Friday, November 29, 2013

168. Local Wisdom

"Eye'mmuh gunna tell you sumthin, ladies."

Whistle, Hotdog and I attempted to make eye contact with the woman swaying gently side-to-side in front of us. We did not know her name. We knew her only as "Maw-muh!" as that is what her 2 drunk adult sons called her. The rest of the intoxicated locals around the bonfire were also calling her the same thing, so I decided to believe that "Mama" was her given name. I would have liked to be the maternity nurse who got to sign that paperwork.

Dumptruck, Apollo, Hotdog, Whistle, The Hunger and I were all staying at a Tennessee hostel half a mile down a dirt road off the trail. We were the only hikers staying there that night, and we had spent the day doing work-for-stay with the charming back country groundskeeper, Mark, who ran the place. I was still getting to know Hotdog and Whistle, and we got to bond further over moving several hundred pounds of logs and rocks from one side of the property to the other. As we chatted many different topics arose, including youthful indiscretions, such as breaking into acquaintances' houses to cook them sneaky pancake breakfasts. At one point, Whistle dusted her hands off, looked me in the eye and asked,

"Have you ever been arrested?"

"Nope," I shrugged, "Have you?"

"Not a once. But it's probably good that you and I didn't know each other as teenagers."

"How come?"

"Because," she said off-handedly, picking up an armload of logs and heading toward the door of the woodshed, "we definitely would have gotten arrested."

Near the end of the day, Mark told us that he had a lot of old furniture of which he needed to dispose. He and Dumptruck decided that the best way to do this was to create a gigantic bonfire and just burn all of the old furniture. This led to us all dragging benches, chairs, and stools to a small field behind the bunkhouse, to create a fire that would have been powerful enough to send a small rocket into low orbit. Mark had invited over several of his adult male friends, who brought their mother: Mama.

We all sat around the bonfire chatting, while Mama swaggered drunkenly around. She would start a conversation, lose sight of her intended goal by the 7th word or so, and cover up for the loss of focus by going in for a big hug from whomever she happened to be speaking with. We found her to be genuinely delightful. 

At some point, Mama was standing wobbling a little too close to the bonfire, and Dumptruck swooped in to save the day. He put his arm around her shoulders as though nothing was wrong, and said,

"Hey there, Mama."

"Heeey there..." She swiveled her head back and gazed up at Dumptruck, tilting her head slowly from side to side, probably trying to get his face into focus and figure out whether she knew him. Not remembering his name, she appeared to be trying to figure out what to call him. 

"...Guy," she finished, somewhat lamely.

Immediately, from the other side of the fire, one of Mama's adult sons yelled out sharply,

"HEY! Mama! Show some respect. You can't just call him 'guy'. That's tall guy."

She nodded sagely, jutting out her lower lip.

"Well I do believe they are correct," she mused in her thickly inebriated Southern accent, reaching up to pat Dumptruck kindly on the top of his head. She then turned her head and got us girls into focus. We were sitting on a picnic table, and she swayed forward to look us right in the eyes.

"You girls ever been in love?" she asked, focusing on a point somewhere directly in between Whistle's face and mine. I can only imagine that with both of our faces doubling in her vision, they overlapped to create one, in-focus Whistle/Clever Girl face somewhere in the middle. I'm still not sure if Mama knew how many people she was speaking to. 

"Yes, Mama," I responded respectfully, "Tall guy is my husband."

"Ooooh," she nodded, and then put a hand very heavily on my shoulder, and one hand on Whistle's knee.

"Eye'mmuh gunna tell you sumthin, ladies...."

We waited. Something long, long ago and far, far away had captured Mama's attention, and she stared off into the night sky for a few moments. Her grip on Whistle and I slackened slightly, as some wonderful memory must have played across her foggy mind. Some long-forgotten christmas perhaps, or her first kiss under the old Poplar tree. Whistle coughed gently, and Mama snapped back into reality, picking up exactly where she had left off and tightening her claw-like grip on us. We both squeaked quietly, but bit our tongues, wanting to be polite.

"If yer gunna do one thing in life, you do this one thing fer me, okay? I want you to find a good man. You find a good man, yeh hear me?"

"Yes, Ma-"

"YOU FIND A GOOD MAN," she commanded, then took a breath, gathering herself. "You find a good man and you don't let him go. You dig in. You dig in like a TICK."

And then she hugged us.
Never in my life had I heard such wisdom, and I have my doubts that I will ever hear the like ever again.

You find yourself a good man. And you dig in.

You dig in like a tick. 

Clever Girl

The beginning of the bonfire.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. you should put all these in a book. I will be sad when you get to 200.