by David Norris
If you believe in heaven, and if indeed there is a heaven, then on the day Kathleen Fridley arrives, Saint Peter himself will step outside the gate and hold it open in welcome for her as she walks in. He will close the gate behind him and extend his hand in the direction she is to continue walking. She will be surrounded by the children denied to her own womb, though she became the second mother for two nearly lost children whose lives she helped to save and deeply enrich.
Mrs. Fridley, Dewey, and Grandma lived just down the road from Pop and Bud and me. Our little stretch of Mallow Road, which only had 7 houses on it, ran about a quarter mile in a straight line before taking a sharp turn to the right and running the rest of its way around the ridge to where it hooked up with the main road that ran to town. On Saturdays, Pop and I would walk around that ridge, about a mile or a little over it, to catch the city bus. Covington had one bus and it ran one route. We waited in front of the Sutphinsí little market that they ran out of the front part of their home. I used to buy penny bubble gum and 6-cent Cokes there, the short ones in glass bottles that you had to open on the side of the red metal cooler you had just taken it out of.
Pop and Iíd ride the bus into town. I didnít see Momma a lot during that time. She was married and living up on Indian Draft Road and working as the front aisle checker at the Kroger store, and it was hard work, shift-work, getting off late one night and then going in early the next day, often with a hangover. Pop and Iíd get off the bus in front of Rusty Fridleyís newsstand, and I would make a quick run to Krogerís while he and Rusty talked. Iíd crowd into that little spot in her workplace behind where she stood as she checked people through. Nobody minded us talking, people talked to each other more in those days, and they werenít always in such a hurry with nowhere to go.
Pop and the other old gentlemen would sit on the little bench built into the wall of the bank, a place constructed for folks to congregate and commune among themselves. And many times I saw him lean over and place his hand on a friendís knee as they talked; it was an often-used gesture of assuredness, of emphasis being placed on the importance of an idea, of sharing a common ground. It was about trust. People werenít afraid to touch one another in those days.
We donít touch as much these days, we keep our distances. And trust seems often in short supply.
She was at work, and I had snuck into her room for some reason. I liked to look at her magazines and just snoop around, and like all little boys, smell things that I never smelled anywhere else and touch silky things that I never touched anywhere else. Later, she said that I had moved a lamp and that the place where I had set it had caused it to be blown over by the wind. Now I ask you, how could the wind blow over a lamp? She chased me down Mallow Road, beating me with the soft end of a broom and cussing every step of the way! I hollered and screamed and pretended to cry, because it didnít hurt being hit by that end of the broom, but I knew that if she figured that out, I would really be in trouble.
She and Grandma canned the blackberries, apples, peaches, corn, beans and tomatos every year for the winter months. During baking season, if I couldnít wait until supper time, Iíd show up and knock on her door and say, ďDid you do any baking today, Mrs. Fridley?Ē And God bless her, she never hesitated to open the door and invite me into her kitchen. She would pour me a glass of iced tea and then cut me a slice of whatever she had baked that day. My favorite was that blackberry cobbler with a little milk poured over it. I loved her cherry pies as well. And if I showed up on a day when she hadnít done any baking, then sheíd give me some leftover biscuits with canned home preserves on them. My favorites were the blackberry, the cherry and the raspberry.
I knew what time the Fridleys ate dinner every day, always at 5 oíclock. And I was there on many nights. Sometimes, Iíd go over early and then go down into the basement and sit and talk with Dewey. He would sit there beside his big coal furnace that heated the house, and heíd whittle. He had a nice little knife that he loved to sharpen with a little bit of oil on a whetstone. He taught me how to sharpen a knife down there in that basement, and Iíd watch him take a nice piece of wood and then start to whittle on it. He would turn a big stick into a little stick, sometimes as small as a toothpick. That is how Dewey meditated.
We all have our own ways for reaching that place where we are entirely within ourselves.
We all need to go there sometimes.
Usually, Iíd show up about a quarter to 5. Iíd sit in the living room on the couch and talk with Grandma sitting in her rocking chair and Dewey leaning back in his easy chair. Sometimes, Grandma would be in the kitchen helping Kathleen. Dewey liked to read The Covington Virginian, our local paper, every day, and his favorite comic strip was Dagwood Bumstead. Sometimes, he would read it out loud to me. One day, Dewey took me for a walk, and he named every tree that we passed. Kathleen had been a teacher; I donít think Dewey had much formal education, but he understood the world he lived in, and he knew the names of everything that grew around him.
I looked up at this aging woman, now too old to have a child, a woman who should have been given dozens of children to raise and nurture, and I told her my mom was pregnant. When I did that, I saw both a happiness and a concern in her eyes. I told her, ďMy momís going to need a baby sitter. Will you do it, please?Ē She sat there shocked; though it had been her dream, she had never been a mother, had never given birth, yet she had been blessed with the quintessential essence of motherhood. I saw fear in her eyes as she expressed her consternation, but only half-felt. I asked her again; I insisted on its importance.
I ate my biscuits and left. Months later, long after private consultations with my mother and soon after the birth of my sister Lori, Mrs. Fridley found herself both assuming and being consumed by more motherly duties than she had ever imagined existed. She had become at last a mother, and my sister had been placed under her tutelage.
When I see the goodness in my sisterís eyes and the kindness in her heart, standing strong in the nightmare endurance of caring for two sons with special needs, still loving both of those sons with the same immeasurable love as she has for her oldest son, I see Mrs. Fridley in her quiet strength and never faltering love for her family.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
ľ teaspoon soda
Ĺ teaspoon salt
ľ cup shortening
1 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 475 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.
Cut in shortening until mixture looks like meal. Stir in buttermilk with a fork
until soft dough is formed. Knead and roll out on light floured board or
pastry cloth. Cut to desired thickness. Bake about ten minutes.
Want to read more of Davidís writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martinís 7 Turkeys
David has more great stories listed in our USADS Articles pages.
Thanks for visiting USADEEPSOUTH!
Want to leave a comment on Davidís story?
Please visit our Message Board
or write Ye Editor at email@example.com.
Back to USADEEPSOUTH - I index page
Back to USADEEPSOUTH - II index page