It’s been a while since I posted a snippet. The following is from my book Okatibbee Creek. The heroine of the story is my 3rd great grandmother. She barely survived the Civil War and typhoid running rampant through her family. In this scene, the war is over and disease has passed, she is older and having a discussion with the slave who raised her.
I look up and see Bertie slowly walking up the road toward daddy’s house. She’s wearing a dark blue dress and a floppy straw hat covering her eyes.
“Hi, Miss Bertie,” I yell to her as I wipe away my tears and put a smile on my face.
“Hi, baby girl.” She waves back.
“What brings you out on this lovely morning?” I ask when she finally reaches the porch and plops down on the step. She takes off her hat and reveals her gray hair tied in a bun. She sets her hat next to her and wipes beads of sweat off her forehead with her handkerchief.
“I was just on my way to your house to see the babies and to see how you are doing,” she says as she tucks her handkerchief back into her sleeve.
I can tell by her demeanor that there is something more on her mind, but I figure she will tell me when she is ready.
“Well, it’s nice to see you. We are all doing fine at home,” I reply.
“That’s good to hear, baby girl.”
“Bertie, I’m forty-one years old. How long are you going to call me baby girl?” I tease her.
She laughs. “You have been my baby girl since I came to your daddy’s house when you were six years old. You will always be my baby girl.”
“Aw, you know I love you, Miss Bertie.” I reach over and pat her bony hand.
“And I love you, too, baby girl. You know, you have always been the smartest and most beautiful of your momma’s children. And with everything you have been through, you have become the strongest and most courageous woman I have ever known.”
She pauses and looks out across the yard as her mind wanders to another time and place. After a moment she adds, “Your momma and daddy would be very proud of you, but it was a blessing they were not around to witness all the pain and loss we went through.” She pauses again and looks out across the yard. “You’re also a wonderful mother.”
I can tell she’s leading up to something.
“I don’t know what I would have done without you, Bertie. You helped me through so much.”
“I know what you went through, baby girl. I witnessed it all. I have seen you stand strong in the face of disaster and death and sickness and hunger. You have faced every adversity with courage and every defeat with dignity and grace. I’m very proud of you, more than you’ll ever know.”
My eyes well up with tears as I feel a mixture of being touched by her kind words, and trepidation that she is going somewhere awful with this talk.
“Bertie, your love has been one of the reasons I have been able to be strong and steadfast. Together, we have laughed and cried through so much,” I say as I stare straight ahead at the field.
Memories come flooding back, along with the sadness and the happiness. Rice, Daddy, Momma, Monroe Franklin. I shake the memories off and look back at Bertie.
“I have the feeling you weren’t headed all the way to my house just to tell me you’re proud of me.” I stop and wait for her to speak.
“Well, baby girl, like I said, you have always been the smartest of your momma’s children.” She takes a deep breath and exhales. I wait patiently as I watch her build up her courage. “Well, I have not been feeling very well lately and I saw the doctor. He said he can’t do much for me and I may not be around much longer. You know I have raised Tony as my own since his parents died of the fever. He’s only thirteen and not quite ready to face the world on his own just yet.” She looks away. I can tell she is trying to get through this speech without crying. Finally, she turns to me and looks me straight in the eye. “I want to ask you to take care of Tony when my time comes. I can rest easy if I know you will do that for me.”
“What? Bertie, of course I will take care of Tony. But I don’t want to hear anything about you being gone. We’ve been through too much together and everything finally seems to be turning around for the better.” I pause, wondering if that is really true. Is everything going to be all right?
I continue, “We’ve walked straight through the midst of hell and we are just now starting to find our way back.”
“I hope you’re right, baby girl, but we can’t control what the good Lord wants to do. We just have to handle it the best we can when it comes.”
I nod and quietly say, “Bertie, I will do whatever you need me to do.”
“I know you will, baby girl. I just thought it would be nice to ask.” She winks at me.
Using both arms to lift herself, Bertie slowly rises from the step. I stand up, too, and she gives me a long hug. She puts her hat on and carefully steps away from the porch, heading toward the dirt road. I yell “goodbye” to her and she waves her hand behind her head without turning around. She walks very, very slowly, favoring one leg more than the other, and I watch her until she shuffles out of sight.