The summers I spent with my grandmother Mimi and my grandfather Da weren’t all ordinary work in the house, yard, garden or farm. I did my share of exploring and excavating the sand hill dirt for arrowheads. Found a few, too.
My brother Bud, young uncle Mike and I climbed our share of chinaberry trees, stringing tobacco twine and tin cans for telephones or walkie-talkies. Police detectives! Soldiers! Spies! We quarreled over who’d be the good guys since no-one wanted to be the enemy – they always lost.
I felt my share of itchy sawdust inside my jeans from zooming down the sawdust piles on makeshift sleds of pine bark. I received my fair share of maypop hand grenade blasts, coating the outside of my jeans with more sawdust. Red bugs loved sawdust as much as I did, I discovered. Kerosene in the bathwater! Mimi scrubbed our jeans with lye soap, muttering under her breath words not understandable to young ears, probably not repeatable either.
But some days it rained and some days it was just too hot to play outside. One such afternoon I was helping Mimi with butterbean shelling when the mailman’s car pulled up to the edge of the yard. Mimi set down her pan, shook out her apron, and walked out to the mailbox. She pulled out catalogs addressed to Occupant or to grandpa, sorted through duns and circulars, and that’s when our day became a bit more fun. Her True Crime magazine and Reader’s Digest had arrived.
Mimi and Da got the Florence newspaper delivered bright and early every morning. In the mail, Da got his farm-to-market bulletins and Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac. In a pinch these would do for light reading, if you were bored enough. But Mimi subscribed to True Crime and Reader’s Digest, McCall Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Woman’s Day, and Red Book!
Back inside the house, we took a break. Mimi leaned back in her armchair with her feet propped up, I sprawled on the sofa by the window and she handed me the Reader’s Digest. She kept the True Crime.
Mimi loved murder mysteries. She enjoyed short stories and hard news. Biographical articles. Recipes. Gardening, repairing, sewing, buying and selling, but she loved adventure stories and murder mysteries. And I learned to read and enjoy them too, right along with the short stories, hard news, even the Farmer’s Almanac and Popular Mechanics.
On days when I had no playmates for company, I created my own. I meandered along ditch banks from one end of the tobacco fields to the other, ignoring blackberry brambles and sandspurs as I plotted mysteries of my own. I foiled many dastardly deeds as I went, demolishing dirt clods and bad guys. In my stories I always won the heart of the brave detective and became the toast of the town, or something equally wonderful.
When school time rolled around, not only did I head for new classes with new teachers and new classmates, I headed for the library. Nancy Drew. The Hardy Boys. Mignon Eberhardt. Agatha Christie. My parents didn’t subscribe to all the magazines that Mimi did, but I discovered the library got copies too so I didn’t miss out in those months away from Mimi’s stacks.
Today, I still love murder mysteries. I have a collection of my own that grows by leaps and bounds since the advent of E-Bay. I no longer stroll along ditch banks, tobacco fields or blackberry vines, today I just peddle away on my exercise bike. But I still plot my own adventure stories and murder mysteries as I go, and still us good guys always win… Thank you, Mimi!
(Reprinted from S.C. Family Memories 2010, published as Mimi, my ordinary grandmother Part 2)