Just like nearly every other woman I know, tonight after I got home from my full-time job, I started my second full-time job. On this particular evening, in addition to the typical routine: supper prep, supper clean-up, laundry, and homework assistance, I also peeled 8 pounds of russet baking potatoes.
Loaded baked potato casserole is one of the essential side items requested for Colin’s birthday dinner. The menu also includes fish sticks with honey mustard on the side, steamed broccoli with homemade cheese sauce and something he calls ranch salad. The recipe for ranch salad for those who are curious: chopped iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, and croutons. For dessert, he’s asked for a Dairy Queen ice cream cake. I’ve got this.
When I was a little girl, Mama cleaned house by first opening all the windows to “air things out and let the sunshine in.” Then, she put a Broadway soundtrack on the record player.
I was of the age that chores were fun and helping Mama made me feel accomplished. She taught me how to starch and iron the dishcloths and pillowcases. Sometimes, she would let me wash the hairbrushes. I remember only bits and pieces of those days: how water would flick up into my face when I washed her round brown hairbrush or Daddy’s turquoise one with salt-and-pepper bristles, how the hot soapy water made the kitchen smell, the squeak of the bathroom mirror as I wiped it clean with newspaper wet with vinegar and water. I remember curtains catching a breeze and billowing out into the room.
Things were getting better. The initial shock was wearing off, and folks were busy with clean up, insurance, estimates, adjusters, livestock, crop evaluations. There was still no power, but we were all making do. It’s amazing how clean you can get with a bottle of water and a washcloth.
Out at Mama and Daddy’s the “Little House on the Prairie” camp was working so well, they reported they “lacked for nothing.” A friend had come by with a chainsaw and made fast work of the few trees still down, doing in 30 minutes what was taking hours for us to do with a band-saw and a hatchet. Now, Daddy’s primary concern was the pecan tree balanced on top of the gas tank in the backyard. “What if it explodes?” I asked. “Well, I guess we’ll find out,” he answered.
After settling the boys on the air-mattress beside our bed, I opened the windows in our bedroom for some fresh air. It was still raining, but the gusts were less frequent. Dark as pitch, I couldn’t tell how much damage had been done but knew when dawn broke things would be different.
After a while, it was cool in the bedroom. Paisley sat at the foot of our bed, something he is never allowed to do, but he knew something was different. His chin rested on his salt-and-pepper front paws that stretched out in front of him, but his ears stood at attention, guarding us.
Weather in South Georgia is not unpredictable. We always have super-hot summers and mild, short springs. Fall is usually an extension of summer with days warm enough for short-sleeves lasting through October, sometimes even November. Winter doesn’t really start until around January and even then, we can count on cold rain more than hard, deep freeze. From time to time, we can expect a tornado or two, or at the very least, a handful of warnings. In Southwest Georgia, we all know that hurricanes blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico have the potential to be more ominous than those from the Atlantic.
Sometimes though, weather alerts feel a little like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Our local meteorologists warn us for days about the potential for high winds and monumental amounts of rain, only to receive a smattering of rain with winds that blow over an outdoor trashcan. Inconveniences at best.
There are lots of things I don’t mind waiting for: the start of a concert, those days before a baby is born, for Christmas to come. There is an anticipation associated with that kind of waiting, and it colors the wait with bright, vibrant expectant excitement. That kind of wait tastes like cinnamon.
I don’t like waiting on unknowns. Those things whose outcomes are unpredictable: the limbo period after a job interview, waiting for the cast list to go up, weather forecasts, test results. Those waits tiptoe around my mind smearing blue and deep purple, grey. Waits like that slowly float under waterfalls of worry. Those kinds of waits, the ones without anticipation sprinkled in, taste like scalded milk and smell like hot plastic.
“Babe, we might have to call somebody,” I said, using the small, quiet, whispery voice I use when I’m breaking bad news. After the thorough cleaning I’d already given it, the smell emanating from the refrigerator should’ve disappeared, but it hadn’t. Within 24 hours it had gone from curious and off-putting to unbearable, and I was convinced, potentially toxic.
From what Daddy has put together, my great-great grandfather William Thomas Morgan was twenty-five years old and a member of the field artillery fighting at Gettysburg when he got word that his wife and children were sick with typhoid fever. So, he left his battalion and walked most of the 844 miles back to Quitman, GA.
We do not know if he made it home before both his wife and one of his little girls died. His only surviving child, Carrie, continued to live with her maternal grandparents until Mr. Morgan returned home once and for all after war’s end.