Katrina Parker Williams
It was early on a Saturday morning, and Horace, Jason, and Buddy were working in the corn fields. It was late spring, and they were planting the season’s corn crop. A mule led the plow, which Horace navigated, making furrows. His grandson Buddy came behind him, dropping corn in the furrows, and Horace’s hired farmhand Jason would follow, covering the corn, all of them continuing this process for the next row and the next and the next until a huge field of corn was laid, time-consuming work that would make Horace consider giving up the trade every season when he’d think about how much work it would take to plant a field of corn.
They had just finished setting a row of corn, trying to finish by mid-morning, and were heading toward the other end of the row near the road that led to the local colored Baptist church when they saw a stout figure, distorted by jagged rays of sunlight, heading toward them. They stopped abruptly, wondering who it was, a hand waving in the air, the figure talking to the wind as it barreled down the corn row, a fireball of dust trailing behind it. As the figure got closer, Horace recognized it. It was Miss Margaret, and she was fired-up mad.
“Horace Johnson!” she yelled. “If I ain’t never seen a man so hard-nosed set in his stubborn-as-a-mule and mean-as-an-ass ways, I would never in my lifetime see it!”
Jason and Buddy were stunned at first, but they knew why Miss Margaret laid into Horace. Horace had no warning, so he couldn’t get away before he was barraged by verbal assaults from the irritated colored woman.
“You are the stubbornest, orneriest, crankiest, belligerent, ill-tempered, crabbiest, cantankerousest, grouchiest, old negro—,” Miss Margaret added before being cut off.
“Miss Margaret…now… Miss Margaret, I ain’t gone be no more of your negroes,” Horace interjected.
“Loud-mouthed, quarrelsome, grumpy, tetchy, surly—,” she continued.
“Now, Miss Margaret, you better tell me what’s got your panties in a pinch,” Horace said sternly.
Jason and Buddy burst out laughing, which only angered the irate woman.
“You dirty, old letch!” Miss Margaret yelled. “How dare you use such devilish, sinful, vile, despicable, wicked language with me?”
And as quickly as Miss Margaret came down the corn row, she turned on her heels and left in a blur, leaving Horace speechless. Jason and Buddy bawled over in laughter.
“What y’all laughing at?” Horace said irritably, watching as Miss Margaret made her way angrily down the corn row, her floral print dress swaying from side to side in unison with the determined stride of her hefty hips.
“You!” Jason retorted, letting out a deep guffaw.
“Hush up, you fools!” Horace yelled. “Get back to work!”
Jason nudged Buddy in the side, both of them still overcome with laughter.
“I said, get back to work!” Horace repeated angrily, slapping the mule on the hind parts and shouting, “Gitty up! You stubborn ass!”
Jason and Buddy burst into another fit of laughter, annoying Horace even more.
“I don’t know what the hell you two find so damn hilarious,” Horace snapped.
“Now, Horace,” Jason said, trying to hold back a snicker. “You know good and well what that was all about.”
“I don’t know what you talking ‘bout,” Horace said, turning his back to Jason.
“Oh, you don’t, huh?” Jason mocked. “You know Miss Margaret been waiting for you to ask her to that church picnic all month long. And you stood around and acted like you didn’t have no idea. The picnic is this afternoon, and I think she’s trying to give you a hint. A big hint.”
Horace paused, blinking his eyes and frowning, turning to Jason and asking, “You serious?”
“You mean you didn’t know?” Jason asked, surprised by Horace’s reaction.
“No,” Horace replied.
“She been telling my wife about it all month. I guess that was my cue to tell you about it,” Jason said, now realizing how angry Miss Margaret must have been.
Buddy said softly, “She mentioned it to me, but she never said to tell you anything, Grandpa.”
Horace, irritated and needing someone to blame, snapped at Buddy, “Boy, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Don’t blame the boy,” Jason said, defending Buddy. “You know she been sweet on you, and you been acting like you can’t see it. Everybody in the whole county could see how she feel about you. But you. And this picnic was your chance to make your move.”
Trying to regain his composure, Horace paused and then said, “How the hell that woman think I can read minds? She act like I’m supposed to know that’s what she wanted. A woman gotta tell a man something. Women can’t expect us to know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.”
Jason and Buddy stood quietly as Horace went on his own tirade, slapping the mule again on the hind parts.
“And another thing,” Horace added. “She can’t just come up to a man and fuss him out like he ain’t nothing.”
Jason and Buddy followed behind Horace, snickering under their breaths.
Horace continued, “talking to him any kind of way and expecting him to know what she all up in a tether about. Womenfolk. They so confused. And they trying to confuse everybody else.”
“Horace, you know what you gotta do,” Jason said, still smirking.
“Humph,” Horace grunted and continued down the corn row, slapping the mule again on the hind parts to make it move.
Later that afternoon, a few hours before the church picnic was to take place, Horace hurried to get dressed in his best Sunday clothes, a dark grey suit, a round hat, and black shoes. He walked down the stairs and stopped in front of the mirror to inspect himself. He felt reasonably comfortable with how he looked although he hated wearing suits. But for this occasion, he felt he needed a little extra ammunition to combat his angry adversary, Miss Margaret.
