Three Words I Carry With Me

By ELISA MAYO,

My parents worked regular jobs, so I would spend holidays at the home of my mama’s mother.  I called her mamaw, sometimes papaw called her Nosie.  I liked when he did.  Her real name was Winnie Lenora, but I still just called her mamaw.   Mamaw was short and chunky.  By the time I knew her, her knees creaked when she walked and her once red hair was rusty and lined with silver.  She always kept something in, on, or around the stove for eating.  Her kitchen was never clean like those pictures you might see in a Southern Living magazine.  After all, she lived in it and cooked three meals every day for whoever happened to drop in.  She added –er to lots of words, especially the names of people.  Greta became Greter, Wanda was Wander.  Thank goodness Elisa never became Eliser. 

Mamaw’s voice could reach soprano octaves when she was frustrated with my papaw.  She’d screech out, “Now, James, hush,” when he started rambling about the war, the Bible, church, or how naught equals naught.  It was always funny.  She let papaw keep his slop bucket in the kitchen.  Sitting right in the corner of the kitchen, next to the sink, was a five-gallon bucket of meal leftovers, called pig slop.  Even writing this, my stomach turns at the thought of it.  However, I must say it was very convenient for cleaning up after meals.  And I guess papaw’s pigs liked it. 

By the time I knew them; they no longer slept together, which was just fine with me because I slept with mamaw.  Her mamaw snoring lulled me to sleep and I never woke in the morning when she slipped out of bed to make breakfast—always biscuits.  Biscuits made with her hands, not from the freezer.  I can still taste them.  They were flat and five of them would fit in her biscuit-baking iron skillet.  She often made two pans of them. 

Of all my memories of mamaw, I’ve carried one particularly close to me.  Mamaw always had rummage sale items on her front porch.  When I was young, I would often dig through mamaw’s rummage sale looking for books and trinkets.  One day I found a bright yellow button-up shirt.  It looked perfect to me and I took it into the house and spent a long time primping in front of the mirror and trying on my new shirt, tied at the waist.  I came out of the bathroom and headed back outside.  Mamaw was sitting in her rocking chair in the kitchen, one leg propped up on the chair foot rail, the other pushing against the floor.  She grabbed my arm as I passed her, looked straight in my eyes and said, “I like you.”  I still cry thinking about it.  She could have said I loved you, but it wouldn’t have meant the same thing.  I knew she loved me because I was hers, but to know she liked me went deeper.  It defined me as a person and told me I was all right.  It took my breath away.  “I like you,” it’s three words I’ve carried with me all this time.  And I can’t help thinking about them from time to time when life seems confusing or I wonder if I am finding my way.  Mamaw is dead now, but her words still live in my heart. 

Words are powerful.  Be careful with yours.