Tears and Laughter: Riding back to church with Mrs. Calhoun

Sometimes, when the air begins to grow cold and pecans begin to crack under my tires as I pull out of my driveway, I think about going back to find her. We attended the same church services every week in Mobile. Most of the time she would ride with another family, but if they were sick or had a change in their regular routine, Mrs. Calhoun would ride with us.

It was 1981 when we met. I was almost 10 and she was almost 80. She lived on the far side of Jackson. The first time she rode with us Mama got cranked up as soon as we turned off of Highway 43 to find her house. “Be sweet, and act right. And don’t forget to say yes ma’am and no ma’am. Don’t make any smart remarks and don’t roll your eyes.” She turned around and looked at my brother and me in the backseat to make sure we were listening. “Be nice,” she said, and we nodded.

Since I was the youngest, I would slide over in the middle so she could get in. She would slowly lock the door behind her and make her way down the sidewalk before climbing in the car.

She was not a woman you would describe as being small. She had a quick warm smile and alert eyes. When she grinned, her gold tooth sparkled.

Talk was easy and usually church related or about family, her children – what they had been doing, what they had said when they called, when they would be visiting. She looked forward to Thanksgiving so she could see them all.

To pass time, I would have a word search puzzle book open. Without saying a word, she would reach over and touch the first letter of a word and slide her finger to the last. I would circle it.

Somewhere between McIntosh and Creola, both going and returning, it was my practice, no matter where we had lunch and supper, to have a snack. I would have planned it beforehand. It was always something simple. Candy usually, M&M’s or Lifesavers. Sometimes a pack of Toastchee crackers, but whatever I had, I would share it with her.

We would snack, and then she would talk again with my parents. Mama would sometimes read Lewis Grizzard’s column out loud to us from the Mobile Press Register. Other weeks she would read it silently and snicker while Daddy would tell us stories about growing up in Mobile and all that had changed.

In the fall, when the days were short, it would be dark before we could make it back to her house in Jackson. Usually by then I would be slumped against her sleeping , my head resting on her shoulder.

She would wake me up to get out of the car. She would tell me bye and laugh, joking with me saying that if she ever got kidnapped she wanted me to be with her so she wouldn’t have to worry about going hungry. She said she knew I would have snacks in my purse.

Daddy would shine the headlights on her sidewalk as she made her way to the front door. He would not leave until she disappeared inside and we saw a light come on through the window. Pecans would crack under the tires as he backed out of her driveway.

I know she is not on the other side of Jackson anymore. I know there is no reason to go try and find her. Her memory still visits with me though sometimes…when the wind begins to blow cold.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.