Momma’s got a lead foot. Anytime she got behind the wheel of the car and Daddy was forced into a passenger seat, he’d grab the “Oh Shit Strap” over the door, set his teeth and as she would accelerate he’d proclaim, “Speed on, Priscilla.” Miss Pat can make a normal 45 minute car ride into the country an excursion filled with airborne moments and fishtails of gravel splatter. You’d think the devil was on her tail and gaining fast.
Daddy is a methodical, measured man. He is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. At my grandparent’s farm he’d rise early to help “Mr. Shannon.” On the farm, I’d wake up to the sounds of my grandfather lighting the stove in the kitchen and putting the old percolator on the flame. Then he’d settle a cast iron skillet on the stove top followed by the shick-thunk of him slicing bacon. The conversation between Granddaddy and Daddy was muffled by the drone of the farm report on the radio. Hogshares seemed to be a big deal to that reporter because he could put me back to sleep on cold mornings when the bed and my quilts were still singing their siren song.
But on this morning, it was a late summer day and the box fan in the window blew over me and my sister. The locusts’ song was already clicking, hissing, and rising louder: foreshadowing another sweltering Mississippi dusty day. I eased out of bed because you never wanted to wake my sister Elizabeth; she was not a morning person like me. I was known as Miss Sally Sunshine because I never met a dawn I did not like. I shucked off my PJs and pulled on my t-shirt and cutoffs and slipped my feet in my usual ratty scuffed Keds. I worked hard to get that worn in look but dragging my feet instead of braking on my bike. I think the whiteness of new canvas was a personal affront to my adventurous ideals.
As I padded in the kitchen, I poured myself a half a cup of coffee and some of the warm cream out of the pan on the stove. I slid into the chair next to my grandfather and leaned in for our traditional morning snuggle. I drank in that divine smell of his work shirt, a mixture of sweat, diesel fuel, and horse liniment. His morning whiskers scraping my forehead, he wrapped his arms around and then smoothed my hair out of my face. He loved me as I was—wild and untamable, like my hair.
Granddaddy shoved the platter of bacon and fresh buttermilk biscuits and a big pot of molasses my way. “Eat up. When your Daddy and I get back in, you and I are going to go fishing over at your Uncle Joe’s place.”
I slammed down my cowboy coffee to protest, “I can eat later. I’m going to the barn with you.”
“Not this time…we won’t be 5 minutes. We are headed down to turn the calves into a different pasture and bring up the bull. We don’t want you underfoot when dealing with him…”
Pouting, I made a biscuit and bacon sandwich. “Ok…but I can help …”
“Not this time, Soukie. Them calves hollering for their mommas is going to make King a bit cranky, and he ain’t trust worthy on a good day.”
I looked out the window toward the pasture beyond the great pecan tree. King was the biggest, meanest Brahma bull we’d ever had on the farm. He went through barbwire like tissue paper when on a tear. I’d already had a couple of lessons about not cutting through THAT pasture to get to the pond. Granddaddy only kept him because he put out nice progeny.
Granddaddy donned his usual feed store hat, checked his shirt pocket for his nitro pills and his back pocket for his ever present white and brown plaid handkerchief. I could hear him and daddy on the back porch clumping down the rough, home milled planks of the steps in their heavy boots. They rounded the back corner of the house and were smiling and deep in conversation. I moved to the bench under the windows at the end of the kitchen that looked toward the barn. Granddaddy paused before crossing the lawn to wipe his forehead with his handkerchief and turned and waved it at me with a huge smile on his face. He and daddy continued walking and were just under the peach trees before the gate to the barn when Papaw crumpled to the ground. Daddy was at his side calling his name.
I shouted and started to run for the door hollering as I sped out of the kitchen, “Momma. Grandma. Come quick. Granddaddy’s fallen!” Out the screen door I flew. Daddy had his head on Granddaddy’s broad chest. He took his two big hands, laced them together, and with all his might hammered the middle of the old man’s chest. Once, twice, three times…Daddy came down with all his strength. Daddy listened again. Nothing.
By now, Momma was out there, and Grandma wasn’t far behind. For a full figured gal who always enjoyed her ill health, Granny could move in that hiked up night gown. Momma and Daddy began tag team CPR. Grandma fished in Papaw’s shirt pocket for his pills and stuck two under his blue swollen tongue. Momma, as calm as if she was asking you to pass the butter, said, “Trish, take your grandmother inside so she can call for an ambulance.”
Grandma and I hurried back in, me running ahead to open the door. My sister met us there throwing on clothes, her eyes wide with fear. We both followed Grandma into the kitchen where she picked up the dark green Belltone phone. “I need the line please,” she said out of breath to the ever chatty ladies on the party line.
“You can have it when we’re done,” responded Miss Etta, the most egregious of party line usurpers.
“Not now, Lily Mae. Etta is telling me all about last night’s tent revival meeting over in Satartia,” chimed in the always indignant and angry Mary Kaye Chisholm who lived over Anding way.
“Get off the God damn phone. Haskin’s had a heart attack!” And with that Grandma slammed the receiver down and then picked it back up to an empty line. She quickly completed her call.
My sister and I looked at each other, our mouths open wide. Grandma Shannon never cursed. Ever. Lily Mae Shannon was a God-fearin’ woman and certainly never took the Lord’s name in vain nor tolerated it from anyone inside her house.
Grandma grabbed a folded quilt off a chiffarobe by the back door and ran out to Momma and Daddy. We watched from the window as they lifted Granddaddy’s torso up and elevated him on the soft old quilt. Momma and Grandma rushed back in the house to dress. Momma grabbed Daddy’s wallet and keys and spun out the front door. My normally smartly attired and perfectly coiffed mother flew down the front steps hair uncombed, bare faced, shirt tail hanging out, and shoes untied. She cranked up our Olds and barreled across the back yard skidding to a halt close to where Granddaddy lie crumpled under the peach tree. She motioned for us to come. We ran out the door and Grandma wasn’t far behind buttoning her house dress as she ran in Granddaddy’s slippers across the yard.
It took all five of us to stuff him in the backseat of our car. I was sent to roll the electric windows down once we had him mostly in. Daddy got in the foot well and continued CPR as Momma folded Granddaddy’s legs up, balanced his ankles on the open window sill, and shoved the door shut. Elizabeth tied Daddy’s white hankie to the antenna on the hood. Momma got behind the wheel, and Grandma jumped shotgun. Daddy hollered from the back floorboard, “Gun it.”
They tore out of the orchard, across the back yard, and took to the air as they lurched over the berm out front before fishtailing onto the gravel road that would carry them 5 miles to meet the ambulance at the Plymouth Landing Baptist Church. The last I saw of my grandfather was his booted feet sticking straight out the gold Delta 88’s passenger window as they roared away in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.
Shannon Evans is a Southern author accidentally born north of the Mason Dixon. Her father’s military service and her mother’s journalism career moved the family eventually back to Mississippi. She spent her days listening to the stories of her family and friends told and retold in their rich Southern accents. She attended Ole Miss to study Faulkner and then Mississippi University for Women in order to have first-hand access to the Eudora Welty collection. She has published multiple non-fiction “how to” books, poetry, and short stories. She has lived for the last 15 years in the Pacific Northwest but now has returned to her hometown of Columbus, Mississippi where she is currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing.