Emma Sue Farley was “cozy as a rattle snake”. So said Jake Barnes and every jock on the football team. I wasn’t going to be gullible just because I was a cheerleader.
I had just moved in from Portland, Oregon and hadn’t learned to fear Southern mamas yet. Maybe I’d been inoculated by my grandma Harvey. My understanding in life was that the more someone roared the more they needed a hug.
Grandma Harvey stood five foot two, had a face resembling a sun bleached prune, regularly unleashed her wrath like a demented volcano, and almost as often broke into giggles like a wild hyena.
People gave her a wide berth when she shopped and I nearly destroyed her reputation and the silence she wrapped herself in within her hoarder home.
I was three when I wondered next door into her yard. Her scream left me stunned as I’d never had anyone scream “Scram” at me before. I probably should have cried but instead I started to laugh. When she screamed again I laughed harder. It wasn’t long before she was giggling right along with me.
When she recovered, she ushered me back into my own yard and secured her gate. Within days I’d found my way back into her yard and after enduring another bout of yelling she finally decided I was a warped child. She offered me a cookie to go home. I was back for cookies on a regular basis.
She was speechless the first time I hugged her in thanks for two Oreos. I used the opportunity to tell her that Oreos always go better with milk and she obliged by bringing me a glass. We began to talk about the world. I introduced her to the world of Disney princesses and she introduced me to the world of mystery and magic.
My older brother told my momma one day that I was visiting a witch. My momma warned me not to leave the yard without her.
I told her I was visiting the nice lady next door. She was stunned. “Are you talking about Mrs. Harvey? Not even the postman dares go to her door.”
From that day I called her ‘Grandma Harvey’ and one day I introduced her to momma. By the time I was six momma and Mrs. Harvey would meet regularly on Fridays for tea with me when I got home from school. When I was eight Grandma Harvey even started coming to church with us. When I was ten the people from the church came and helped her empty her house with three big trucks filled to the top.
Momma even let me go shopping with Grandma Harvey every week so I could let her know when she didn’t need to buy something. She would yell and people would stare and I would laugh and she would soon break down into giggles again.
By then she was talking to more than just me and she had pretty well become part of the neighbourhood. We were both devastated when Dad got transferred and I had to move. Grandma Harvey had become family.
You might think sixteen is too old to start over with a new grandma but when I heard about Emma Sue Farley it was like a magnet grabbed hold of my heart and pulled me to her door. I’m sure I had knocked off and on straight for ten minutes before the tattered grey curtains on the front door moved an inch.
I smiled the best I could, held out the plate of cookies I had brought, and stood my ground. I kept knocking off and on for the next five minutes until she threatened to call the police. I kept knocking.
I was sitting on her stairs with my cookies when the police cruiser slowed at the curb. The two officers scanned the house and kept on going. Their presence gave me courage to try again and I kept up the knocking.
When the door finally opened and she let blast with her worst profanity and roars it took me back to my first encounters with Grandma Harvey. “I’m new in town,” I said “and I’m sure you need some cookies and a hug. I had to leave my grandma in Oregon and I hear you’re lonely.”
When I hugged her she was speechless. I smiled. “I’ll be back every week until you’re feeling better.” The door slammed behind me and I began to giggle.
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