Hungry one afternoon, I raced home ahead of John, hoping there might be a leftover biscuit and slice of salt pork or piece of cornbread left from dinner. Opening the kitchen door, I was surprised to see Mama and a guest sitting at the table drinking coffee. Mama had neighbors popping in all the time, but this guest had skin the color of deep chestnut. Though I’d seen an occasional black man in Clarksville, I’d never seen a woman or even considered that women could be black. “Kathleen, this is Aunt Vola.” I yearned to touch Aunt Vola’s velvety-looking skin. She wore an ankle-length brown dress with a white apron. A faded sunbonnet tied under her chin and hung down her back. She put her hands out to me and enveloped me in a warm hug scented of starch and sunshine.
“Honey, you sho’ is a purty little girl.” Ecstatic at praise I rarely heard with my straight, blonde hair, brown eyes, and bony knees, she became my friend immediately. After she left, Mama explained that they had been neighbors several years earlier, sharing garden vegetables and quilt perns. Aunt Vola had nursed her through a bad siege of malaria, possibly saving her life. I hoped she’d be back to visit sometime, but never saw Aunt Vola again. I’d never known it is possible to love someone you’ve only seen once My heart still yearns for Aunt Vola.