Once when I was working a temp job in LaGrange, a co-worker remarked that my childhood sounded like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. He was right. It really was. Mama and Daddy did everything they could to make it so.
In the field adjacent to Nanny and Pops’ yard was a fire-tower manned by Mrs. Irma Collins. Miss Irma climbed the seemingly innumerable flights of stairs up to the tiptop of the tower, where she watched, mostly in the late spring and early summer, for forest fires. She carried a small cooler with her lunch inside and not much else. It was rare that she came down from the fire-tower until time to go home.
Trucks run awfully fast on the highway that separates our house from Nanny and Pops’. So, most of the time, Mama would walk me to the road where Pops would be waiting on the other side. If Miss Irma was working in the fire-tower though, I was allowed to cross the highway by myself, only after calling to her as a lookout.
Standing on the edge of our yard, I’d call up to the little office at the top of the tower, “MISS IRMA? MISS IRRRMMMAAAA??” She’d stick her head out the window, look up and down the highway for me and shout back, “Go ahead Little Un.” I’d run across the road to Pops waiting on the swing in the front yard.
Admittedly, it was a charmed life.
Before I started Kindergarten and before Ginny was born, I had lots of uninterrupted time with Mama. She read books to me. We hung clothes on the clothesline together. Mama taught me how to iron pillowcases and dishcloths so I could “help” with the ironing. She showed me how to wash hairbrushes, so I’d stay from underfoot while she cleaned our bathrooms.
We raked magnolia leaves into piles for burning in the driveway. We watered flowers on the screened in back porch. Sometimes went on walks, when it wasn’t too hot. Once, she made me a wreath of clover for my hair like the illustration of Heidi on my storybook.
She taught me how to roll out a pie crust, almost always leaving a small section of the crust for me to bake in the oven on top of my own tiny pie. Sometimes, she would let me help make pudding on the stove, which we would spoon into special parfait glasses that she had gotten as a wedding present. Then, we’d put the filled parfait glasses in the refrigerator to cool and eat them as a special dessert with Daddy after supper.
Every two weeks or so the Bookmobile came from the Desoto Trail Regional Library in Camilla. On the morning they were to come, I’d stand at the living room window and watch for them, dashing out the front door as soon as I saw the big bus lumber into view. Eagerly, I’d climb up the steps to greet The Bookmobile Ladies. I had favorite books that I chose almost every time, but Miss Joyce and Miss Wylene always had lots to choose from. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Strega Nona, The Mango Tooth, and Dan Frontier were all-time favorites. Each book had its own distinctive smell: some like cleaning spray, others like cold salt. The Wee Little Man smelled like mimeograph paper. Very rarely, The Bookmobile Ladies would let me ride with them down to Aunt Sallie and Uncle Riley’s house. I would sit in Miss Joyce’s chair as the Bookmobile crept down the narrow paved road and up the steep driveway into Aunt Sallie’s yard. Mama would follow behind in our car and after a quick hug from Aunt Sallie, I’d jump in the car with Mama, and we’d come back home.
Most Wednesday’s, Mama and I went to Camilla. Our first stop was Mr. Twitty’s Feed & Seed on Broad Street. Mr. Twitty’s store had a heavy wooden door with a screen door in front. Usually, the wooden door was open wide into the store. Folks entered off the sidewalk through the screen door with a distinctive slap announcing their arrival. Trays of zucchini, squash, and cucumber plants were rolled onto the sidewalk on either side of the doors where they basked in the partial shade under the store awning. Most times, there were plastic planting containers of purple petunias, begonias, or geraniums out front, too. I could smell the fertilizer before I walked inside.
Mr. Twitty was tall, with a shock of white hair and a sideways smile. He looked at me through wire-framed glasses from behind a wide, worn, wooden counter on top of which sat an old cash register like the ones I’d seen in Western movies. The store’s wooden floor provided my red-leather sandals a satisfactory slap-slap-slap as I walked straight to the big, wooden seed bins right in the middle of the store. I loved plunging my hands deep into the seed bins, listening to the seeds splat-splat-splat back into the box in quick succession as I’d let them fall back into the bin before plunging my hands in again. Mr. Twitty’s black-and-white Boston bulldog, Tippy, had been conditioned to come investigating when he saw Mama and me, for Mama let me bring Tippy special treats: small bites of cheddar cheese or a cold hot dog sliced into bite-sized pieces, a leftover piece of cinnamon toast from our breakfast. Sometimes, Mama would buy some seed packets or a six-pack of petunias, but mostly we stopped in to say hello.
After Mr. Twitty’s store, we would walk down to City Jewelry to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. City Jewelry was air-conditioned and smelled like the clean packaging from inside a fancy gift box. Ther