Once upon a time, there was a weird sound out on the back porch:
It was daytime, but the porch windows were covered with dense screens and muslin curtains, and the cement floor was painted dark gray. The single light bulb overhead wasn’t enough to illuminate the shadowy borders of the small room.
My cousin and I did what children often do when scared. We moved towards the noise, terrified, giggling and clinging tightly to each other, emitting dolphin-in-distress type noises.
Finally, we spied it, behind the old wringer washer, far back in the corner where no one ever went, not even our mothers, women known to react to dust bunnies like a Tomahawk missile reacts to a target.
It was a mouse, a small mouse, and it was determined to reach the nearest exit, despite the fact it was now wearing a mousetrap. The bar of the trap, with the precision of a neurosurgeon, had landed just so on the mouse’s neck, leaving the mouse dazed but quite alive.
The mouse moved. We screamed. We moved. It moved. We screamed. It moved. We moved. It moved. We screamed.
My grandmother appeared. She of the soft voice, the cool, worn hands, the gentlewoman Church of Christ demeanor.
She was annoyed. “What’re y’all doing out here, making all this racket?!”
“OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD, GRANDMA, THERE’S A MOUSE, AND IT’S STUCK IN THE TRAP, AND IT’S STILL ALIIIIIIVE!“
Grandma glanced down at the mouse. She rolled her eyes and said, “You girls -” then picked up trap and mouse, flung it out the back door, grabbed the hoe and
No fuss, no mouse.
She said something like “Finish folding those towels,” and then went into the house.
True story. I have to laugh every time I tell it. The way Grandma looked at us, shaking her head. I wish I had it on film. Maybe one day, I’ll put it there.
For a few moments, my quiet, sweet little widowed grandmother reverted into the sturdy farm wife who went out to the coop every day for years, and picked out a chicken for dinner and wrung its neck. The girl who, at the age of four, learned to pushed a chair up to the wood stove and cook oatmeal for the younger kids because her father died and her mother had to find work. The woman who bore and raised nine children, including a set of twins. The mother who lived through the sudden, violent death of a son, and the trials that only served to exonerate his killer.
And still, somehow, she eventually found her way back around to smiling, and laughing, and loving and trusting, and faith in God.
I don’t know how she ever did it, any of it.
I want to be that free. I want to be that strong.
Minus the hoe.