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Saturday, October 4, 2008

I Remember

Raw Exercises in Memoir – from the book, Old Friend From Far Away

I Remember


I remember a bowl of fat tomatoes on a white countertop, smelling of summer, ripe and bright.  I remember the red kerchief on the head of the black mammy salt and pepper shakers in that same kitchen---a hundred salt and pepper shakers scattered around the room---that black mammy face with fat cherry lips and white smiling teeth.  I remember burgundy beets in a pint jar, the deep wine color of their juice staining my lips and my fingers as I ate just one, then just one more.  I remember ruby painted lips, licked then pressed against my face.  A kiss that I received a hundred thousand times or more, until the day she forgot that mine was a face for kissing, like she forgot so many other things.

 

I remember Amazing Grace, whistled through those red lips, hummed at the kitchen sink, or in the garden, bent over plucking those red tomatoes from the vine.  I remember the sound of water filling the sink, the clink of jars and plates, dishes washed and dried.  The refrigerator door opened, closed, opened, closed – putting everything away after an afternoon lunch.  I remember the shuffle of cards at the dining room table, a lazy Saturday-post-lunch afternoon, just the two of us.

 

I remember a table filled with small saucers and bowls, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, stuffed green peppers and cheese, salad, pork chops, bread on a plate, leftover macaroni and fried potatoes.  There were always brown beans and cornbread, and a raw onion cut into wedges.  


That table was everything from the fridge in Mimi’s kitchen, everything from Grandpa’s garden, laid out for three, or four, if my sister was there.  Lunch with canned peaches and graham crackers for dessert.  It seemed like so much work for such a simple meal, but she didn’t do things small, in the summertime, when grandchildren were in the house.  I miss those lunches.


 I remember the way Mimi used to eat cookies.  She’d dip one into her coffee and turn it this way, then that, letting the last drip fall back into the cup before bringing it to her mouth.  She’d nibble away the soggy edges, and dip again….turn, drip, turn, drip, repeating until the cookie was gone.  Then she’d reach to her shoulder, and brush the remaining crumbs from her fingertips on her shirt---every crumb, every cookie, every time.


It rained so much that spring that the streets were rivers, and even puddles on the corners or in the flower bed seemed like lakes you could lose a car in.  I remember falling asleep in the spare bedroom---the one with the wooden floors that were cold on my feet---listening to the sound of the thunder outside the window.  I remember hearing the story of how before I was born, Mimi was in the bathroom in the middle of the night.  An electrical storm raged outside.  I remember she swears she felt God telling her to pray, on the floor, kneeling there between the bathtub and the toilet. I remember being relieved, years later, as I listened, that she did too, because lightning struck that house, that room, where she was kneeling on the floor.  And if she hadn’t listened, the splintered wood and sheetrock might have been her.  But it wasn’t.


I remember dreaming that we were riding down the road in Grandpa’s car, he, of course was behind the wheel, easing into the edge of a puddle that stretched across the whole road.  I remember the feeling of sinking, deeper and deeper into that muddy water, until the whole car was swallowed beneath the surface---still sinking, sinking---and I was only a little afraid, because, after all, Grandpa was still driving.  I remember waking up, thinking I’d had this dream before, while thunder rattled the windows in that spare bedroom. 



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