“Hit the ditches, boys. Here comes Miss Ludie!” This warning, issued by a county road worker, typified the excitement created wherever the red-haired, ninety- three-year-old, firecracker of a female blasted through life. On this particular day she was at the helm of her cherished, shiny black, 1949 Plymouth Sedan, barreling down Main Street, totally oblivious to pedestrians, road workers, or traffic signals. For her entire span of life Louisa Elizabeth Woodard Knight, my grandmother, known to all as Miss Ludie, ruled the roost and lived as if she alone inhabited this planet.
Ludie and her husband, Mr. Bob, reared four children—three boys and a daughter—who learned, at a tender age, how to work under the tutorage of their demanding mother. Each summer the immense family garden yielded monumental amounts of vegetables for canning. As the child with the smallest hands, five-year-old Mae had the arduous task of thoroughly washing and rinsing the hundreds of glass jars to store corn, peas, beans, tomatoes and okra for the upcoming winter. All the children assisted in gathering and preparing the garden’s yield.
Middle son Barfel’s chore was to dust the furniture and mop the floors until they glistened with nary a speck of dust in sight. Little Barfel rinsed the string mop numerous times until, following orders from his mama, the water in the bucket was absolutely clear—nothing less than perfection.
Oldest son, Ezekial, milked Bossy, gathered eggs, and mowed the large front and back yards. He was responsible for the monotonous chore of churning Bossy’s milk each week to provide fresh butter for the family and surrounding neighbors.
Only the favored child, the baby, Robert, escaped the drudgery of daily labor. However, Robert was once toppled from his cherished pedestal when he accidentally soiled his overalls and was promptly marched to the outside well, where, shivering and screaming, he was repeatedly doused and with buckets of ice cold water.
What a feast Ludie and her hefty black wood cook stove could deliver! Nothing tasted more delicious than her crisp fried chicken, hot cornbread slathered with freshly churned butter and juicy, succulent fried apple pies, the contents of which had been picked, cut into paper thin slices and dried on dish towels laid on hot summer afternoons over bushes in the front yard. Tucked securely into the dining room buffet for weeks prior to the holiday, Ludie’s highly anticipated Christmas fruitcake languished and ripened with its acceptance of her diligent, generous weekly dose of home made grape wine. A profuse platter of sweet potato balls rolled in corn flakes and concealing within the prize of a warm, soft marshmallow and cherry always graced the holiday table, along with mouthwatering creamed corn, bright red tomato slices, steaming plump homemade rolls and refreshing sweet tea. Yes, Miss Ludie knew how to present a sumptuous Southern spread and particularly relished the opportunity when hosting visiting preachers during revival week each summer.
Spending the night with Grandma Ludie meant being luxuriously swallowed by her soft feather mattress in the front guest room. Of course, following strict orders, one had to fluff, puff, and make the mattress completely flat before exiting the room the next morning, which was not easily accomplished. However, reward for a job well done meant indulging in a hearty breakfast of Miss Ludie’s homemade fluffy, buttery, blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs and chilled buttermilk. In season a special side treat was watermelon, peaches, or strawberries. Adding to such royal pleasure was the chance to eat all this from her cherished, and seldom used, Blue Willow dishes.
Mr. Bob, as Ludie called her husband, was a rather timid and placid fellow. A rural letter carrier, Mr. Bob was dearly loved by his numerous postal families and often returned home with a hefty bounty of their appreciation. Many afternoons his back seat was piled high with watermelons, Irish potatoes, corn, eggs, or cantaloupes. Following retirement, he often remarked, in jest, that he never again wanted to see a chenille robe because he had seen far too many wrapped around the ladies on his route, as they patiently waited beside their mailboxes for him to deliver their daily parcels.
Miss Ludie stringently demanded that Mr. Bob not indulge in one of his few cherished pleasures—smoking. Thus, in an attempt to avoid her horrific wrath, he would take a puff or two when out of her sight, particularly when driving alone. Bob and Ludie went in separate vehicles to church on Sunday. He usually attended early Sunday School and then came home. She went to both services and, on some occasions, when she was running late, they passed on the road. One Sunday morning, as Bob slowly drove home relishing his leisurely smoke, he flicked his cigarette out the front window and had no idea that the still hot embers had landed in the back seat. Ludie, being late that day, thundered to church in her trusty Plymouth with her red mane flying behind her out the window. She drove with one gloved hand on the steering wheel, while the other held firmly to the ever present Sunday hat perched securely atop her head. Rounding the curve on two wheels and streaking past Bob’s blue Chevy creeping toward home, she spied him, as well as the clouds of billowing smoke escaping from his back window. Innocently oblivious to his predicament, Bob, now mellow and happy, smiled broadly and threw up a hand in friendly greeting to his startled, irate wife.
Apparently, Miss Ludie had not attended a class on telephone etiquette and in later years some subliminal talent enabled her to know exactly when her adult children sat down to a meal. As if by magic each household would receive that dreaded “ring, ring, ring” precisely at their dinner time. Never inquiring as to the convenience of her call, or the possibility of disturbing anyone, Ludie omitted the hello, simply stated her business or moaned and groaned, quite often screaming that she was going to kill herself, and then abruptly slammed down the receiver.
Quite a legacy that feisty woman left behind and one big question by all who knew and dealt with her—I wonder how poor St. Peter is coping?
As a retired elementary teacher, J.A. Heitmueller relishes the mundane and ordinary days of Southern life, while living 'midst her numerous animal friends at Mulberry Farm, the 136-year-old family homestead. The poems and short stories she creates and has had published often reflect the simple whimsy and nostalgia the joy of each new day delivers to her heart.