Bill Stamps

I was 5, maybe 6, living with my grandmother, Miz Lena, in a small white house at the top of 50 acres two miles from town in Middle Tennessee. We had left the farm and moved into Columbia. Grand Mom intended to tear down the little white house and build her dream home. Zoning was already approved for her to develop the rest of the property into an upscale subdivision.

She did, indeed, build the home that she had envisioned. It was a showpiece. My grandfather, an architect, drew up the blueprinted plans. And true to form, Miz Lena succeeded in building 50 houses on the other 49 acres. Vini, vidi, vici.

Southern Folks

It was summer. Clarence, a little black man, and I were getting ready to run Saturday errands for Miz Lena. She wrote down the list of things to do on the front of a small brown grocery sack and handed it to Clarence.

She said, "Looka here, Clarence, I want you to run git me a box of six-penny nails at Mr. Harris' before yuh do anything else. Make it yore first stop. He's been closin' early lately. Then do the rest on the list. And don't let Butch sit up front. Make sure you don't go past the speed limit. It's Saturday. They won't let yuh outta jail till Monday. And that bail money's gonna come right outta yore pay."

Clarence had worked for Miz Lena for years. He knew how she was. Sometimes extreme. Most of the time, really. He always knew what to say. "Miz Lena, ain't nothin to worry 'bout. I take care of it all. And Butch ain't gonna be no problem goin' wiff me."

Grand Mom looked at me and said, "Butch, honey, don't you be talkin' to Clarence while he's drivin'. He hadn't got time to talk with you and pay attention to the road. Sit back. And don't be kickin the back a' his seat. Yuh'll make him run off the side a' the road, and I'll have to come visit yuh in the Maury County Hospital."

Back to Clarence. "Clarence, stop by Gilly Truelove's and pick me out two good watermelons and a big box of Lipton tea bags. I need to go check on Mama. If you git back home before me, have Elizabeth cut up the melons and stick 'em in the 'fridgerator."

With her handy yardstick in one hand and her keys and a white hanky in her other, she fast-walked back to the kitchen and out the door. Into the Caddy, and she was off.

There were things that needed to get done before supper. We were on the clock. Things to get done before the sun went down. We'd celebrate the coming evening Miz Lena style.

Cold watermelon, iced tea, chocolate milk and a slice of banana cake. Sometimes a couple of scoops of old people's ice cream. Pecan. All of it rolled out and served throughout the evening on the little white house's back screened porch. It was a big room.

The porch was wood, painted white up about 3 feet on three sides, with screen the rest of the way up to the roof line and a big wooden screen door on one end, down from the rocking chairs and a brass day bed. A big fern sat on a white wicker stand, and a black metal stand-up fan, turning from left to right, pulled in the fragrances of summer roses and honeysuckle and sprayed them and the night's air, back and forth, across our faces.

Miz Lena had that screen door wired tight. When you pushed it open, the springs made a funny "sproing" sound. When you let it go, it slammed back with a "whack." You could be anywhere in the house and hear if someone was coming or leaving.

No lights on the porch. Only the one on behind us above the sink in the kitchen. There was just enough light so you could see what you were doing.

Grand Mom used to say that you can hear better in the dark. No TV. No radio. Just the calming sounds of the summer night right out in front of us. Country living at its best.

Dusk's first lightning bugs sky-danced, a blink at a time, to the rhythm of the night's performing trio of crickets, June bugs and tree frogs. An occasional distant dog would bark at something moving out there. Across the sky was a flock of bright silver stars and one of those big summer moons you see in a Chamber of Commerce brochure.

Only every once in a while, out past the fence, you'd hear the ruffling of the oak and maple trees signaling there was a welcome breeze coming our way. It was like God had set up the evening especially for Miz Lena.

Grand Mom had learned from her parents, Papa and Mama Sue Harvey, just how precious summer nights are. When you're way out in the country, without much money, you learn to appreciate the simple things. You get closer to nature. Closer to the Almighty. Miz Lena would say, "If yuh just sit back and listen, the Lord'll entertain yuh."

She was right. It was one of those evenings that can only be experienced in the South. You appreciate quiet. There's no reason for conversation. Not while God's all-night movie is playing.

Fighting sleep, I'd try to listen to the light chatter between my grandparents. I could only see a little bit of them. The way the light hit, I could see my grandmother smile at my grandfather. They spoke lovingly to one another. Almost in a whisper. Grand Dad reached out and took hold of her little hand. In the darkness, they were young again. My grandparents were in love and at peace. That made me happy.

Pretty soon, I crawled up in the daybed. It was just my size. Miz Lena came over and pulled the light blanket back and covered me. She'd let me sleep out there tonight. A reassuring rub of my head and a kiss on my cheek. I began to drift away.

The fan. The crickets. The smells of a sweet, soft, Southern summer night. I felt the love.

It doesn't get any better.

Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at or through Facebook.