-by Diana C. Derringer-
In a guest bedroom, filled with pictures and family treasures, sets an old straight-back chair with a woven seat. The rear legs show wear from decades of propping against Granny (Haley) Beasley’s front porch wall.
Everyone who stopped by Granny’s during the summer months received an invitation to “come sit a spell.” Because her house had only two rooms, the porch usually provided the most comfortable gathering spot. Granny had none of the conveniences we now consider necessities. Her air conditioning came in the form of open windows and doors and funeral home fans. The tail of her apron served the same purpose, especially if she had just prepared a meal. No fast food for her. She made everything from scratch. A biscuit left over from breakfast covered with homemade jelly or jam became every child’s favorite treat.
She owned no television and seldom turned on the radio. We provided our own entertainment in the form of conversation, shared meals, jokes, and remembering when. Children played in the yard or sampled those pucker-your-mouth cherries that grew near the porch. We also walked up and down the road, still in sight of our parents’ ever-watchful eyes. Kicking up dust with bare feet never lost its appeal.
Granny had eleven children. Those who lived out of state visited frequently during the summer, with extended family in tow. As a result, the front porch visitors often spilled into the yard. When she ran out of chairs, we found a spot on the edge of the porch or on the grass. Whoever coined the phrase, the more the merrier, probably knew my granny. The better part of an afternoon could be spent catching up on who lived where, who was engaged or recently married, who was sick or all better now, and how much everyone’s children had grown. And weren’t they cute!
Getting to spend the night with Granny was a real treat. When darkness fell and we went inside to bed, we continued talking and laughing — Granny from her bed and grandchildren usually from a pallet on the floor. Whether my sister and I visited alone or with other cousins, we loved it, because Granny loved us and we loved her.
The teen years didn’t damper our enthusiasm for trips to Granny’s. We told our boyfriends how to get there, and she welcomed them with open arms—and an inspector’s eyes. They needed to know a few of Granny’s particulars. She expected strict adherence to whatever curfew our parents imposed. She tolerated no foul language. She wanted to know if you knew the Lord. She didn’t like pants and hated shorts, although she tolerated them on girls during those horribly sticky days.
However, my boyfriend (now husband) learned the hard way that such tolerance did not extend to males. During a real scorcher, he arrived at Granny’s to pick me up as he had several times before. They enjoyed teasing one another as we sat visiting for several minutes. Just as we stepped off the porch on our way to the car, he asked Granny if she didn’t think he had pretty legs. Never missing a beat, Granny said, “Young man, you come back here again in those short-legged britches and you’ll go away with striped legs!” We enjoyed a good laugh, but out of respect for my granny, he never wore shorts to her house again.
Long after Granny died, an aunt gave me a tape of odds and ends she recorded over the years. I expected the voices of several female cousins, all about my age who shared many of the antics at Granny’s house. What took me by surprise that Saturday morning was the wonderful trembling voice of my granny. I had no idea anyone captured her voice on tape. She didn’t like such tomfoolery. It embarrassed her. But there she was. I never thought I’d hear th
at voice again this side of heaven.
When we travel in the vicinity of Granny’s house, I still catch myself looking that direction, remembering all the good times. I can’t see the house from the main road, but that never stops my looking. Yet, I do see and hear—image after image in my mind: Granny gathering people into her open arms. Chairs lined up in a row, waiting for the next round of visitors. Granny’s long white hair in its halo style. Her voice with just a hint of tremble. Laughter that came from deep within. Uncles and cousins propped against the posts that supported the front porch roof. Children running races and turning cartwheels in the yard. Adults sitting back, chuckling.
Yes, I see, whether I’m passing nearby or sitting on my own front porch (a prerequisite when we built our country home).
Diana Derringer, a former social worker and adjunct professor, writes for several publications. She serves with her husband as a friendship family to international university students. www.dianaderringer.com.