Big Mama’s house was red brick, with a swoopy-roofed entrance jutting out from the façade. The porch was brick surrounding concrete, no rail, and gleaming boxwoods hugged it on all four sides. She had those white wrought-iron leaf chairs on the porch, and around a fat pine sat the never ending bench. I always wondered how that got around the tree. Was it dropped from above, like that baby toy with the five increasingly larger rainbow-colored rings onto the plastic spindle, or was it there, and Poppy planted the seedling in the middle? The yard was always tidy, yet never did I see my great-grandparents toiling behind a lawnmower, or snipping the shrubs in the hot
I can’t remember the first time I went there. Pictures tell me it was when I was newborn. Swaddled in a blanket, my grandfather holds me up high at his mid-chest so he can get a good look at me. He’s looking at me, not the camera. I’d like to go back to that day. I want to open up my baby mouth and tell him, “Papa! You won’t be here in three years! Oh, Papa, please stop drinking.” Papa and Esther must have had a tempestuous marriage, because he set the house on fire in 1957. He crawled under it through that big hole in the foundation and made his way to what he must have thought was the dead center of the house, just so happens it was the hall closet. Fortunately for my newly-single, yet still hard working and gainfully employed grandmother, it didn’t burn long, because a neighbor called the restaurant to tell her the house was on fire. Papa would have netted three hundred dollars. I suppose that was a goodly sum of money back in those days.