Mama Hildegard had a way with words. She knew how to take a sentence, spin it into a silken thread, and laden it with sparkling beads. She was a born storyteller and a bright beacon in my childhood. She delighted my siblings and me for hours on end between sips of sun tea and the creak of her old rockin’ chair.
When I was four or five years old, I got a rare day on my own with Mama Hildegard. It was a typical Louisiana summer, hot and humid. I’d
spent the cool part of the morning with Mama, pulling weeds from the small garden she kept nestled along the fence. My legs were sweaty and itching from okra fuzz, and the taste of sun-warmed tomatoes were still ripe on
We sat on the screened-in porch taking a breather. My feet dangled bare and free under the porch swing. The sounds of mosquitoes tapping to get in and wind chimes joined the chorus of ice clinking against Mama Hildegard’s mason jar and the creaking of the old rockin’ chair.
Mama Hildegard regarded me from beneath the brim of her big gardening hat. She pulled her garden gloves from her hands, first one, then the other. She took one long swallow from her jar of brown nectar then ran the
back of her hand on her forehead.
“That was good work you did out here, Billy.” She
patted her lap.
I didn’t need a second invitation. My gingham sundress flew behind me, and the aged wood, warm on my rough feet, flew beneath me. Soon I was in my unique haven, my head on Mama’s ample bosom and my thumb in my mouth,
still tasting of dirt and tangy grass juice.
“Did I ever tell you about the little girl who sucked
away her thumb?” Mama asked, taking another long
drought of sweet tea.
I moved my head side to side as much as Mama’s soft chest would allow me and pulled my thumb from my mouth with a pop.
“No. No, child. You go on and suck on that thumb. It’s
more of a comfort to you than anything else will ever