My phone rang at work the other day and, out of the blue, on the other end was my big brother. He thought he'd call to say hello.
I was soon suspicious, however, that he had an ulterior motive, a tiny one, at least, when the conversation went from "How's everybody doing?" to "What are you writing about this week?" See, my older bro writes a column, too, only his is in Tennessee. He started writing a few years after I did, so, in sibling love, I told him not to get too worried when it starts to get hard to come up with things to write about. I don't think he believed his little sister. Until now.
"We should swap columns one week," he said, and I thought he was kidding. But I liked the idea, all the same, because there's been plenty of times when I've read his stuff and thought, "Man, I wish I'd thought of that one."
Like this one ...
The phone rings and I answer it and Mama's on the other end of the line. At least I think it is Mama because all I can hear for about two-and-a-half minutes is sputtering followed by bouts of near-hysterical, screaming laughter.
"Mama? ... Is that you?" I ask, alarm creeping into my voice and my brain and body leaping into full Southern Boy Protection Mode all good Southern boys default to when any of us think our mamas are in danger.
Maybe she'd been driven insane after discovering Crisco is not actually a food group.
"I'm ... I'm sorry," she gasps between great gulps of air. "Oh Lordy! Wait ... wait ... give me a minute!" she begs. I can picture her standing by the wall phone in the kitchen with one hand patting her chest over her heart and the other fanning her face as she tries to regain composure.
"I've got to tell you what just happened to your big sister. Oh, Lordy ... this is gonna make your day!"
I begin to smile.
The eldest of my many sisters, even after all these years, still thinks that she's the boss of the rest of us and believes that invoking the words "because I'm the oldest" somehow adds weight to her opinions and gives her first rights to things such as Granny's well-worn, enamel, pea-shelling pan. She was a teacher for 30 years and would rather read than eat and, except for her college years, has lived all of her life in our tiny hometown. Her house is on the main road in and out of town and it has a wide front porch where she spends summer evenings calling out "Heeey" to everyone who walks past and she belongs to a group called the Mini-Pauses, a group of highly-opinionated, more than mildly terrifying, Southern women whose sole purpose behind congregation, as far as I can figure, is to scare the hell out of every male in town. There is no filter between her brain and her mouth and she's one of those people that things just happen to. Everyone in town knows her as "Miss Kim" because for whatever reason, even though they may have been married all their lives, every woman in every small Southern town eventually earns the honorific of "Miss." I don't know why.
Miss Kim, Mama continues when she finally catches her breath, was out for her daily walk from one end of town to the other, bundled up in a heavy jacket and a knit stocking cap against the damp cold of a south Georgia December. She'd already been to the cemetery, a mile from home, where our Daddy rests and our Granny and our Granddaddy and our Grandma and our Grandpa and a whole bunch of aunts and uncles, and was headed back towards town along that stretch of unpainted, two-lane blacktop past the haunted house and lined on each side with patches of frost-killed kudzu over banks of red clay beneath stands of planted pine.
As Mama tells the tale, I imagine Miss Kim walking with her hands shoved in her pockets, her head down, contemplating new and dastardly ways to lord her title of first-born over the rest of us.
She hears a vehicle behind her and steps to the side to allow passage and the vehicle -- a large, red pick-up truck -- swerves around her and turns sideways, blocking her way. The window goes down.
"Oh, hey, Mr. Millard!" she calls out to the driver.
"Oh. Miss Kim," he replies. "We've been getting reports that some old lady escaped from the nursing home and was trying to run away. I'll give 'em a call and tell 'em it's just you."
Congratulations, big sister. "Because I'm the oldest" just caught up with you.
Thanks, Big Brother. I wish I'd thought of that one.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at email@example.com.
Mandy Flynn is taking a week off and will not appear in SouthView on April 17. Her column will return April 24.