I was living with my grandparents on the farm just south of Columbia, Tennessee. I was sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at the rain. It was about this time of the year. Even at age 6, there's a calendar in your head. The few honest-to-goodness summer days you actually have left start nagging at you.
Pretty soon, the sun starts going down earlier. The evenings start cooling off. Then, just down the road, the S-word. School! Just thinking about it gave me a headache. Not long, and I'd be locked in a room full of kids and having to get taught stuff. Inevitability is tough to deal with. Every remaining day of true freedom counted.
If it was snowing, I could go outside and play. My grandmother, Miz Lena, didn't care. Kids playing in the cold, according to her, built up their immunity systems. Actually, I hardly ever got sick. Still that way. Who knew that all those times Miz Lena put me outside and I froze my butt off was for my own good.
If it was blistering August hot, it didn't mean a thing to Miz Lena. Any time I complained about the heat, she'd remind me that grown men had to work in the blistering sun to feed their families. That fact never made it any cooler.
You could freeze or risk heat stroke, but just as soon as the first wind hinted that those black clouds were gonna burst, Elizabeth, Grand Mom's housekeeper, was at the back door hollering for me to come in.
Whatever I was doing, I did it one more time. Skip another flat rock across the creek. Take one more minute to find a four-leaf clover. Just one more roll down the hill out in back of the house.
If I didn't respond soon enough, Elizabeth would start calling for Prince. Prince was my dog. Wherever I was, so was he. Prince would hear Elizabeth and take off running for the house. I had no choice but to catch up with him. Prince thought Elizabeth was calling him to eat. I knew different. We were heading back up the hill to "house arrest." It was thundering. Just a few sprinkles, but it was coming. We just made it.
It didn't look like it was gonna let up anytime soon. Another perfectly good day down for the count. I watched the new maples that Miz Lena had Ole Tom plant up next to the fence fight to stay in place. Prince laid out on the breezeway just under the kitchen window. Every so often, he'd get up and stare at me. I just looked back at him.
Miz Lena said, "Looka here, last time I'm gonna tell yuh. Yore not goin' back outside til it stops rainin'. Yore gonna fool around and catch a cold. You'll have to stay in bed, and I'll have to feed you big spoons full of castor oil. Is that what you want?" No, I didn't. She continued, "And, no, you kain't go out and play under the carport. A piece a lightnin' can come in sideways and git yuh."
She started looking through the small stack of coloring books that were in a magazine rack out in the utility room. She said, "Where's that colorin' book I got yuh at Mr. Dooley's Rexall? Wadn't it Casper the ghost? Looka' here, git one a them lined pieces of tablet paper and write out yore ABC's."
I'd had big plans for the afternoon, and now I was reduced to printing letters on a piece of paper. It was bad enough that I was in jail. Now, I was being tortured too. I looked down, outside the window. Prince had given up and was fast asleep. All right, I'll color Casper. Maybe, I'll color him black and see what Grand Mom says.
Miz Lena went back over to the sink, picked up the drying cloth and continued her conversation with her black housekeeper, Elizabeth. Grand Mom and Elizabeth talked back and forth while they washed and dried plates and pots and pans.
Grand Mom had one of those new dishwashers, but she would hardly use it. Miz Lena said, "No, uh-um, I don't want to use up my warranty." I don't think she wanted to fool with all those buttons and knobs. Plus, you can't have a decent conversation with the dishwater running.
Grand Mom pretty much did all the talking. Elizabeth, through the many years she'd worked for Miz Lena, had learned to be a good listener. Elizabeth truly cared for my grandmother. Outside of family and Elizabeth, Miz Lena didn't show her cards to anybody.
Grand Mom said, "Elizabeth, you ain't never gonna believe what Adrian did with them new shirts I bought for him at Pigs and Parson." Adrian was my grandfather. It was actually Pigg and Parsons Men's Store.
Grand Mom said, "I called Dubb Pigs about how come my bill was so low. I just bought them shirts!" Mr. Pigs sez, "Miz Lena, Mr. Adrian returned those shirts. He said he'd rather have white shirts. Said he didn't feel like an architect should wear a purple shirt, Miz Lena. He said he wadn't worried about fashion."
