Just talking to ol’ Booley

Published 7:12 pm Friday, October 9, 2009

Mama could have marched me straight home switching my scrawny legs with every step, but she didn’t.

If she had, I might not have fallen in love the way I did.

I grew up in the tenant house that my granddaddy made available to Daddy and Mama when he came home for the Air Corps after World War II.

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It was a four-room, white painted house with a bathroom hanging on for dear life. Just behind our house was another tenant house, bigger but unpainted, where Amos, Eunice and Lizzy lived. Aunt Mary Nancy lived there, too, but she was as crazy as a Betsy bug so they kept her locked in a room just off the front porch.

Booley lived down the pig trail in a house that had siding on it that looked like bricks but it wasn’t.

Every day after school, I would shed my school clothes for my play clothes and go straight to Amos and Eunice’s house – up the steep wooden steps, down the long, dark hall and straight to the kitchen and the wood stove where Eunice kept the leftovers from dinner, usually a baked sweet potato with crispy skins, a pone of cornbread or a biscuit and a piece of ham. But whatever it was, I was welcome to it, Eunice always said.

I’d go back out and take my place on the porch, ready to listen to the tales that were being “strowed around.”

Eunice and Lizzy dipped snuff and Amos and ol’ Booley chewed tobacco. From wherever they were sitting, they could spit clear across the porch and out onto the snuff bush. It was an amazing thing to see.

I was a pretty good spitter myself. I had a gap between my two front teeth so I had perfect aim. Eunice always fixed me sweet tea in a jelly jar and it provided me with all the ammo I needed.

“Don’t waste all your tea, spitting,” Eunice would say. But she didn’t need to say that. I’d become so engrossed in the stories they were telling that I would soon forget to spit.

Eunice, Amos and Lizzy would go for a ride every day just before dark, leaving me and ol’ Booley behind.

When Mama would hear their car leave, she’d start calling me. Usually, I’d answer but sometimes I’d be so caught up in ol’ Booley’s stories that I wouldn’t even hear her and she would come march me home.

“But, Mama, I was just sitting there talking to ol’ Booley,” I’d say.

It was on those many afternoons that I spent on the porch “talking to ol’ Booley” and Eunice, Amos and Lizzy that I developed a fascination for the spoken word and fell head over heels in love with storytelling.

My family owned and operated cotton gins, a feed mill and an ice plant and cold storage facility. Daddy let me hang around there where farmers and townspeople gathered for business or just to “chew the fat,” as Daddy would say.

Out in the gin yard, the bales of cotton would be stacked yea high and I’d climb to the top and sit there listening to the tales the farmers told. In the summer, everybody who came to pick up a watermelon they’d left to cool in the ice room had a story to tell.

Just why a lady’s tongue loosened up while she was waiting to have her meat cut, Mr. James Danner said he couldn’t say. “But their tongues go to wagging like a dog’s tail,” he’d laugh and say. And, oh, the tales they could tell.

“And, you didn’t hear a thing I said, little girl,” they would say to me, knowing full well I’d taken in every word. When I got to be a teenager, most of the girls liked to gather at the drug store after school.

I liked to go with Mama to the little grocery store behind town and listen to the folks sitting around sharing stories of the simplest things. Mama and Papa Nick and their “regulars” could keep me entertained all afternoon long.

When I had a family of my own, my laughing place was Black’s Grocery on the backstreet of town.

Sometimes I would pull a stool up to the counter. Other times, I’d pop open a short co-cola, pour in a bag of salted peanuts and join the gathering at the drink box where something interesting was always going on.

Many times, I would be invited back to help myself to whatever was on stovetop in the back of the store.

Grace cooked dinner back there and she always cooked more than she and Mr. Noah could eat.

“Get you some of those peas. The cornbread’s in the oven.”

If things were lagging a little, all somebody had to say was, “Grace, tell us again how it was that you made Noah stop farming.”

Grace wouldn’t get two words out before Mr. Noah would come up out of his chair.

“Now wait just one dang minute. Grace ain’t never made me quit farming …”

We would all laugh and settle in because the stories would gush like a “busted” water pipe.

Stories. They have been such a huge part of my life and continue to be.

I am truly blessed that someone is willing to pay me to listen to and write the stories of the people who daily add spice and love and laughter to my life and make it whole.

And, Kathryn Windham is right.

There’s no better way to say “I love you” than with a story. And there are no sweeter words in the world than, “Tell me a story, Granma” and no place I’d rather be than sitting under the story bush with someone I love.