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The Old Front Porch

They approached the front porch hesitantly, passing between two blooming Rose of Sharon bushes with red flowers. A new place, strange to him, with dust specks dancing in the rays of the sun that flickered through the trembling chinaberry leaves down onto the weather-beaten wooden flooring. Everything had been painted at one time. Now just flecks still clung desperately to the surface of the porch walls and the floor while the gritty sand and soil of years of tracking filled the cracks between the planks. It creaked under them as they gingerly moved up the steps and neared the open front door behind a screen door.

"See that mimosa down on the corner, honey. Your Pawpaw planted that one. He planted the first mimosas here in town before you were born. Of course, those two magnolias around the side have been here long before my parents moved here. Your great grandfather planted them when he first married your Granny Liddle.

Gary held onto his mother's damp hand as she pulled the door's wire spring taut and then released it gently with a soft whoosh against the jamb as they passed into the entry hall. The stairs ascended before them and to the left was the parlor through an archway, also streaked with light straying in from the outside through grimy window panes and adrift with dust. It smelled of iodine and rosewater. 

"C'mon ovah heah. Ya hear me, now? C'mon ovah and kiss yo' Granny Liddle." She was sitting in a wingback chair covered with flowered material and decorated with crocheted white doilies laid on the chair arms and behind her silvery pinned up hair. Mommy pushed him slightly as he decided what to do. The lady reached for him and pulled him into her arms. A perfunctory bewhiskered kiss landed on his cheek, her tentative grip loosened, and he backed into his mother's knees. There was movement from the corner of the room.

A grinning elderly woman walked over to him, touched his head, and chuckled softly. Then she went out a back doorway, and it was as if she didn't exist. The other ladies had ignored her. Mommy sat on the settee just opposite Granny Liddle. "Honey, you go on out to the porch and play a little. Don't leave the yard. Okay?"

He nodded and moved quickly to the front door once more, exiting and letting the screen door slam a little harder this time. "Gary, try not to be too noisy, honey." He moved cautiously down the porch noting all of the geraniums growing in clay pots along the porch rails. Then he hopped off down some more steps to the side of the house. As he did, he heard the buzzing noise. He looked up into the eaves and saw the papery nest filled with wasps. Now he skipped faster around the side of the house.

The red clay soil showed through in patches all over the drably dry yard. He kicked some pebbles out of the dirt with his sandaled feet, kicked some more, then began slowly moving around the house. As he passed down a path to the rear, he stopped now and then to peel some paint chips off of the wooden siding. They dropped from his fingers onto the ground joining the rest of the debris surrounding the base of the house.

He could feel cooler air emerging from under the building, and he knelt down to look underneath. Nothing much to see. There were a few dirty rags and a shoe here and there. Some empty tin cans. He would never crawl under there, though. He could see all the spider webs massed around the wooden beams, cross pieces, and pillars holding the floor up off the ground. A swift movement and a squeak told him something was living under there bigger than a spider, too. He quickly rose, wiped the dirt from his bare knees, and glanced around.

It was so quiet here. Except for the insect noises grinding away all around. No one moved down the cobbled streets or the crinkled sidewalks of the neighborhood. Because it was so hot. He didn't mind, but the older folks were always talking about the heat and the humidity. The heat and humidity. They lived together, it seemed. 

He sat on the back stoop, now, tossing pebbles he had picked up from the pathway. Occasionally he hit a tree or old can. He yawned. The back door squeaked open, and he turned to look up at the odd lady, then moved backward away from her. She grinned as she held out something towards him.

"Sweets. Hunh? Sweets. Okay. Heah ya go, sugah." He could see it was a biscuit. He didn't know what to do. But he reached out and took it. "See, sweets? Foah yu, boy." He looked again, saw it was covered with butter and what looked like blackberry jam. He smiled and took a bite. Yep, it was sweet. It was alright then.

He smiled at her and sat down again on the stoop eating his treat. As he opened his mouth to take in another bite, he heard a buzz by his ear. Looking down he saw a red wasp landing on the biscuit. He squealed as he dropped the biscuit in the dust. As he jerked back, he saw a muscled leg descending onto the lost treat in the dust.

The strange lady was stomping on the wasp as she grunted softly under her breath. Slight whimpering could be heard until she finally completed the task. She patted his shoulders as he shivered a little in that steamy summer day. She spat into the dusty path and turned to go back into the kitchen. After a minute she came out with a broom. "Go in 'er now, yu heah. Go inna kitchen, honey."

As the back screen slapped shut he peeked out an opening and saw her moving around from where he had come earlier. Around the side of the dwelling. Then he slowly followed her. He was curious what she was up to.

She was swiping the air under the wasp nest beneath the eaves. Raking across the papery home for the insects. He could hear her continuing to grunt softly with the effort. But he felt sure this was not a good idea. Then she struck it full on, and it fell. They swarmed out. He yelled as he batted the creatures away from his face, turning to run down the porchway to the front door. 

The odd lady was screaming now. Crying out with fear and hate. Mommy came running out the front door and grabbed him, forcing him to get inside. The woman was spinning about, and mommy took her arm with anxiety and strength. "Get in the house cousin Agnes. Get inside," she pleaded. 

Inside now they were smacking at the bugs on each other until they seemed to get them under control. He was stung several times and was now shivering once more, not with fear but with pain. Luckily Granny Liddle had not been stung. Mommy only once or twice. He had lots of stings it seemed. Cousin Agnes was lying on the settee now, shaking but not crying. Not crying at all. She never shed a tear. He did. It hurt so bad.

It was only a minute or two before cousin Agnes rose up and went into the kitchen. He could hear a sound of an ice pick chipping away at ice. He could see her through the open door, resolutely chipping and chipping, and finally bringing dishtowels filled with ice into the parlor. Placing them on Gary, and his mother, but especially checking out Granny Liddle. She had faired well. No stings. Cousin Agnes made sure they were feeling better and finally went back into the kitchen. 

Gary guessed she was soothing her pain there. But she stayed back there the rest of the time they were there. After what seemed forever mommy and Gary rose to leave. 

"It was a nice visit, Granny. For awhile, you know. I'm glad you got to meet Gary. He's your firstborn great grandson. He'll do you proud. You tell cousin Agnes to be well. We need to go now, dear." Mommy bent down and kissed Granny Liddle. "Gary, kiss Granny now."

He did so once more, feeling the tickling of her dry lips on his cheek. He backed up and looked towards the kitchen. "It's fine, honey. Cousin Agnes will be fine. We have to go."

They passed through the dimming light as they left the old homestead and began to walk down the crumbling sidewalks towards the center of his hometown. He had been born here, but this was his first visit since leaving when he was a toddler. It was all strange, still yet. 

"Who was that lady, mommy?" She looked at him.

"You met your Granny Liddle. She's your Pawpaw's mama."

"The other lady, mommy. Who was she? She was funny, and she gave me a biscuit. She was nice."

"Cousin Agnes. She takes care of Granny." Mommy nodded her head to herself. "That's what she does. She gets to live here."

"Was she alright? She didn't cry or anything. She's strong," he offered.

"Yes, that's one reason she stays here. She's strong. This is her place now. Family takes care of family. Cousin Agnes needs this place," she continued, nodding her head again.

Then mommy whispered under her breath, gently, "yes, she needs this place. Family takes care of family."


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