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They Call Me Mother Street by Michael Gigandet



Ever’body calls me Mother, even them who ain’t no kin to me. I’s born Sadie over in the Meade’s Chapel community and married into the Street family back when Mr. Harding was running the country a’fore he up and died mighty odd-like accordin’ to some. Ne’er had no children myself, but them Streets a big family, and I raised a good bit of ‘em includin’ Mr. Street’s passel, so they just took to callin’ me Mother. All of ‘em’s farmers here ‘bout.

            I’m not one to go braggin’ ‘bout ‘em all comin’ to my house after church Sundays for dinner, but they do. Always have, and I ‘xpect they always will. It’s my cookin’ which I learnt from Mama Pose who was not my mother. She was Mr. Street’s mother what lived with us until she died back when Mr. Truman was runnin’ things. Ever’body ‘round here called her Mama Pose even them no kin to us. That’s the kind’a people we are out here.

            Whatever you’re a cookin’, Mama Pose put bacon grease or buttermilk in it. You wouldn’t put grease in a cake or a biscuit, just buttermilk. Grease goes in your squash and your beans, such as that.

            I can’t tolerate buttermilk to drink it, never could abide it. Mr. Street crumbles cornbread in his’n ‘though I can’t imagine why you’d want to make it harder to swaller. I serve it at the table ever’ Sunday for them that’s partial to it; I drink sweet tea myself.

            Ever’time I see a carton of buttermilk I think of poor Linda Lou Veach. Bless her heart. Gettin’ yourself cremated and buried in a milk carton.

We had words ‘bout it agin this past Sunday dinner. My sister Earline said she heard it was a milk jug. No sir I said, Reba Lee, that’s the Veach’s youngest girl, told me plainly it was a milk carton. It were my feelin’ if it had been a milk jug the troubles might ne’er started.

            “Well people just don’t buy milk in cartons these days,” Sister says. “Ever’thin’s plastic.”

             Well, buttermilk comes in cartons, I tell her, and ever’body knows how Frank Earl, that’s Reba Lee’s husband, drinks that sour milk ‘count of his stomach. So it makes perfect good sense to me that Reba Lee would have a buttermilk carton to bury her momma in.

            Now Uncle Bud’s got to join in. That’s my husband’s brother who ain’t my uncle; we just call him that. He says, “Seein’ how Linda Lou abandoned them babies and took to high livin’ in California, she’s lucky she got buried a’tall.”

  Mrs. Veach come back home just long enough to die, you see.

            Them kids refused to claim her body down at the county, and I declare, the county up and cremated her and sent ‘em a bill. Then the county called Reba Lee and said they had Linda Lou down there in a paper bag and she better come collect her or they’d bury her and bill ‘em again.

            Them kids said they ain’t payin’, so Reba Lee, who was never right after she got hypnotized at that school assembly show, grabbed herself a milk carton and got her mama which I’m thinkin’ was the right decent thing to do, considerin’.

            Reba Lee’s the one raises them Yorkie dogs. Them dogs were the only thing she ever got excited about, always walkin’ ‘round with her eyes half closed like she just woke up…pore thing. I wondered if she was just naturally that way and people just convinced her she’s still hypnotized. You know how people’ll do.

“Her father’s side of the family was always sleepy,” says Earline’s son Rap “...knew all them boys in school.”

Well sir, Reba Lee poured Linda Lou outta that sack and into the carton right there at the counter. I asked her why she did what she did, and she said it weren’t dignified to carry your momma’s ashes around in a paper bag.

Them kids weren’t ‘bout to pay to bury Mrs. Veach at a reg’lar cemetery so Reba Lee buried her under a willer tree on her place. Whenever the wind blowed, that willer’d wave ‘round, and Frank Earl’d say, “Reba Lee! Linda Lou is waving at ya’.”

I’m not one to pass judgment, but that man ain’t ne’er had a lick a’ sense.

The kids decided that Linda Lou’s spirit wouldn’t rest ‘cause she’s buried in a milk carton, so they bought 'em a cheap urn. Still, they wouldn’t pay to bury her in a cemetery after she’d run off on ‘em and all.

So they buried her in Reba Lee’s pet cemetery. Every dog has his own headstone with its name on there and some writing like: ‘A Good Friend,’ ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ and ‘A Friend to Me.’

Later Reba Lee bought her a concrete angel from that blind man down on the bypass. The blind man sells them wooden birdhouses, wind chimes and yard twirlers which he makes hisself ‘though nobody knows how he done it being blind and all. We’s all worried over him maybe cuttin’ off a hand and worsenin’ his situation. No one knew the blind man’s name although Uncle Bud maintained he was one of them Ellises lives over near Murfreesboro.

Reba Lee said the angel’s wings were lopsided, but no one would say anything to the blind man about his angels havin’ crooked wings ‘cause they’s afraid of hurtin’ his feelings.

We got to studyin’ ‘bout it Sunday and worryin’ whether the blind man was still alive or whether he got hisself run over by a truck like Uncle Bud said, so after dinner we drove over there a’lookin’ for him. We sent Rap in to spy about, and the blind man sold him a goose wind twirler with wings that rotate like windmills, and him not havin’ two nickels to rub together.

And that there’s ‘nother reason I don’t drink buttermilk.

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