Thursday, September 16, 2010
Miss Sella Don't Know Much
Miss Sella don't know much, but she knows Big Momma Thornton. Her gnarled hands shake as she shucks the corn. Trained and calloused finger tips strip out the the silk and her wrists fling it in the bin as an New York dancer might flick theirs for effect. She taps her toe and sings out loud. "Rock me baby," she bellows, and I just know Miss Thornton is smiling down from heaven.
Old Miss Sella never graduated high school. She couldn't tell you what half the words in the dictionary mean. But she can figure change in her head every Thursday as she sells her homegrown tomatoes at the square. She can't talk like a lady, but she can love as big and strong as the earth she tills.
"Ya gonna start on them beans, child? Or are we eating air for supper?" I grin and grab up a handful of green beans. I snap the ends off just like she taught me all those years ago. It's hotter than Hades today, but the clean mountain air makes up for it. And every so often a sweet crisp breeze blows through the mosquito netting and ruffles my hair. "We havin' succotash, Miss Sella?"
She grins and I see that a few more teeth are missing. "You know it, child." My tummy growls in anticipation, my taste buds burst with the memory of the buttery goodness yet to come. Ain't nobody alive can cook like Miss Sella. "You fixin' to have some fried chicken?" Miss Sella clucked her tongue at me, "Fraid not, youngin'. Got me a nice hunk a ham. Gonna have us a feast with some biscuits, if you ever get them beans ready."
I chuckled and assured her, "I'm a goin', I'm a goin.'" I held up my basket and showed her my progress. She squinted against her cataracts and nodded. "Why ain't you singing? You know how we cook in this house. Or did you forget? Down there in your big city with your big city men, I bet you forgot."
"Hey now! I ain't forgot, Miss Sella. Honest." I leaned back and started up where she'd left off. Wasn't long till she joined in and we were singing Big Momma Thornton up in the West Virginia mountains. Bees buzzin,' breeze blowin', sun about to bake us half to death--and us crazy women singin' the blues.
Charles hates it when I come home to check on her. He says I don't talk right for days, sound like a damn hillbilly. Well, I reckon he's right. But there is something about the winding black snake road flanked by bright green grass and cool mountain air that beckons me up this manic rock. First thing I do is kick off my fancy heels and dig my toes into the cool spongy grass. Second thing is to chase down Miss Sella for long needed hug.
I look at Miss Sella and try to picture her in the city, walking through the galleries. I wonder what she'd make of seeing her favorite blues singers splashed across walls and idolized by folks who would have forced them to use colored bathrooms 70 years ago. The world is changing so fast it's hard for old relics like Miss Sella to make sense of it.
I could fill an ocean with the things Miss Sella don't know.
Her knees pop as she climbs to her feet and hugs the basket of corn to her hip with one hand, leans on her cane with the other. "Let me get that, Miss Sella!" She swats me away with her cane and I remember the precision with which she wields that thing. "I ain't dead yet, youngin.' You wanna help? Bring them beans to the kitchen."
Sunlight fills the kitchen with warmth and joy. I breathe in the fresh lemon scent. She makes her own lemon soap and cleaners. Always has. Sunflower prints line the walls. I remember cutting and framing them for her on the days my mother left me here. Miss Sella loves her sunflowers.
She wraps the honey-spiced ham with foil and shoves in the oven. I don't say a word as she huffs and rights herself. Then she takes a sharp knife and scrapes all the corn off the cob and tosses it in a large pot. Next goes the Lima beans and finally the green beans. She puts some chicken stock in and brings it to a boil. I pour her a glass of iced tea and smile at her as she sits down at the table.
She squeezes my hand. "Ya know he died, don't ya child?" Her voice is well worn gravel turning under heavy tires. "Yeah...Momma told me." She blinks back some tears and I stare out into the sunlight till my eyes go blind and my vision fills with spots. "He was a bad man. Couldn't see why your Momma married him. Never wanted to you run away like that. If you'd just told me..."
I blinked and swallowed hard. Miss Sella waved her hands in the air. "No matter. You come home when ya can." I got up and gave her a big hug. Her strong hands ran over my back, expelling demons. Tears spilled over my cheeks. "I'll be home a lot more now, just wait and see." She gave me a tight squeeze and let go.
I sat back down and she took a hearty gulp of her sweet tea. "Ahh that's the stuff!" We chuckled together and fell into local gossip. Miss Sella might not know much, but she knows what matters most. I sniffed the air. Honey baked ham. Mmmmmm....