He got into his horse-drawn wagon and headed to Miss Margaret’s home. When he arrived, he paused, sitting on the wagon, trying to muster up the courage to face her. Then he got down and walked to her front door. Knocking firmly, he stepped back and adjusted his collar, preparing for another barrage of verbal attacks. Miss Margaret came to the front door and stood with her arms crossed, in irritation.
“Miss…Miss Margaret?” Horace stammered, taking off his hat and holding it nervously in his hands.
“Yes, Mr. Johnson,” she replied.
“Uh...I…Uh,” Horace stuttered.
“What do you want, Mr. Johnson?” Miss Margaret snapped. “I ain’t got all day.”
Before Horace could stop himself, he let out how he truly felt in one breath, stating, “Well, if you’d shut your mouth for a dang minute, woman, you’d know I was here to apologize for not asking you to the church picnic and to say how beautiful you look right now and how beautiful I think you always look and how wonderful you can sing and how you drive me nuts with your crazy, foolish, feisty, moody, hollering ways!”
Miss Margaret was stunned at the revelation she had been praying for, for many months.
“Thank you, Lord,” she whispered under her breath.
“What you say, woman?” Horace asked irritably, thinking she had again bad-mouthed him. “I just spilled my guts to you, and this is how you….”
“Oh, shut up, you ole fool, and come on inside,” Miss Margaret said, tearing up and pushing open the screened door.
Taken aback, Horace stepped inside and was greeted with a soft peck on the cheek.
“What’s that for?” Horace asked.
“For you being you,” Miss Margaret said and escorted him to the parlor.
Horace stopped at the door, examining the lavishly decorated room, plush furniture covered in washable covers for protection, a large rug covering hard wood floors, intricately designed lace curtains at the window, a fireplace mantel dressed with flowers and greenery, a black lacquer piano with a tall, silver candelabra at its center, and a dark, mahogany wood chest that converted into a folding bed for guests. He especially admired the ornate rocking chair to the right, similar to the one his dead wife Emile had loved to sit in and rock her babies to sleep.
Miss Margaret was a widow, her husband having died of typhoid fever six years earlier. It took a long time for Miss Margaret to even think of finding another suitable husband. When she met Horace, something about him intrigued her. Even though he didn’t attend church, she still considered him a good prospect for a companion because she believed the Lord had sent him her way and He would “convert” Horace in due time. In the meantime, she believed the Lord meant for her to follow this path, for if she did not follow God’s Divine Plan, she would not be a good Christian woman.
“Would you like something to drink?” Miss Margaret asked.
Miss Margaret left and returned with a serving tray, carrying a teapot, two cups, and a large slice of her homemade boysenberry pie. She set the tray down on the coffee table and sat on the sofa.
“Sit, Mr. Johnson,” she said, motioning for him to be seated, Horace sitting down across from her.
She poured a cup of tea and passed it to him and then handed him a plate of boysenberry pie.
“Oh, Miss Margaret, you didn’t need to go through all that trouble,” Horace said.
“It was no trouble. Please, help yourself,” she replied, giving him a fork.
He set his tea down and took a huge bite of the pie.
“Miss Margaret,” he said, a burst for fruit flavor exciting his palate. “This is wonderful.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said. “There’s more where that came from.”
“This is quite a plenty,” he answered, finishing the slice of pie and enjoying it thoroughly.
Miss Margaret smiled.
“Thank you, again,” he said, sipping on the hot tea to cleanse his palate.
“When was the last time you had a home-cooked meal?” she asked.
“Well,” Horace began, thinking back. “Actually, it’s been some years.”
“How ‘bout you come by next week and I cook a good, filling meal for you?” she said. “You need some sustenance working in those fields all day long.”
“Well, how can I say no to such a nice proposition?” Horace replied, finishing the last of his tea. “Yes, I will be much obliged.”
“Well, Mr. Johnson, I will need to get myself fixed up if I am going to make that picnic,” she said, standing up.
Horace stood and said, “I’ll be back at four to escort you.”
“I will be waiting,” she replied, walking him to the door.
Horace left and headed back to his home. He went into the house to see Buddy sitting at the kitchen table, eating some country ham and biscuits Horace had made for lunch.
“Where have you been?” Buddy asked, wondering why he was dressed up.
“If you must know, I’m escorting Miss Margaret to the church picnic today,” Horace replied.
“That’s three hours from now. Why you dressed so early?” Buddy asked with a smirk on his face.
“I didn’t want to be late,” Horace said, seeing Buddy snickering. “That answer your question?”
Buddy laughed and threw up his hands in surrender, watching Horace storm upstairs like an ill-tempered child.
Katrina Parker Williams teaches English composition and grammar at a community college. She is a Barton College graduate with a B.S. in Communications and a Masters of Education in English from East Carolina University. She is also the author of a novel titled Liquor House Music and publishes writing and publishing articles online. Her work has appeared in Charlotte Viewpoint, USADEEPSOUTH, Muscadine Lines, and on the Wilson Community College Website.
Katrina Parker Williams