This is a half-memory I have from early childhood. I am not sure which parts of it belong to the acutal event I’m describing and which parts belong to a memory from another time, I was very young and it was a story our family told me years later. I grew up in a state just about as far north as you can get, and visiting extended family in the deep South felt to me like visiting a different country. My grandparents were wonderful people, but they lived in a world that was very different from mine. I want to point out that the little boy in the story below did in fact eat the rest of his sandwich with me, in my grandparent’s kitchen. It was the first time, and I never got to ask if it happened again. I wrote this in response to L.L.’s writing challenge, to write something descriptive starting with the words “I close my eyes, and I can still see…”
Grandmother’s kitchen, 1977
If I close my eyes I can still see the pink plastic Band-aids on my knobby, almost five-year-old knees. I am sitting on the step -stool at my grandparents’ house, the pebbly black and white plastic beneath me sticks to my thighs as I swing my legs up and down, up and down. The thin layer of sweat between my skin and the plastic makes tiny ripping noises each time I move, like a band-aid being pulled away. Riiip. Sliiip. The shiny chrome of my step-stool perch is peeling in places, revealing a more utilitarian rusty iron underneath. Peeling like a sunburn. I want to pull away strips of shiny outer coat, see more of what’s underneath. But I got told not to.
The kitchen is hung with the smells of bacon, grits, fresh tomato and arthritis liniment. Outside, the thick and slow air of a Spring day in Mississippi is filled with other smells, is teeming with sounds foreign to my Northern ears. Cicadas whir, they sound like buzz saws running somewhere far in the distance. Something chirps rhythmically, it is the same noise our smoke alarm at home makes when the batteries are low. My grandmother is making tomato sandwiches for me and for Jacob, the little boy with chocolate skin who is standing in the screened in porch. I can see him through the kitchen door, shifting from one foot to the other. He looks my age. He looks like he would be fun to play with. His father is outside, pruning my grandparents trees.
My grandmother hands me a thin melmac saucer, half a tomato sandwich on white bread. In a triangle, the way I like it. She hands the other plate with the other half to Jacob, through the kitchen door. He says, “Thank you, Ma’am“. I always forget the Ma’am part, because you don’t say Ma’am at home. I want to know why Jacob can’t sit in the kitchen with me to eat his sandwich. I want to show Jacob my pine-straw fort, over by the driveway where I skinned my knees. My grandmother says no. Jacob eats his sandwich and shifts from foot to foot, foot to foot. I ask her why not.
The kitchen is quiet, I look at my grandmother and wait for her answer, the triangle sandwich waits on the plate. Jacob shifts back and forth on the porch, looks from my face to my grandmothers, drops his eyes to the other half of my triangle sandwich. My feet bounce up and down on the step-stool. Riiip, Sliiip goes the sound as my skin sticks and pulls from the pebbled vinyl seat. The pink band aids look garish against my skin. In the silent kitchen, the noise of the Cicadas creeps in to fill the quiet.