In stepped a woman, a force of nature really, clad in a flowered house coat, flip flops, kerchief in her hair and pink lips. “Honey child, you were not s’posed to be here til’ tommorra; you bout’ scared the dickens out a me. Here I am sitting with my feet up, drinkin’ my tea, and talkin’ to Miss Milly bout’ the cold front that comin, and what do I see when I look out my winda? You, that’s who. I screamed, ‘Oh no, Milly, I gots to go! I had to make sure she don’t think I’m havin’ a heart attack, or else we’d have the medics out here!” she stopped, briefly, took a long look at the room and continued. “I’m sure you figured out already that this ain’t no palace like that stupid brotha o’ mine said it be. It ain’t bad, but it ain’t what he claim it to be. Now, I don’t blame you if you turn youself right around and get your money back. That would be what I would do. I told him that too. Men, they all missin’ some bricks, if you know what I mean. I happy I ain’t got one no more. It was a good day when my husband went to meet the Lord, oh, I loved that man, but he was more work than what he was worth. Ha, like he wit the Lord, he’s surely wit the other guy, if you know what I mean. Now look at this place, it ain’t in no state for you and those two babies. You gots to get out of here so my girls can clean this place up.”
Julie was mesmerized – paralyzed – standing in the middle of the living room, eyes fixed on this strange, yet intriguing woman. Her mouth agape, she firmly held Lily in one arm and Jeremy with her other hand.
“Oh, no, now I done did it. I done made you comatose. Are you okay honey? I gots to learn to shut up my big mouth.” Somehow, Julie didn’t think that this was the first time an unexpected soul was left in this sort of condition by this larger than life personality. The woman turned Julie around and guided her to a kitchen chair. “Sit, I’ll get cha a cup a tea.”
For the next few hours, Julie sat in the same worn, but comfortable, chair while the woman whirled around the kitchen like it was her own. She made Julie one cup of tea and then another. While Julie drank, the woman talked and talked. Two teenage girls arrived carrying cleaning supplies and smiling brightly at the woman. She put them to work immediately, directing their every move while still talking to Julie. Lily was captivated by the woman, even Jeremy calmed his body for short periods of time, never stopping but slowing enough to notice the extraordinary woman before slipping through Julie’s grasp and running in and out of the room once again. Julie learned that Mama Ray was the grandmother of the two girls cleaning and that this had been her childhood home. “My name is Raelene, but nobody called me that since I was this chile’s age”, nodding to Lily. “Most call me Mama Ray or just Mama.”
After the first cup of tea, a young man showed up with bags of groceries. He placed the bags on the counter, kissed Mama Ray on the cheek, tipped his cap and went out the back door. Moments later, Julie heard the familiar sound of a lawn mower. “That Maurice, he’ll be taking care of the yard. He’s a good boy, heading off to college in the fall.” Turns out Maurice was Mama Ray’s tenth grandchild, the son of her first born son, Georgie.
“Mama, vroom, vroom” Jeremy pointed to the back door at the sound of the lawn mower. “No Jeremy, not now.” She knew that he believed it was his father mowing the lawn as he had done every Sunday for most of Jeremy’s life. Often times, he would set Jeremy up on his lap as he drove the machine across the half acre of land. Julie briefly wondered what he was doing with his Sundays now, and then returned her attention to Mama Ray, who was still talking.
“This here house was the first on the street, my Grandpa built it in 1905. All these homes were built by my family. We the Grays, as in Gray Road,” the street address of the six family homes that lined the dirt road. Julie learned that twenty-five acres of land had been given to her great grandfather Thomas Gray, in 1869 by a wealthy landowner. Thomas had saved the other man’s life, by placing his own body between a rifle and the man himself, during a disagreement he happened upon. Since her great grandfather was a very tall man of six foot three inches, the bullet hit him in the shoulder instead of the other man’s head. The landowner was so grateful that he gave her great grandfather the land as a thank you. Julie, captivated by the tale, never noticed when Jeremy slipped out the back door.
“Honey, you missin’ somthin?” said Mama as she wiped a dish (she had all but washed every dish, glass and utensil) while looking out the kitchen window.
“Oh crap” Julie said, embarrassed, realizing that Jeremy was no longer running in and out of the kitchen, like a caged bird trying to escape its prison.
There in the yard, under a large tree and amidst the overgrown shrubberies and wildflowers, stood the five-year old blonde haired wild child of a boy. For the first time since they arrived, he was completely still. His hands were not flailing; his feet were not running; his eyes were not scanning. He focused intently, with an upward gaze, on the tree and he spoke - a full sentence, clear and complete, “the tree is so big, isn’t it Mommy?”
“Mind me sayin,” said Mama as stood behind Julie still holding a dish cloth, “And don’t get your feathers ruffled I don’t mean nothin’ by it, but I been noticing that boy is not right somehow.” Julie didn’t get upset over Mama’s observation, after all, she was right.