When we were poor, Mama would say we weren’t poor enough. I never quite understood what she meant, but I took her at her word.
When your breath still froze on a winter’s morning, one of us would walk down the road to the barn where we would get just one jug of fresh milk for our breakfast. Of course, it would have to be boiled first, but there was nothing quite like the taste of that old-fashioned milk. When we were able to buy pasteurized milk, it never tasted quite as good.
We didn’t have no cereal. That was for rich kids. We had two or three-day old crusts of bread in our bowl of milk and Mama would put in just a spoonful or two of coffee she made with an old percolator she was given by Mrs. Davis. Mrs. Davis gave Mama lots of things she didn’t want no more and Mama never said no. Pride was a sin, Mama would say and God helps those who help themselves and she was helping us all by accepting Mrs. Davis’ gifts.
After breakfast, we would all go to school. School was nearby so we didn’t wear out our shoes for many months and then somehow Mrs. Davis always knew when we needed new shoes and somehow always knew our sizes and gave new ones to Mama just when the old ones was wearing thin. Mama thought of Mrs. Davis as a guardian angel and just thanked God for everything she did for us.
Then there was that special Sunday when Mama was in the kitchen a-hummin’ and a singin’ the whole morning. We knew something special was for dinner but we didn’t know what. When she finally brought it out of the oven and put it on the table, it just looked like a chicken. But Mama was put out when we said chicken. Chicken, she cried, why no children, it’s pheasant – don’t you know a pheasant when you see one? And heck no, we didn’t. To me, it just tasted like another kind of chicken, but we made it out to be really special when we saw that gleam in Mama’s eyes. And, of course, we had it with greens and freshly dug potatoes. Sunday dinner was the best, no matter what it was. And back then, we girls and Mama celebrated our good fortune and the grace of God.
Then we grew up. And Mama died. And we buried her in the old church cemetery where Papa had died years before we almost even knew him. We made sure there were always flowers on both their graves and we never failed to place them there each Sunday after church.
But then, we finished growing up and each of us moved away to a new place, just far enough away to make it too difficult to put those flowers on their graves every Sunday, far enough away so that the only time we children, and our respective families, saw each other was on holidays and then, even that, seemed to be too much of a bother and so holiday gatherings were fewer and fewer until almost non-existent.
One day, I woke up and knew I had seen Mama in my dream. She looked sad and I saw her wiping her hands on her worn out apron, walking back and forth, walking around our empty Sunday table, set for five, but with only her there.
Several days later, Amelia called me and told me of a similar dream, only she had seen Mama standing by the back door, calling all of us to Sunday dinner.
It wasn’t but a few days later, May called Amelia, who later called me, to tell us that Mama had come to her in a dream asking if Savannah had washed up yet for Sunday supper.
We decided to meet for lunch and we spent hours reminiscing about the good ol’ days when Mama took such good care of us. Suddenly, and simultaneously, we realized we had become poor enough again, but not poor enough to realize the value of family.
We knew what Mama wanted and we did it. We promised not to spend another holiday apart. It was time to reunite all of our families and bring into the future the rich traditions of the past.