The sounds and melodies of spring were in the air and I believe that the most alluring music played in the most famous concert halls in the world could not be more beautiful and hypnotic.
I was lounging in one of the old adirondack chairs on our wrap-around-front porch while enjoying a cup of hot coffee. The views of Lake Waccamaw were gorgeous.
Sleepily sipping my coffee I suddenly became mindful of the thunder afar, the occasional loud barking (Rain Calls) of the little green tree frogs, and the haunting sound of the mourning doves. The scent of the coffee and the sounds of spring like a time machine sent my mind back to my childhood days in Waynesboro Mississippi and my summer visits with my paternal grandmother who lived in Petal.
We had affectionately nicknamed our grandmother Mam’Maw. Most every summer my parents would pack me off for a two week visit with her and her youngest daughter, my Aunt Dixie who had a home next door. Aunt Dixie had two children about my age and we always enjoyed the long hot summer visits.
In the nineteen-fifties most states, including Mississippi, did not recognize daylight saving time. We simply went to bed early and arose at the first sign of daylight. Of course this made for a very long hot Mississippi summer day and we made the best of every minute.
Almost every day Mam’Maw would take us fishing and swimming at local creeks, usually Big or Green Creek. She taught us how to prepare our fishing poles with a line, sinker, and fishhook. We always dug up our own earthworms for bait and Mam’Maw taught us how to put them on the fishhook and then how to hook a fish.
We almost always caught a sizeable stringer of fish. When we caught one I would put it on a stringer and put them back into the creek. One day I remember lifting a stringer of perch out of the water to add one to the stringer. I noticed that a couple of fish were half gone.
“Mam’Maw, Mam’Maw look, what do you think happened to these fish”, I asked excitedly as I held them up for her to see.
“Uh, don’t give that no never mind” she answered, “A water moccasin or two had their dinner of them.”
“It was probably a cottonmouth,” she added, “You should keep an eye out for them for they are quite poisonous.”
Now I confess that I didn’t care too much for snakes, especially poison ones. From that day on, every time a twig or something touched my leg while fishing I would jump a foot high and do an Indian dance certain that a snake had bitten me.
Some days when the fishing were slow we would leave early and return to Mam’Maw’s home.
Roy, my first cousin and I would wander around trying to find ways to stay out of trouble. Often we would take strolls down the old country road that ran in front of the house. We didn’t have a care in the world and we shared secrets that we would not dare share with anyone else.
After walking and talking for about a mile we would climb through a barbed wire fence and cut across a huge cow pasture to Mrs. Birdsong’s farm. She was Mam’Maw’s nearest non-relative neighbor and she had a Bantam “Banty” Rooster that had a very ornery disposition.
Banty roosters are smaller than the normal run-of-the-mill chicken-yard rooster and with their small man attitude, he usually “out-roosters” his standard size counterpart.
I loved the Birdsong name, and often wondered how and when the name came into being. I never got around to asking and she never volunteered the information. Mrs. Birdsong was a widow with no children and I felt that she was a very lonely but loveable eccentric old lady. She loved us boys and would fuss over us as if we were her very own.
“What are you boys doing over there by my chikin yard,” Mrs. Birdsong crowed peering around the screen door, “Y’all stirring up the Chikins?”
“No ma’am. We ain’t causing no racket,” I answered, “We were looking for “old Banty”.
Roy chimed in; “Old Banty” is a mean son-of-a-gun for sure Mrs. Birdsong. I think we ought to wring his neck and fry him up for supper.” He retorted with an enormous mischievous grin.
“You boys quit riling up my Chikins and git on over cheer Lickety split” she bellowed.
Without hesitation we ran up to the back porch and she quietly demanded, “Come inside boys. I have something special for you. You must never tell your parents, ye hear.”
Intrigued, we scampered inside agreeing to secrecy.
Inside the kitchen was a large homemade dining table with six straight-back chairs. The seats had been made from the hide of a cow. The hair was turned up but most of the hair had been worn off from many years of use. In the corner was a wood stove with a coffeepot percolating on top. Near the stove was an ironing board with a RC Cola bottle, obviously used as a water or clothes sprinkler, perched on the top. An Iron was heating up on the stove with a potholder wrapped around the handle.
The kitchen was hot but we relaxed and looked at the old lady with anticipation.
“I got some teacakes in the oven and coffee a brewing. You boys like teacakes?” She asked.
“You Darn tootin’. We love teacakes,” Roy blurted out.
“Well, how ’bout coffee, you ever had any?” She asked
Back in those days coffee was strictly for adults, but we were willing to indulge especially since we all agreed to keep it a secret from our parents.
We set up as high in the chair as we could to appear adult-like and replied in unison that we had never tried it but have always wanted some.
Mrs. Birdsong, with a crooked smile on the side of her face, winked at us and removed the teacakes from the oven. She carefully placed them on her expensive china platter and put them on the table in front of us.
“Help yourselves fellows,” she said
Roy and I grabbed a cake in each hand and began devouring the delightful treats. Suddenly she put three of her fine china cups and saucers on the table with steaming hot coffee in each.
“Enjoy your first cup of coffee boys.” As she sat down sipping from her cup over which her eyes were smiling at us with affection.
The “coffee” was mostly hot cream with lots of sugar and a dash of coffee but it was absolutely delicious as was the teacakes. We swelled with pride and felt as if we had just joined the “grown-up” world.
Every summer thereafter and many other times during each year we visited with the old eccentric lady to enjoy coffee and teacakes. She loved us and we grew to love her tremendously. It was as if God had given us a bonus Grandma.
One day at home in Waynesboro as I was doing my home schoolwork my mother came in and sat down on the opposite side of the dining table from me. I looked up to find her studying me with her beautiful blue eyes and rubbing the oilcloth as if it needed cleaning.
“Mike, Mrs. Birdsong told me years ago how you had, in her words “taken a liking” to her tea cakes and coffee.” She stated in a matter of fact tone.
“Yes Ma’am,” I whispered realizing the jig was up.
“Well, Mam’Maw phoned yesterday that Mrs. Birdsong was in a Hattiesburg hospital and that she was very ill. This morning she telephoned again and she…” Mother drifted away as she choked up.
“She what?” I asked knowing full well what was coming.
“Mike, she didn’t make it through the night” She whispered to me while reaching over and taking my hand in hers.
Jerking back to reality on the front porch, I realized that I had a tear running down my cheek.
Mrs. Birdsong had been my first experience with losing a love one. I didn’t understand it way back then but I do now.
God sent her into my life to teach me that giving love and kindness to another is the greatest and most powerful gift known to mankind. Mrs. Birdsong, who had so little, gave me the best gift she could possibly give, the gift of love and kindness.
God, If there are teacakes and coffee in Heaven, please place Your order with Mrs. Birdsong and tell her how much I love and miss her. Amen.