After my husband passed away, oh, several days later, a nice man took me in.
My mother has compressed time, my father dead of a heart attack 43 years ago, and the man is my older brother, Willie, who a year earlier brought her to live with him and his wife.
I am the youngest son standing, bringing my mother for weekend visits where she perseverates like a sad Abbott and Costello routine, the same litany over and over, wondering when her family is going to pick her up.
Oh, I don’t know what to do.
What do you have to do, Mama?
I thought somebody would come for me.
You’re living with Willie now, your oldest son. You're visiting me, Raymond, your youngest son.
Her mouth rounds in momentary understanding.
Pause, rewind, repeat.
My Mama will spank my butt ‘cause I didn’t come home.
Her memories are a collapsing star, my grandmother gone almost six decades.
Sometimes she can be diverted briefly.
After a supper of fried chicken, I lean over and say she must have eaten a lot of fried chicken growing up on the farm in Mississippi.
You raised chickens, right?
Oh, Lord, yes.
So you must have eaten plenty of them.
Oh, yes. And eggs.
And your Daddy had a smokehouse, didn’t he?
She nods once, the memory sharp for a moment of the smokehouse some distance away from the farmhouse.
Meat was cured there, right, Mama?
Probably butchered hogs and calves, maybe some venison.
There was a garden also.
A nod, chores growing up: picking butter beans and string beans and peas, potatoes and okra.
You ate good things on the farm.
A nod, less decisive, looking down at her hands, rubbing them.
Your hands hurt, Mama?
Old and wrinkled, she says softly.
That’s okay. All of our hands are getting old and wrinkled.
My Mama is gonna whip my butt.