An awful sound pierces the rural tranquility. The sound reminds me of a train’s metal brakes squealing on the metal rails.
Miss Eulah chuckles as she quips, “I’m never quite sure. Is it the wood slats of this ol’ porch doing all that creakin’, this ol’ rickety rockin’ chair, or my ol’ bones?”
I laugh, partly to be respectful and partly because I’m not sure either.
Miss Eulah Freeman is Faunsdale, Alabama’s oldest resident. Faundale’s only claim to fame is the blight of slavery. The Freeman family worked as slaves on the Faunsdale Plantation, just a half mile from where we sit this afternoon.
I’m interviewing Miss Eulah for the Demopolis Times, our local paper. Miss Eulah is somewhere between 98 and 104 years old. No one can be sure. Back in the old days, at least in these parts, babies came in this world at home. There were no hospitals and no official records. Your neighbors may have known about your family’s births and deaths, but no one else did.
While she does not know the year of her birth, Miss Eulah does know she was born and raised in this very cabin. With a wide, mostly toothless grin, she tells me, “You know, my mama rocked me as a baby, right here on this porch. Ah’ course, I was looking at life from the other side then. See, we’re born into this world full of hope and promise. Our life story ain’t been writ yet. We’re still full of potential and possibility.”
She pauses a moment and seems to drift away to a long ago time and place. As she travels through her memories, her facial expression softens and even her sun-baked wrinkles seem to smooth.
Returning to the present, she announces, “Life’s like that song.” In very possibly the worst singing voice ever, Miss Eulah begins to sing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go...” Her laughter interrupts her singing. She dabs her tears with a well-worn tissue from her sleeve and declares happily, “I ain’t no Ella Fitzgerald, but you get the idea.”
I smile and murmur, “Yes ma’am.” But, honestly, no, I do not get it. However, I decide to remain quiet for fear she will sing again.
Talking more to herself than to me, Miss Eulah continues, “See, as children, we are filled with the dreams of tomorrow. We don’t know it yet, but life will hand us more problems than prizes. When we’re young, we think life is going to be all cake and gumdrops. We’re in such a hurry to get to tomorrow, that we throw away lots of todays.”
“One day, you’re a babe playing with dolls. Then, in what seems like a minute later, you drop the dolls in favor of some handsome buck you pick out to be the husband of your dreams. And ‘afore you know it, you got real babies to tend. It happens in the blink of an eye.
“We don’t notice, but time keeps on passing. God’s clock doesn’t stop for any one of us! We don’t notice summer’s over, until we feel fall’s cool crisp wind on our cheeks. We don’t notice winter’s ebbing, till spring’s first colorful tulips pop. None of us seems to notice, but seasons keep changing and years keep passing.”
Sitting on Mis Eulah’s porch step, I see my life through her words. It seems like only yesterday I was struggling to pass “Algebra for the Mathematically Challenged”. Today, only months later, I’m a college graduate, with a handsome buck, and a job writing for our local newspaper.
Miss Eulah, who now seems to have forgotten about my presence entirely, continues with intensity, “In the blink of an eye, your babies have babies of their own. Suddenly kinfolk consider you their wise elder. They expect you to know the answer, but you can’t even remember the question! You wake up one morning and look in the mirror. With childlike excitement, you shout, “Granny Sadie!” And, then you realize the old woman in the mirror is you!”
Miss Eulah quiets and begins rocking her chair again. That disturbing creaking sound is back, though somehow it bothers me less. Her words are poetic, profound, and said with a deep inner peace, “So, I’ll end where I began, rocking right here on this old porch.”
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