My little sister is eleven today. She’s hardly a little girl any more. I’m not sure what she is exactly, to be honest. For her birthday she didn’t want to have a party. No sleepover. No cake and candles. No posse of screaming fifth-graders. She just asked for an evening at our Papaw and Nana’s house. Fried chicken. Potatoes and gravy. Green beans. Pie for dessert. There was nothing exciting about it, nothing at all out of the ordinary. Except for the opening of a couple of small gifts, it was a carbon copy of countless other evenings with my grandparents. Nana prepared a huge spread above and beyond Hannah’s requests, and after we ate, Papaw addressed each of us by poking a pot our way, “Matt, you want some coffee? Nell? Leah? Coffee? It’s caramel truffle.”
I’m so frustrated at this keyboard and this screen for failing to capture the essence of my Papaw. There’s no way to express the tone of his voice or the way the “hills n hollers” of Tennessee linger in his words. Or how choked up he got when Hannah opened her present from him: her first pocket knife. He’s taken it upon himself to present each of his grandchildren with their first pocketknife and their first gun. Yes. I own a gun. Anyway, as the youngest, tonight Hannah was the last grandchild to receive her knife. You’ve never seen a preteen girl so content with a birthday gift.
While we sat around after dinner, visiting over our coffee, we got started reciting poems and singing old camp songs and reminding each other of forgotten ghost stories. If we’d not gotten sidetracked, I would have asked Papaw to read us an Uncle Remus story. Nobody can read about Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox like he can. Next time I’ll insist.
In short, nights like tonight are Heaven. And yet there is nothing celestial about them. They are all Earth, but they are sacred. I wish that everyone could pass some chilly November evening with my Nana and Papaw. I’m convinced it could melt the hardest heart and heal the deepest wound. All of this cooking and eating and cleaning and visiting and laughing really get into my soul. They make me long more than ever for my own home. This is my Work. There is a war going on out there in the world, and my home will be my field hospital.
After awhile, Nana brought out a beautiful apron she made for me this week. It’s black with tiny red and white flowers on it, and it fits me like a glove. Now I’m back at my mom’s house, sitting at my great-grandmother’s kitchen table, wearing it like a prophesy. I’ve been so discouraged lately. I’m always afraid that I’ll never be the kind of woman I want to be, that I’ll never have the kind of home I dream of. But this little apron speaks courage to me somehow. I’ll be following in my Nana’s footsteps.