Breakfast at Meemaw's
Meemaw and Grandpee’s blue farmhouse was perched near the two-lane road, in the corner of their 5-acre plot of land. There was a deceptive stillness that permeated that place. Maybe it was the small carpeted rooms – including the kitchen and bathroom – that flowed into one another through narrow doorways. Perhaps it was the abundance of plush, comfortable furniture: a swivel recliner in one corner, a and forest green sofa with a massive ottoman to match. The built-in shelves loaded with books could have absorbed sound too.
My brother and I would tiptoe down the narrow, dark stairwell each morning and pull aside the thick tribal patterned blanket that served as a curtain. A rush of warm air would hit us, and I’d hear the rhythmic tick-tock of the wall clock. How strange that such a simple sound could fill a space so well. Grandpee spent his evenings on the green couch watching college basketball on mute – because he hated the announcers droning on – and the steady knocking of the clock would turn into the deafening soundtrack of the game.
But in the mornings, the television was ours. It fired up with a high-pitched plink and we’d skillfully navigate to channel 5, where we’d find reruns of Loony Tunes. Cars would howl down the narrow country road outside, their sounds muffled by the thick windows and absorbed by all the textiles.
During a commercial break, we carefully set up our toys so they could watch too. My brother slept with his four “Billy” dolls, and I with my two “Molly” dolls. They were soft gender-specific versions of the same doll, and we had multiples because our parents feared the day that losing or soiling one would render it unusable. We leaned all six dolls against the ottoman and covered them with our respective handmade baby blankets – his in yellow and mine in green. Once we were satisfied with the arrangement, we dove back into the couch just in time for a new episode: my brother snuggled under the soft throw blanket, and I curled up in a ball in the opposite corner.
Meemaw scurried between us and the television multiple times on her path from the bathroom to the kitchen and back again. On one pass she shook her head and wondered, “Aren’t you cold?” Without waiting for my response, she tugged on the corner of my brother’s blanket and tucked it around my small body. Before she was back in the kitchen, I kicked it off again. This was our years-long game of tug-of-war: Meemaw worried for me, and me assuring her I was already warm enough, thank you.
Grandpee emerged from the bathroom with a grin and his silent signature wave. Arm straight out, bent slightly at the elbow. Palm facing away. Quick up-and-down wiggle of four fingers. Lower the arm. Smile faded. He shuffled past us and into the dining room.
His next move was a sharp call: “Joyce!” Not the clock or the cartoons or the cars outside could drown out his grumbling, “What is all that shit in the living room?” Our dolls. The blankets. Us sprawled on the couch.
“Lewis,” came her exasperated reply, “They’re kids.”
I pretended not to have heard when he reemerged in the doorway. “Did you kids get cleaned up for breakfast?” We shook our heads no in unison, eyes not moving from the chase scene between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
“Go on. Go wash up! Breakfast is almost ready.”
Once in the bathroom, I pushed my shoulder into the door and kicked the chicken-shaped doorstopper against it to keep it from swinging open. Wash up? Before breakfast? What did that mean? Unable to come up with an answer, I shrugged at myself in the mirror and tiptoed through the doorway to the right of the sink. It led to a bright narrow hall that served as a closet. There was a door to their bedroom at the far end. I breathed steadily and ran my fingers along Meemaw’s necklaces hanging in the morning light let in through the window. Some were long and full of jewels, and others were short simple gold or silver chains. Once I’d touched them all, I pushed them against the wall to stop their swinging, lest they still be rocking when Meemaw walked through later. I brushed past the soft scarves and reached for Grandpee’s green bottle of cologne. I removed the cap and breathed in, recognizing the swirl of scent that had just passed us on the couch.
When enough time had passed, I emerged from the closet, ran water for a brief moment to remove the damning evidence of a dry sink, and joined the group at the dining room table. “All washed up?” Grandpee inquired, dangling a plate of bacon in front of me. He waited for my smile and affirmative nod before passing it to my outstretched hands.
-November 18, 2019