Will’s House by Martha C. Wallace
Pla-ploop, pop, pop, bloop, bloop…
the coffee percolator sings.
Sssst, pop, pop, ssst
the bacon sizzles a hot reply.
Hot sticky cheese bubbles over the sides of the toast.
Buttery grits pop and boil.
Country music singers wailin’ and bemoanin’ love, life, and country livin’
drift from the kitchen radio to upstairs rooms.
Grandpa taps the tips of his shiny black shoes.
I rush to get the homemade peach and strawberry preserves from the pantry,
and grandpa’s favorite coffee cup .
First I blow, then sip the spicy and fragrant sassafras tea that Grandpa makes just for me.
Grandpa sleeps downstairs to protect his house-
no one was “comin in heh” he’d say.” My family’s gonna be safe heh.”
In the South’s cotton fields,
beautiful, white blossoms transform, turning crimson,
like the sharp cuts that the bracts made on my grandfather’s hands
when he pulled the fluffy white balls of cotton .
Sun high and hot, he wiped a drop of blood from his fingers and drops of sweat from his brow.
“Crops gotta be picked.”
Acrid smells of stifling Northern steel mills replaced those fields.
Steel splattered crimson, sharp edges, massive machines, maiming,
Somehow I never missed them when I grasped his strong and gentle hands.
I run to his room and sit in his comfy chair
Noxzema, Spearmint , and Juicy Fruit, Old-Spice and Ben Gay live in the air ,
Envelope me like the crocheted throw on the back of the chair.
I smear the silvery white Noxzema on my cheeks
and over my whole face.
I smell and look just like Grandpa; reflecting his warm caramel colored eyes,
and smooth pecan tan cheeks.
His mammoth, circular mirror reflects his life:
me, his Farmer’s Almanac, worn Bible near his alarm clock.
His footlocker at the foot of his bed holds his perfectly lined shoes,
his shoe polish kit, and an old checkerboard.
I tear out of the back door, jumping down the steps,
to help Grandpa in his garden. It isn’t a chore, but a treat.
Grandpa is out back, making sure his transistor radio is loud enough
to hear ‘his’ Cleveland Indian baseball game.
I step past perfectly round cabbages and collards tall and deep green
In the backyard near the pear tree. I see Grandpa pulling spring onions and beets .
Long, cool cucumbers, okra and plump, sweet tomatoes , nestled in his basket,
where I place spearmint that I pulled for his sweet tea.
Quietly, expertly, coaxing the earth to yield to his touch,
he loosens dirt around the plant roots,
and I sprinkle them with water from my tin pail.
Regal morning glories boldly scale up the side of the garage,
spilling over the back fence into the neighbor’s yard.
Marigolds jiggle their bright golden heads in between herbs:
thyme, red clover, chives, garlic and a bush of rosemary.
Wherever there is dirt Grandpa plants something good.
A patch of strawberries lines edge the thin path along the driveway,
and suddenly we are in the front yard.
Plastic ducks border the stairs up to the front porch,
filled with scarlet geraniums, black eyed susans , and burgundy sun coleus.
Fragrant honeysuckle vines intertwine with the fruit heavy, sweet concord grape vines,
I appear, from the cool shady side of the house,
scratching around my mouth, embarrassed through the grape vines,
Grandpa laughs, seeing purple blotches of concord on my fingers and face.
The radio sputters and crackles the national anthem.
We put the tools in the garage and head for the large green porch swing.
The game has started; he looks off into the sky.
I suppose he is watching the game in his mind’s eye.
C-r-a-c-k-k-k of a hit from an Indians bat, my arm around his neck,
His face crinkles into a loving smile.
He takes his white handkerchief and holds it under the water spigot
wiping the sweet purple tint off , my sun bronzed face.
We sit on the swing and he pulls his pearl handled pocket knife out
and very carefully cuts a piece of sugar cane, and share’s its sweetness with me.
In Memory of My Grandpa, Willie Thomas Jr.
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