“That’ll be two bits, son.”
The storekeeper seemed almost ten feet tall as he looked down at me from behind that long, wooden counter.
Two bits? I thought. I really was quite beside myself, having no clue what “two bits” meant. Nonetheless, I pulled the greenback out of my pocket and, in blind faith, timidly placed it on the counter.
Returning seventy-five cents into my hand, the storekeeper gave me a speculative look.
“You’re old man Lorn’s kin, ain’t ya’.”
Again, I was perplexed. “Um…yes, sir.”
“I could tell ‘cuz your a yank.”
I quickly ran out of the store, embarrassed. I had had quite enough colloquial English for one day. If it wasn’t my cousins, or my grandparents, then it was the store clerk speaking this foreign tongue. This was indeed a very strange place. Nonetheless, I had my candy bar in hand – and seventy-five cents in my pocket, to boot.
I had mowed Papaw’s lawn for the meager wage that day. By any measurable criteria, it was no easy task. You see, the mower was an old-fashioned reel mower, the kind without any motor - the kind that has blades that turn while you push it. To me, though, it was no chore - it was great fun. After all, we didn’t have neat machines like that up near Chicago. Of course, it was a small lawn.
As the hazy twilight dwindled into night, the evening was spent on the large covered porch of my grandparent’s country house. My Mamaw and Papaw were sitting in an old wooden swing that hung from the ceiling while us kids all ran and played. All my cousins and cousin’s cousins had gathered around that day, on account of the visit from the “kinfolk.” Soon we were taking turns cranking the handle of an old bucket-like contraption that made ice cream. I, of course, had to have a second turn. When we were done, I tasted some of the most delicious ice cream that I’ve ever tasted - or probably ever will, for that matter.
Dad had left Kentucky some twenty years earlier to find work in the steel mills near Lake Michigan. That was in a day and age when industry was still booming. I could always tell that my Papaw thought that he’d “done good.” Nonetheless, I sometimes felt that he wished his son would’ve stayed home instead of moving away. My dad, however, had always told me how poor he was growing up on a farm. I guess that’s why he left. Of course, if he hadn’t left, then he wouldn’t have met my mom and I would have just been a “what if.”
That Sunday we went to Papaw’s church. It was the kind of laid-back, country church that you would see in the movies - nothing like our modern church back home. Mom pointed Papaw out to me as he stood in the back of the church, getting ready to take the offering.
“Your grandpa’s a deacon,” she said proudly.
Mamaw had this wonderful flowered dress and bonnet on that day, the type that you only saw in Kentucky. She looked very beautiful - for a mamaw, that is. Adorning her shawl was a whole bunch of pins – glistening, gold, Sunday school perfect attendance pins. To her, they were more precious than diamond jewels.
“I s’pect that King Solomon himself weren’t arrayed in such splendor,” she musingly said to me once.
Maybe not, I thought.
After church, we all gathered at my Mammy and Pappy’s house. They lived about an hour away, beyond the rolling hills of the Pennyrile Parkway and the sleepy country farms that dotted the valley. They had been married for over seventy-five years and still lived in the same small house in that quiet one-horse town. There, we had the most delicious country dinner - a dinner of crispy fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and all the “fixins.” The corn, however, looked kinda funny, with cream stuff in it and all. And the cornbread wasn’t sweet like our cornbread back home, either - probably from all that cream inside.
Looking back, I realize that my cousins were some of the richest people of all. Oh, I know that they didn’t have lots of money, but they had my Mamaw and Papaw and Mammy and Pappy with them all of their lives. And that’s worth all the money in the world.
And they could push that neat old lawnmower any time they wanted.