Grand Mom lowered her voice and told Elizabeth, "I said awright then, Mr. Pigs. Thank you." Right on cue, Elizabeth said what I heard her say a thousand times before. She shook her head and said, "Sho nuff, Miz Lena. Mmm, mmm, mmm."
There was more. Grand Mom said, "Elizabeth, he must have a dozen white shirts! He just don't give two hoots about what's popular. Well, that's the last time I'll try to git him caught up. You watch, he'll end up returning them matching socks, too. I guess yuh can only bring a mule up to the water, but yuh kain't make 'em drink it."
Elizabeth would say, "Miz Lena, you is right as rain." And that's the way their conversations went for the decades Elizabeth was under Grand Mom's employ.
Miz Lena was pretty much a loner. Her best friends were her many brothers and sisters. They came up out of the country, and every one of them became successful. They spoke to one another almost every day. Just quick hellos. They were like families were back then. Tight. One for all and all for one.
As close as Grand Mom was to Elizabeth, there was still that wall that existed between those born white and those brought into this world with dark skin. Maybe, I felt it too. I didn't think of myself to be any better than people of color. But even as a small boy, I recognized that white people ran the show. It was troubling to me.
From the time I was a kid and through the years, Grand Mom and I sat in the kitchen and talked about it. I questioned why Elizabeth had to eat her meals in the utility room. Why she had her own plates and silverware kept in the cupboards, stacked in the back. Why couldn't Elizabeth sit up in the front seat of my grandmother's Cadillac? It just didn't seem fair. I loved Elizabeth so much.
When I was in my 20s, and at that same breakfast table, my grandmother and I were having one of our talks. Elizabeth, after years of working for Miz Lena, had decided she was getting too old to keep up with it all.
Dimple was still there. She had her same ways but was slowing down. She wore a silver-streaked wig. It looked good and seemed to fit her better than ones she'd worn back in the day. Dimple's oldest daughter had started coming to the house.
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Rain brings back memories of rainy days
- Southern Folks: Looking for a feeling right as rain
- Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)
- Southern Folks: Doing hard time with Miss Swann
- Southern Folks: Life, God and the world according to Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Remembering all our heroes on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Miss Juanita was a legend in her own mind
- Southern Folks: Gene Autry, the singing cowboy
- Southern Folks: OK, God, this is your last chance
- Southern Folks: Mr. Elvin was a quiet man
- Southern Folks: Saturdays made better with Green Stamps
- Southern Folks: Old Battle Axe, her dog and the Golden Rule
- Southern Folks: Praying and flying and Mrs. Silva's birds
- Southern Folks: Beans, Ole Tom and well-dressed scarecrows
- Southern Folks: Telephone party lines always rang up a good time
- Southern Folks: Good manners make good neighbors, even the scary ones
- Southern Folks: The orphans in my life taught me plenty
- Southern Folks: Family tragedy from 1968 still haunts
- Southern Folks: Everyone called him Doc Dean
- Southern Folks: Blue ribbons from the county fair for me and Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena's younger brother, Watt
- Southern Folks: Scrapbooks, pictures and memories
- Southern Folks: Old-timers and the twins
- Southern Folks: I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes
- Southern Folks: Mama Sue ruled the roost, without ever raising her voice
- Southern Folks: The formula for a full life
- Southern Folks: Facts, fiction and fibs about the holidays
- Southern Folks: Two days before Christmas
- Southern Folks: Mrs. Freeland, my favorite customer
- Southern Folks: In loving memory of Magic Man
- Southern Folks: Memorable mornings with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Be happy for what you have
- Southern Folks: Thanksgiving with Stumpy and the boys
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Jesus, for cold water
- Southern Folks: Autumn, miracles, magic and crawdads
- Southern Folks: Remembering Sundays with Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Mr. Glassman was a grump
- Southern Folks: I'm a Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic
- Southern Folks: Lessons at the table with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Sleeping in Elizabeth's bed
- Southern Folks: Chewing the rag with Mr. Remus
- Southern Folks: Remembering sweet, soft Southern summer nights
- Southern Folks: Sometimes the Lord understands why you lie
- Southern Folks: Thunder, lightning, bad words and politics
- Southern Folks: Growing faith through God's hidden treasures
- Southern Folks: Military academy and the power of prayer
- Southern Folks: I was raised to appreciate 'country simple'
- Southern Folks: Learning patience with a blackberry pie
- Southern Folks: Good people live in small Southern towns
- Southern Folks: Time to start carrying a big stick
- Southern Folks: 'You gotta do what the Bible says'
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Never try to pull one over on a Southern woman
- Southern Folks: Blind Remus
- Southern Folks: Up on the hill under a tree
- Southern Folks: My friend Calvin was a precious child and a nice young man
- Southern Folks: Thinking about Duffy on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Watching TV with my grandparents
- Southern Folks: The Lord works in mysterious ways
- Southern Folks: Hard country love good prep for Marine Corps
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Lord, for roadkill
- Southern Folks: God is colorblind
- Southern Folks: The Lord doesn't look the other way
- Southern Folks: Grandparents' farm sits just below heaven
- Southern Folks: Lessons in life from Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Memories of spring on Miz Lena's farm
- Southern Folks: A salute to Mr. Jenkins, the first war hero I ever knew
- Southern Folks: Baptism, Miss Mama and thunderstorms
- Southern Folks: Wedding receptions, pigeons and chuckles
- Southern Folks: Always a chance of rain
- Southern Folks: Skeeter the coon hound's great escape
- Southern Folks: Ghost at the grocery store
- Southern Folks: Willie and his wife vs. a mess of crazy people
- Southern Folks: Karma - country style
- Southern Folks: No time for crybabies
- Southern Folks: In search of the silver lining
- Southern Folks: Into the weeds with Ole Tom
- Southern Folks: Miss Bobbie and David and Goliath
- Southern Folks: My favorite Christmas memory reminds me to be grateful
- Southern Folks: Christmas fruitcakes and TV dinners
- Southern Folks: Dining out with Miz Lena over the holidays
- Southern Folks: Dressing up for the Lord and lessons in love
- Southern Folks: Memories of a southern Thanksgiving
- Southern Folks: God's secret
- Southern Folks: A belated happy birthday to the Marines and happy Veterans Day to us all
- Southern Folks: They called him Angel
- Southern Folks: Sunday lunch and Monday leftovers...perfection
- Southern Folks: 'Genies don't work as good as God'
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena had a remedy and an answer for everything
- Southern Folks: Tap dancing straight to a refund
Grand Mom was missing Elizabeth. She didn't quite know how to express her feelings about Elizabeth to me. That black-and-white thing was still there. I reminded Miz Lena that Elizabeth truly was her best friend and how Elizabeth always had her back. How Elizabeth did so much for me and my brothers. How much she did for us all. How much she loved us.
Grand Mom broke down in tears. She looked at me and said, "Honey Baby, yore so right."
Later that same year, my grandmother bought four acres close to where Elizabeth and her husband, Booker, lived. Miz Lena built them a two-bedroom brick house and presented the free and clear title to them one Sunday afternoon. They were visibly moved. Tears streamed down their cheeks. Booker broke down.
For years after her retirement, Elizabeth came to the "big house" every Sunday. She and Grand Mom would sit back in the kitchen and have coffee and a slice of Grand Mom's banana cake. They ate off the good plates.
They'd end up over at the sink. Elizabeth still washed and Grand Mom dried. They had their talks. They laughed a lot. Every so often, you'd hear Elizabeth holler out, "Sho nuff, Miz Lena" or "Miz Lena, you is right as rain."
Grand Mom and Elizabeth passed on a long while ago. I think of them often. Good memories. The kind of feelings that give me a little lump in the throat. Feelings that are, shonuff, right as rain.
Bill Stamps' book "Miz Lena" may be purchased on Amazon (soft-cover and Kindle). Or order a signed copy at firstname.lastname@example.org. His second book, "Southern Folks," is due to be released in late June.