Photo from Library of Congress. Notice images of mother and child, fashionable young woman and Santa Claus, and other papers papers on wall.
“I had to kill a hog a day to feed them boys of mine.” I was impressed. Mr. Rose’s boys were grown and gone, but I couldn’t get that image out of my mine as I looked around at the house the old man shared with Miss Bessie. Kids have the luxury of not having the responsibility of conversation, so I could enjoy the whole experience of listening, hospitality, and looking at everything as much as I liked, as long as I didn’t touch anything. Believe me, I was not tempted to touch with both my parents vigilantly looking on. The room was fascinating, but I did wish I could see those boys who could eat a hog a day.
No rug covered the white pine floor. Old newspapers and magazine pages were tacked on the exterior walls of the room with no regard for their orientation served as wallpaper. The loveliest was a beautiful young woman with blonde curls piled high on her head. She wore a blue gingham dress with ruffled sleeves and carried an equally beautiful ham on a large platter. That gorgeous ham was crisscrossed with slashes and garnished with pineapple slices, maraschino cherries, and cloves. I practically salivated at its loveliness. Its charm was enhanced by the fact that the image had been tacked upside down. Somehow, seeing it upside down made it more memorable. Though I have tried many times, I have never prepared a ham so lovely.
A large fireplace made of red iron ore rock centered one end of the sitting room. The brick hearth extended out a few feet into the the room. Miss Bessie invited me and my brother to sit on the hearth and warm up. I sat flat at a safe distance from the glowing embers. Its waxy-looking orange and yellow coals looked alive. I couldn’t look away from the story they seemed to be whispering to me. Though the conversation was fascinating, both me and my brother eventually nodded stretched out on the heat-soaked hearth before the glowing fire in the way only a small child could. I know now, Mother had to have had her eye on me to keep me safe from the fire.
Before dozing off, I heard Mr. Rose tell of the night the house almost caught fire. He must have thought I was asleep or he’d never have told of being naked, a thrilling tidbit.. “It was way over in January, the coldest night of the year. I banked the fire real good like I always do. We was in bed soon as Bessie got the kitchen cleaned up, right after dark. Seems like the cold went right through me. I just couldn’t wait to git under them quilts. I always slept naked, I don’t know why. I just got the habit early and never changed it. Anyway, I was dead asleep and Bessie woke me up.
‘Grady, git up! I smell smoke. The house is on fire!’
“I jumped out of that bed! Sure enough, I smelled pine burning. I seen where a spark had done dropped down where some mortar had fell down n the back of the firebox between a hole in the bricks. I clumb under the house and found where it had set the pine sleeper that run under the floor on fire. They warn’t no flames yet, but it was getting ready to bust out. I called Bessie to bring me a bucket of water. She come flying up and instead of passing it to me, she doused me with that bucket of water. I mean to tell you I put that fire out!”