situated off the main roads rich with a complex cast and dimensional plot lines. She is part historian, part story teller, part reporter, part writer.

And she is 91.



Little honeyed bits of Mississippi carried in her heart. And shared. Like sweet iced tea and lemon icebox pie.


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