‘Twas barely dawn, sunup still hazy behind them gray wispy mists laced ‘cross the river bottoms. Still, we was at least two awake at this hour, me rubbin’ sleep from my eyes and out to the kitchen, somebody fixin’ to make the family breakfast. Like as not, Mama. Doubtful it’d be Livie or Luce, them two big sisters o’ mine. Wakin’ them before they was ready was like wakin’ the dead. Besides, they needed all the beauty sleep they could get. I give you my word on that.
My senses was wakin’ up, though, hearin’ butter jumpin’ and buzzin’ in the cast ‘arn skillet, my mouth a’waterin’, the aroma smellin’ tangy and sharp. Mmmmmm mmmmm! Mornin’ meal begun with nearly anything fried up golden in that black ol’ skillet was so delectable it made you want to reach up and slap your mama!
That there? That’d be a colloquialism, according to Miss Meadow, my teacher down to the community school for the last, what, six er’ seven years. Practically growed up together, her and us county kids, she bein’ nearly a child her ownself when she come to teach us. I’m just turned twelve now, but I have a clear recollection her being only just bigger’n me when she come, and nearly as fearful. She’s gotten over that, I tell you what! Not only can she handle them big boys what used to smart off in the back of the class (all eight grades of us landed in the same room, marched height-wise and grade-wise, smallest to largest, front of the classroom to the back. We saved the smelly, moldy basement for exercise on rainy days. Seldom did we pray for rain.), she was teachin’ us new things purtin’ near ever’ day.
“Colloquialism” was in our lessons just last week. Liked the roll of that word on my tongue. Colloquialism. Colloquialism. Then real fast….colloquialism!
Then on top of that, knowin’ to what it referred made it all the more fun to use. Reckoned, as I stretched long like a cat under my pile o’ covers, I’d just casual like lay it on ’em at the breakfast table and wake up them sleepyheaded brothers and sisters o’ mine. I’d show them who was payin’ attention durin’ them long sleepy afternoons when we’d all druther be outside, fishin’ and the like. Colloquialism! I allowed myself the most giantest grin I could, near to the point of hurt, right there in the dark where nobody could see and nobody was scared off.
Wudn’t till Miss Meadow that I knew them sayin’s had a name, much less one so tongue-tyin’ and hard to spell. Miss Meadow, she said it was more the feelin’ behind the sayin’ what held the truth, as opposed to the actual words of the sayin’. I’d been mullin’ that one over a bit, makin’ a mental list of all them proverbs (that’d be what Grandpap sometimes called ’em, least the nicer ones) I’d spouted and taken for gospel from my younger youth. They was all colloquialisms, filled with meanin’ and feelin’, but perhaps not action. I nodded into my pillow. Miss Meadow was on the right side of this one.
Because, truth be told, and not just in MY house, you slap your mama, under ANY circumstances, you best pack your gear and hightail it down the road right now. Folks with pitchforks and shotguns’d be takin’ after you ninety to nothin’, lookin’ to put your head on a platter! Disrespectin’ family was a shameful sin, ever’body knew that, but disrespectin’ your mama was a one way ticket to the Lake of Fire. Wudn’t no recoverin’ from everlastin’ and eternal damnation. I personally didn’t know of anybody, not even town roughnecks Clive Saxon or Butch Ebersol, could conjure up that much evil in their souls.
Now “damnation?” That’d be a word only allowed by Pastor Mills down to the Unified Gospel Assembly of Christ and Disciples down to town. I feared even thinkin’ it in its complete and dreadful and ever so desirable form would count against me in Heaven.
But I digress.
A loud grumble in my tummy was starvin’ for attention. I hunkered down for just one more cozy snuggle, rubbin’ my nose and face deep into the fluffy pile. Like as not, we was havin’ scrambled eggs and cheese, a rasher of thick bacon, homemade huckleberry jam and biscuits, same as nearly ever’ other mornin’. Fine by me. Anything sizzlin’ in that heavy worn skillet harkened to fried up somethin’ er’ other, crunchy and golden delicious, and not a big ol’ pot of gray lumpy oatmeal eat with a spoon.
Fine by me.
Now, it wudn’t the spoon so much, although I struggled to think of anything worth eatin’ with a spoon. No, there just wudn’t nothin’ I’d laid ‘hold of yet could improve the taste of oatmeal. To look at it, there was nothin’ appetizin’ about it neither, no color, no temptin’ tidbits pokin’ up here and there, no nothin’. Just a sticky, pasty gelatinous mess.
Gelatinous. Gelatinous. Gelatinous!
Why, that pile o’ glop even tasted gray. Nasty stuff useful for plinkin’ logs together maybe, but certainly not for sustainin’ me until the midday meal, called Dinner on Sundays. Tried me cinnamon and sugar, tried me more’n my share of butter, tried me Aunt Eululia’s darkest sorghum, still tasted of paste. Gray paste.
As a younger youngster, I’d pondered it just might be the color what stiffened my back, or the lack thereof, rather than the paste taste. Feelin’ experimental one day, I sneaked me out some of Mama’s Easter Egg colorin’, green, and poured in a teaspoonful, stirred it up right good, too. Didn’t look half bad. Nor half good neither.
When it was all said and done, all that got me was green teeth for a month o’ Sundays. Still tasted of gray, no two ways about it.
No gray today, I reckoned, countin’ my blessin’s. The wifts and wafts ticklin’ my nose and fillin’ up the room me and my brothers’ shared for sleepin’ boded well for me. It shore did give me the gumption to at last slide outta my warm bed, out the side to save straightenin’ the covers, and face the day set before me.
That was when the happy fog lifted and the course of my day laid itself out before me. I let loose with a loud sigh. Louder than I expected, as it ‘peared to rouse both Lincoln and Lawrence.
Breakfast waitin’ on the table, oozin’ butter on freshmade biscuits and melty cheese on my eggs, not to mention my six pieces of extra crisped up bacon (seven if I was quick and underhanded) might bode well for me, but the day waitin’ out there like a heavy tornado cloud swirlin’ with evil intent, it did not bode so well.
Today was the last day of the term. Speech and Debate Day. Purty banners and streamers and flowers made of paper. County kids dressed up to who laid a chunk, hair greased and slicked or curled and twirled. Never too much an issue before this, before I turned twelve. Sayin’ little memorized pieces whilst Miss Meadow or even Mr. Darnmuller the principal smiled and nodded encouragin’ly from the front row (whilst they sat in them baby chairs, knees nearly to their chins. No that didn’t never get old!), them days was a piece o’ cake compared to this day.
For this day, THIS day, I was twelve and promoted. Promoted to the Debate part of the equation! Promoted to debatin’ the likes of Millicent Maidenfern, the fourteen year old wonder kid who could do no wrong, who had a voice of an angel, the creamy countenance of a beauty queen, and the brains of a professor or a state senator even, and whose whole life was dedicated to goin’ to Teacher’s College up to Omaha. Imagine. College.
And to whom I was wholeheartedly and ever so painfully devoted.
To the point of loosin’ my dinner ever’ time she looked my way.
This may indeed be my last meal. Glad it’s not oatmeal.