It’s August 1972 and Brinson, Georgia is the hottest place on earth. The heat hangs visible outside the windows of our brand new Chrysler Town and Country wagon; the streets bubble with melted tar. We can’t stand this heat; but the bugs? They love it! Swarming gnats add nervous motion to the quiet countryside, enjoying this time of day when they are even more irritating than the local mosquitoes.
Brinson: it’s hardly a plush vacation spot.
Grandmama makes it magic
Yet we come here every summer; to us, there is no place more magical than this town because this is where Grandmama lives. Through the Chrysler’s windows, we spy endless fields laid out with a buffet of giant jelly rolls. Black crows swoop down in an attempt to make a dent in the feast before them. As the station wagon bumps its way over Brinson’s railroad tracks, trees, bewitched by a past field fire and left unproductive, beckon us down the road to Grandmama’s house. In daylight, these witchy trees are harmless. But when night falls, they will taunt us with their sharp, unnatural forms and earn their nickname.
The short dirt path that is Grandmama’s driveway leads us to the back of her white clapboard farmhouse. We run toward the house, our flip-flops squishing rotten figs fallen from Grandmama’s trees. Grandmama is waiting for us at the door when we bound up the brick steps. The screen door, speckled with holes repaired with criss-crossed fishing twine, squeaks a welcome. Its spring, having lost its spring decades earlier, leaves the door clinging to the side of the house.
Quickly wiping our figgy feet on the rubber door mat provided for that purpose, we spill into the dining room. The wood paneled room, made bright both by the wall of open windows on one side and the gallery of family photos on another, welcomes us with a flood of the familiar. The table dominates the room. An enormous oak construction, it is thick and sturdy enough to withstand armies of excited grandchildren. An oscillating fan keeps a summer breeze moving through the room. We make silly sounds in front of the fan, just to hear how it contorts our voices. We take turns; we laugh; we are at Grandmama’s house.
Supper on the Stove
Kitchen aromas hint that Grandmama has spent her day laboring in love over her famous Southern fare. The sweet smell of just-baked peach cobbler directs us to the bubbling desserts anxious for us to finish our supper. Black-eyed peas, seasoned with a meaty ham bone, simmer on one corner of the stove; green beans from the garden are cooking on low on another eye. Fresh corn, shucked and silked, is piled pyramid style in a pan on the counter. And judging from the potato peelings heaped in a bucket by the door, supper will include real mashed potatoes, not the boxed kind we always have at home. The biscuits aren’t ready yet. But the fresh baked aroma floating from the oven lets us know they are coming.
Later, we’ll go out and rock on the front porch and tell spooky stories about the abandoned school across the street. We will walk to the country store on the corner or go to visit our cousin up the road. Maybe we’ll even search the garden for a ripe watermelon. But for now, we’ll just stay right here in Grandmama’s dining room and wait for supper.
March 2022: The Mitchell family went down to Georgia, taking my parents’ grandchildren to places that have become sacred in my memory. The story of that trip is coming up next.