I watched Ma’s door anxiously as Martha and I sat on the floor listening to the radio. When Ma opened her door with a flourish, I tried hiding behind my sister, but just as I feared, Ma’s eyes lit up like a cat on the hunt when she spied me beyond Martha’s skinny shoulders.
“Pricilla, you may come in my room tonight and be my guest.” Ma’s quaint and precise speaking manner belied the torture I knew I would endure as her “guest.” Martha knew it, too, and let out a sigh of relief at being overlooked this time.
Ma’s eyes bored into me as clean as an ice pick while I shuffled around and tried to think of an excuse to get out of going with her. I finally gave up and meekly followed her back to her room. Just as we got to her door, she stopped and pointed her bony finger at Mother.
“You may send Martha in with the popcorn in exactly one hour, Dixie.” Mother nodded absent-mindedly and went on with her darning.
“Priscilla, you may pull that stool up to the fire, and I’ll tell you a story tonight, or would you rather read from my McGuffy’s?”
“Uh…no ma’am. I’d much rather hear your stories.” I was lying like a rug, but I was not about to read to her from her McGuffy’s. My lazy attitude toward school was never more apparent than when I’d read to Ma. As she’d listen to me stumbling along in the text, her eyes would grow blacker and blacker, until she’d finally halt me with a sharp “Enough! You’ve not been practicing your vocabulary words!” I could do without that and the endless drills that would inevitably follow.
So I listened to the stories she’d told me a thousand times before, pioneer tales of how she and my Grandpa had come in a covered wagon and had cleared nearly a hundred acres with nothing but a plow and a hoe.
I was bored to tears ten minutes into the evening. I let my mind and my eyes wander to the fire. I began to imagine all kinds of lovely scenes in those flames as Ma’s droning voice lulled me into another land.
Whap! My errant attention was brought back to Ma’s room by a sharp slap on my knuckles with her ruler.
“Ouch!” I cried.
“A lady never daydreams when someone else is speaking, Priscilla. Mind your P’s and Q’s and act like somebody.”
I turned my eyes back to hers and reluctantly listened. About the time I thought I would keel over from sheer tedium, the knock that heralded the popcorn’s arrival rescued me.
Ma imperiously dismissed my sister with a wave of her hand and brought the bag of popcorn to the fire. Her eyes danced with delight in anticipation of our simple treat, and with a sudden swift toss, she threw a handful of loose kernels into the fire. She timed the popping process with the watch that hung from a chain around her neck and clapped her hands in delight when the fluffy nuggets began to jump out of the fire and onto the hearth.
We ate the popped corn as it flew at us, and I have to confess that this part of being Ma’s guest was quite fine.
But soon enough, the fun was over. Bedtime loomed, and the worst torture of all was imminent. Ma would now “allow” me the privilege of sleeping alongside her in her big down-covered bed. The trouble with this arrangement was that Ma wouldn’t let me move! No wiggling or turning or twisting was tolerated when you were a guest in Ma’s bed. All night long, I’d have to lie as stiff as a board. It would drive me crazy and leave me sore and aching in the morning.
Ma knelt by her bed and motioned me over. As I slowly sank to the floor beside her, she began to thank the Lord for giving her a granddaughter who could be her guest. She listed all my good traits and downplayed my bad ones so that by the time she was through praying, I felt almost glad to crawl into the high fluffy bed with her.
“Priscilla, may the Good Lord bless your sleep and give you pleasant dreams…” she whispered softly. I smiled in the dark, warmed by her sweet words.
“…And mind you don’t jiggle the bed,” she added.
“Children’s children are a crown to the aged…” Proverbs 17:6, The Holy Bible, NIV
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