I got as comfortable as I could, sitting on the hard concrete step in front of Luke’s door and said, “Okay Luke. Let ‘er rip.”
He stared off into space and began to speak, almost as if he was talking to himself, the way old people tend to do when they don’t have anyone else to talk to.
“I don’t believe anybody ever knew her real name”, he said. “She was just always ‘mother’. She was born in 1920, and as a young girl she and her family survived the great depression. I think it made her value what little she had a bit more than most. She was frugal but generous. More often than not, she would go without so that her younguns would have.”
“When she walked to the fresh fruit market and saw a strawberry or an undersized orange laying on the ground, she’d pick it up and say, ‘willful waste makes woeful want’.”
“She married a ne’er do well, johnny come lately, who was more interested in laying around giving orders than getting a job. So five years and three younguns later, Mother being Mother, got up one day and said, ‘get your lazy butt out of here’.”
All the neighborhood younguns loved her and would hang out at her house until plumb almost nighttime. She baked cookies, told them stories, gave them advice and taught them how to pray. She called them by their name but everybody got a kick out of what she called her own younguns.”
I interrupted and asked, “What did she call them?”
Luke smiled and said, “Older, Middle and Younger. I don’t know if anybody every knew their real names either. She’d holler, ‘Older! Come in now and help me with Middle and Younger’.”
“She was a kind woman, who would give you the shirt off of her back, but if you messed with one of her younguns, you’d come closer to living if you met a mama bear with her cubs. She was ferociously protective when it came to her younguns.”
“She lived by the Golden Rule and she raised her younguns to do the same.” He grinned and said, “that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t get up to some mischief now and then.” He smiled even broader and said, “I remember when Older skipped school one day, and went fishing. Oh, boy! When Mother found out, he got the ‘talking to’.”
“The talking to?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “She said, ‘if that don’t beat all. You’re lucky I ain’t studyin’ about gettin’ me a hickory switch and whomping your fanny! You were raised better than that! Sneakin’ off and skippin’ school. Do you know how lucky you are to be able to go to school? Do you know how lucky you are that some teacher is willin’ to teach you some learnin’? I wished I’m a die! I ain’t never seen the beat in my life. Actin’ like you ain’t got the good sense the Lord gave you. Now, you go in your room and you think about that very thing’.”
Luke laughed and said, “Mother had a way of reverting back to her true, backwoods Southern roots when she was angry…but nobody ever heard her say a curse word.”
“She was strict and stern,” he said, “but she never laid a hand on those younguns.
After Older got into trouble, he asked if she was mad at him. Mother looked at him and said, ‘no, Older. I’m not mad. I’m disappointed’.”
Luke looked down and said, “Disappointing Mother was like a mortal sin. I think feeling that hickory switch would have been better than seeing disappointment in Mother’s eyes.”
It was nearing time for me to go back home and after a minute of thinking, I said, “How do you know so much about Mother and Older and Middle and Younger? Were you one of the children who used to go to her house?”
Luke quietly said, “Okay.”
To be continued__________