When I was a young boy, living in Middle Tennessee with my grandmother, Miz Lena, some days of my summer vacation were better than others. If none of my friends were around, it could be downright boring.
Grand Mom had rules. In the summer after breakfast, it was "Git outside." To her way of thinking, kids needed fresh air. Miz Lena didn't allow me to just sit in the house and watch TV.
She'd glance at Grand Dad and say, "We awready got enough couch potaters under this roof. We don't need no more."
I was full-blown energy. Kid in motion. An ADD poster child. Grand Mom always said I was "eat up with the fidgetties."
As Elizabeth, Miz Lena's housekeeper, cleared the breakfast table, my little grandmother, standing over me, her hands on her hips, still in her apron, would make sure I was paying attention to her. "Here, look at me." I knew what was coming. Her dos and don'ts for the long morning ahead.
She started off pretty much the same way every time, "Awright now, looka here. I want you to take yoreself outside and play till lunchtime. And don't be wanderin' off somewhere that you kain't hear me or Elizabeth hollerin' for yuh. If yuh hear us callin', you best come runnin'. Don't make me haf to come lookin' for yuh'. Here in a little bit, when we're done cleanin' the front rooms, Elizabeth'll git yuh some ice tea. And don't be comin' back in the house ever 5 or 10 minutes wantin' somethin'."
There weren't any "dos" in her instructions. Just a bunch of "don'ts." But she did mention my favorite beverage of all time. Iced tea. She had my attention. I stayed close by.
So I was exiled to the outside, fending off the heat of a young June day with my best friend, Prince, my dog. He awaited my decision about what we were gonna be doing for the next few hours. We spoke telepathically.
At only a little past 8 on a summer morning, it was already hot. And humid.
My immediate plan was usually always the same.
First, I'd go out in the front yard, stand in front of the living room window, where Miz Lena and Elizabeth were cleaning, and fake fainting from the heat a few times. It was Academy Award-winning stuff. But to no avail. Actually, sometimes, Grand Mom and Elizabeth would stop what they were doing, look out the window at me and laugh.
There was no apparent empathy for me, and their laughter was downright insulting to my performances. Prince didn't help sell any form of believability to my theatrics either. Here I was, laid out in the front yard, giving my best interpretation of heat stroke, and Prince would stand over me and start licking my face. I'd start giggling, and all my credibility flew out the window.
I'd have to think of something else, another way to get back inside the house, where there was air conditioning, TV, iced tea!
I'd think it had to be coming up on lunchtime. It wasn't.
Well, maybe we're getting closer to Elizabeth calling out from the kitchen door for me to "come git some iced tea." The morning had burned off, and it was starting to heat up. I had my mind on that iced tea.
Several previous attempts I'd made to get back inside had prompted Miz Lena to add a new rule. She told me, "Ever time yuh come in fer water, yore lettin' in a mess of flies and my air conditionin' leaks out. From now on, if yuh git thirsty, you drink outta the hose. Just let it run fer a minute. It'll git cold."
Not really. Not only did it not get cold, but it tasted like warm rubber water. Over the years, Prince had acquired a taste for it. He drank it right out of the hose. It was not for me.
It was really starting to steam up. The June bugs were screaming bloody murder. I began to sweat. I didn't think I could take any more. I had to get inside.
I could hear the vacuum cleaner running. It sounded like it was coming from the dining room. No telling how long before Elizabeth would be bringing out the iced tea. I decided it was time for me to make my move. It would require another stellar performance, better than my fainting one, to pull it off.
It hadn't been that long back that Miz Lena had gotten after me for purposely crossing my eyes. She said, "Looka here, stop doing that! Yore eyes'll git stuck that way. It happened to that little Simpson boy! He kept crossin' his eyes, and they got stuck. You see how pitiful he is now. He kain't even come outta his house. Bumpin' into things."
She was referring to a kid I barely knew. He lived down the hill. I had played with him a couple of times. I told Grand Mom that he wasn't cross-eyed. He just wore thick glasses.
She said, "Well them glasses ain't doin' him no favors. He looks cross-eyed to me."
It was showtime! I got into character, took a deep breath and burst through the kitchen door and ran into the dining room. Elizabeth turned off the vacuum cleaner, and Miz Lena jumped! She started making that whoop-whoop sound that she made when she was startled. With a look of intense worry, Grand Mom cried out, "What's wrong, honey baby?"
I crossed my eyes and gave her my perfectly scripted story about how the heat had caused my eyes to cross! Miz Lena looked at my eyes. I kept them crossed. She hugged me to her and told Elizabeth to get me some water. I asked if I could have some iced tea instead.
Elizabeth was back in an instant. She said, "Here you go, sweet boy. Finally. A big glass of iced tea. At first, I drank it in small gulps. It was so cold! Then I guzzled the rest of it. Man, it was good! And the air conditioning was divine.
Now, it was time for Act 2.
As I finished off the glass, I proclaimed that a miracle had just happened! My eyes had gone back to normal. "Really, Grand Mom! It's a true miracle!" The iced tea and the Lord's intervention had made the difference. I felt my performance was standing-ovation worthy. I had left it all out there on the stage.
Miz Lena didn't buy it.
She grabbed me by the collar and marched me out to the back door, while she was telling me, "Boy, you about scared the daylights outta me! Don't you come back in here with no more a' yore stories! Cross-eyed! The very idea."
We went through lunch and supper. The crossed-eyed incident wasn't brought up. That was unusual. Miz Lena would get you back. Kinda like that margarine commercial years back. "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."
It was time to go to bed.
After prayers and a good tucking-in, Miz Lena sat on the side of my bed, stroking my hair, doting over me. She could be soft and comforting at times. Grand Mom bent over and kissed my forehead and said, "Honey baby, I looked it up in the dictionary. If yuh play around with yore eyes long enough, yuh go cross-eyed while yore sleepin'. But I think yuh'll be awright. Sweet dreams, baby."
Years later, Elizabeth and I were reminiscing. She told me that she and Grand Mom often reminded each other of my cross-eyed story. According to Elizabeth, Miz Lena would come in through the kitchen door and say, "Elizabeth, quick, pour me a glass a' ice tea! It's so hot out there, I've gone cross-eyed!"
Elizabeth said that they would get a big laugh out of it. And sometimes, she said, it made them cry.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tenn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.