I sat against a tall Cypress tree as I stared out across the water, focusing not on the dance of the red-and-white cork as it bobbled with the current’s flow but rather beyond it to see everything . . . to feel everything . . . to remember everything. The elevated roots of its massive trunk cradled me as if holding me in its arms. I wanted to burn into my soul the cool, dampness of the morning fog against my skin as it hovered above the water’s surface.
I prayed the song of the bayou with its chorus of ripples softly lapping at the surface, smacking fish, and croaking frogs would play over and over again in my head in the years to come. The cypress knees had been a place I came to for comfort—for shelter.
In three months I would leave my southern Louisiana home. In three months I would begin my life. No longer would I be confined to the restrictions of proper southern etiquette or the narrow-minded southern values of which I had been bred. In a few short months I would be free from the views that had been passed down to me and be freely able to develop my own. Up until this point, I knew not what they were as I had been raised not to challenge the beliefs of those around me. To challenge was to disobey. To disobey was unheard of, Sugar. After all this was the south! No, my views were but beliefs passed down along the southern bloodline—for at least the next three months anyway.
“Penny for ’em.”
Memaw’s piercing blue eyes held me in their stare. “Who says I’m thinking anything?”
“I’s do cuz I can read them eyes of yours,” she said.
Adelaide “Addie” Cormier was the name given my grandmother. Although I suspect that was my great grandfather’s doing as Memaw’s mother was full Native American. Memaw had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, probably highlighted even more against the contrast of her long white hair and darkened skin.
“Honey child, they always been the one thing you couldn’t hide. You weren’t but a babe fresh to this world when you looked deep through me with those eyes of yours. Couldn’t’ve been more than a couple of days old . . . but ’em eyes . . . ’em eyes showed a soul as old as mine.”
“Thankfully you’re the only one that can read them, Meems.” That was what I called her usually. It was my playful nickname for her as if Memaw wasn’t a nickname enough.
We were inseparable. I spent each moment possible soaking up everything she would share with me. I was captivated by the culture that existed within her. Our bond was strong enough to speak without words. Our personalities were so equal that we figured they skipped a generation with mother. A birth certificate proved my mother was born of Memaw, but not much else did. Her soul was unsettled . . . confined . . . completely without freedom. Memaw was as unrestricted as her loose white hair flowing about her. Mom was wound tighter than a tick as they say.
Or so she was in the days I remember her most.
“Not forever,” Memaw said, breaking me from my inner thoughts of mother. “One day someone gonna learn ’em.” She winked at me before looking back to realize her cork was now submerged under the water. She flicked her wrist and the pole in her hand, sending the empty hook flying into the air. “Dad-gummit! Damn little bastards stealing my bait.”
The sun reflected off of the shiny gold band that slipped above the collar of her shirt as she bent over to get another cricket from the box. She rubbed the black leather cord between her fingers and brought the wedding band to her lips before tucking it back under her collar. She had her heart stolen by Papaw early in life only to lose him in a car accident long before I was born. Never again would her heart skip a beat for another man. She wore a token of black fabric about her on days she missed him most—a piece of satin woven into her long, white braid or, like today, a string of black leather tied loosely around her neck. Her expression changed, giving no doubt her thoughts drifted to him.
“We’re not going to have enough bait to last us until noon if you keep feeding them like that.”
She looked at me with a half grin. “You best be worrying ’bout the end of yo’ line and not meddling with mine.” She pointed at the absent cork that had been bobbling atop the water in front of me.
“Dammit!” I yelled in response to her laughter.
She was chuckling so hard I was afraid she was going to fall off of the overturned paint bucket she was sitting on.
“If you bust your butt you know I’ll have to laugh.”
“Laugh at this,” she hollered as she fought the fish stretching out her line.
She fought it to shore, removed the hook, and tossed the bream into the cooler between us.
She peered into the cooler. “Hmmm . . . that’s four for me and,” she pretended to count the catch of the day, “ummm . . . none for you. You gonna get mighty hungry watching me eat up some fried fish.”
I felt a strong tug at my line. “Oh I believe I’ll be okay.” I pulled the fish to the side of the bank and turned to Memaw to gloat . . . she was bringing yet another one up to the shore.
We continued to catch fish after fish for the next several minutes. They seemed to hop on the line as soon as we threw our hooks back out into the water. Memaw shook the bait basket vigorously to jiggle the few remaining crickets from the upper lid so she could snag one in her arthritic grip.
“You ready for yo’ shindig tomorrow?” Memaw asked as she flipped her hook in between a circle of grayish brown Cypress knees poking through the surface of the water.
“Would it matter if I wasn’t?” I said.
“Knowing my daughter . . . not one darn bit.”
“Charlie Grace wouldn’t miss the chance to throw a party.”
She looked over her shoulder at me. “Your momma proud of you, Rayne. Don’t be fixin’ your mind to nothing else.”