the okra lady

I ventured into Wal-mart one Saturday morning after school had started back…all…alone. It felt like a treat, because Chris had the kids entertained. It felt like a treat, coming off of a busy summer with all three dirty boys around 24-7. It felt like a treat, because it was just me and my blue buggie. I love Wal-mart. I love to look at dish towels, and water bottles, and cheap sunglasses. I love the seasonal aisle and the crazy t-shirts and the craft section. I love to get lost in Wal-mart, especially in the fall, especially if I have picked up a pumpkin spice latte before I shop. Man, do I sound like a southern, 40-something  mom with too much time on my hands. I guess it’s the little things.

After about an hour of buying groceries and lots of things I didn’t need, I entered the check out line. There was an elderly woman ahead of me, paying for a few things. I began to listen to her conversation with the cashier: “That’s a large package of okra you have there.” said the cashier. “I know, I’ll never eat it all, it’s just me at the house now. This is just the size I’ve always bought, “ said the elderly lady.  This conversation stuck with me and just wouldn’t let me go. “It’s just me at the house now.” That’s what she said. That’s what the old lady with the big package of okra said. “It’s just me at the house now.”

The okra made me think of my grandmother, Charlie. We called her “Pa.” We ate dinner at Pa’s almost every Sunday after church and some Saturday nights. In the south, you call lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper.” So, regardless, for lunch, dinner, or supper, Pa would make a feast and always included fried chicken and okra. Those were two of my favorites that she made. Fried Okra and Fried Chicken. What a gift to my childhood. They are worth capitalizing. I am always excited when fried okra is on the menu at some southern restaurant. You know, one of those “pick a meat and two sides” places. Okra is always one of my sides.  When I eat it, I feel comfort, like a child again, remembering home and Pa and Sunday lunch. So, I guess this is why the okra lady caught my attention. Why her statement, “It’s just me at the house now” hung in my ears. Pa died before it was just her at the house. She was still married and was still cooking okra for visitors. It was never just her at the house.

Strangely enough, I saw this elderly woman coming out of the local hospital a few weeks later. I have an odd ability to remember faces. No body ever remembers mine, but I knew she was the okra lady right when I saw her. I was picking up a prescription and there she was, all alone, walking out of some doctor’s appointment headed back to her four, quiet walls because it was just her at the house now. 

I paused, I thought of my other grandmother, Ann. It’s just her at the house now. I thought of my mother, Rhonda. It’s just her at the house now too, and I realized one day, it may just be me at the house. I wanted to soak this up, to not let this lesson pass me by.

Right now, coming off of a summer of boys 24-7, there are still boys at my house, well, a lot. There is a man there too, Chris, that I adore, and I think he adores me. He makes messes and makes me laugh and makes me better. There are the boys, Mack, Ben, and Sam. They make me tired and make my heart bigger and make me better too. There is middle school angst and elementary school homework and dirty cleats and never enough milk or cereal, and bills to pay and lots of socks to sort, but it’s not just me at the house now. Not yet anyway.

How I wish I could taste Pa’s okra again. How I wish I could have a tight squeeze from my grandpa or smell dad’s cologne. I want to remember my days are numbered and the people in my house have numbered days too.  At some point, it could just be me in my house. So I want to make these days count: These days when the house is full and loud and messy. These days when the bus still comes around the corner and fall nights mean baseball and bedtime prayers. These days when the whole pack of okra will be eaten and not wasted. I don’t want to waste any of this. 


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