A Georgia Story
Me and Momma was swinging on the front porch swing trying to cool off in the heat of the day. We’s done fixed up Ricky’s room as our new sewing room so we’s could work on our quilt projects somewhere other than the kitchen table.
Ricky’s my older brotha. He done enlisted in the Army last month and was all shipped off to Fort Bragg for boot camp. We’s hoping he gon’ wind up in the infantry at Fort Stewart right down the road.
Anyways, me and Momma sat there in that balmy Georgia heat, fanning ourselves and drinking sweet tea, when a man we ain’t nevah seen before came up to the stairs.
He was all decked out, dressed in a navy suit and hat, looking eva so sharp. He tipped his hat to Momma and me, then pulled it off his head, drawing it into his folded hands pulled to his chest as he started sayin’,
“Ma’am, I, um….
Ahem, Mrs. Jackson, I am a representative of the city. I, um…
Ahh, Mrs. Jackson, I am here…I regret to inform you that there has been an accident and your husband….”
His words stopped making any sense and my ears began to ring. Momma’s fan dropped to her lap and her eyes got all red and lifted up to the sky as the man kept talkin’,
“Your husband, Freddie, he was so important to us. His work with the city was lasting and irreplaceable. No one could have anticipated the crane failing. The cranes were all inspected just two weeks ago.”
He bowed his head, pausing while he let the news settle in with Momma and me.
Daddy worked for the city since he was a teenager. Started out as a runner, doin’ errands for the boys in the yard, workin' his way up till he was runnin’ a whole team of men down at the municipal’ty.
He took good care of Me and Momma and Ricky with his wages, comin’ up those steps every day at 5:15, hummin’ somethin’ good from the likes of Pop Staples or some other gospel tune.
Now here today we wasn’t gon’ hear that hummin no mo’. I looked over at Momma wit that man just standin’ there at the bottom of those steps, and Momma had tears startin’ to run down her cheeks.
This ol’ front porch was a place where all sorts of stuff happened. Sittin’ up on those stairs we’d talk to neighbors passin’ by. Those stairs were a place where we’d laugh, share our secrets, make plans, and do any ol’ thing.
Everyone in the neighborhood did the same and Momma would yell back and forth with the other Mom’s on their porches, conversatin’ from across the street as silly as that sounds. Daddy would grill out on the front walk then we’d all sit and eat….it felt like we was on them steps more than in the house.
Momma thanked the man quietly and waved him off, risin’ up from the swing, grabbin’ the porch rail to support her as she moved toward the front door. She paused for a minute wit her hand on that door frame, shook her bowed head, and went inside. I sat there on that swing scared as could be, watchin’ that sun dropping in the sky, wondering what we was gon’ do now.
“Momma?” I peered into her dark bedroom where she lay on the bed, back to the door.
“Momma? You okay, Momma?”
Her voice sounded like it was a mile away, “I’m okay darlin, I just need to rest fo a lick.”
I done nevah heard Momma sound so forlorn, which worried me even more. Well, she wasn’t gonna starve on my account so I headed to that kitchen and cut the lights on. I strapped on my apron, determined to pull us through this.
I was dredging the chicken when she came out of her room, walking slow. Pulled out a chair from the table and slumped down in it, holding her head in her hands. I rinsed my hands in the sink and dried em on the apron before I went over to Momma and put my hand on her shoulder.
“Momma? We’s gon make it, Momma. I was thinkin’ we should try to reach Ricky. I know we’s not supposed to call him but they prolly make ‘ceptions for stuff like this.”
I went back to the chicken.
Flour, then into the oil, sprinkle it with salt and peppa, turn down the heat once it’s done browned just like Momma taught me and Big Momma taught her.
Once I got the heat cut down I turned to Momma who was still at the table, starin’ off into the parlor. I lean back onta the sink and set my mind to bein the strong one so’s Momma could grieve in privacy. It wouldn’t be long before the neighbors would be coming up those porch stairs wantin’ answers and I would answer every one of em so Momma wouldn’t hafta.
I dialed zero on the phone attached to the wall, twirling the cord with mah finga, waitin’ for the operator to pick up. Ring….ring…..ring…..
“Operator,” the voice at the other end answered.
“Yas, ma’am, hello.
I’m tryinta reach ma brotha whose stationed over at Fort Bragg, he’s doing boot camp. We had a death in the family and I need to notify him.”
“I’m sorry, honey, but you gon’ have ta write him a letter, they don’t have no contacts for the people at boot camp. I don’t have a number to give y’all,” she apologized.
“Ok, thank ya ma’am,” I hung the phone back on its cradle, staring at the old rotary for a minute, then turning back to Momma, “I’ll write to Ricky, Momma, that’s the only way to reach em.”
I took the lid off the pan and turned the chicken pieces one by one. Heat goes back up till the other side done browned. I walked into the living room and reached into Momma’s ol secretary, pulled out a piece of her stationery, an envelope, and a stamp.