Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8. Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life. Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra. It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick. Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good night.
They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal for working his crops, papa would load up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road. The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air from the smoke. It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.
When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny were invited in to a lady’s house for cookies and milk while Papa was at the farm supply store.
Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.
Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it. He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.
At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape. He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the contraption to run clean water in it.
Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.
“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.
“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”
“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped on her thin waist. “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”
The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ” Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!
The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!” Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.
“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”
Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”
“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”
“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.
Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.
“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.
And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.
One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!
The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man try to whisper to Aunt Lena. He couldn’t whisper very well.
They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.
“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.
“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”
Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”
Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.
“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.
“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.
“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t go live somewhere else!”
Jack looked at Kenny and took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”
“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”
Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.
“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.
Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.
Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.
Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.
“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.” He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.
Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.
“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”
“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give them away!”
And he did.