Mississippi Afternoon
by: Ashley T.

He sounded like a one-man-band as he sauntered along, whistling to the clanking coming from the bulky old feed bag slung over his shoulder. It was a typical hot summer day in the South during the early 1900’s. The young teenage boy walked along an old dirt road toward a fairly small farm in western Mississippi. He walked at a leisurely pace, with his hands in the pockets of his worn-out blue jeans, enjoying the scenery that was so familiar to him. Little white cotton ball clouds dotted the baby blue backdrop, and the sun hung high in the sky. Its reflection glistened on the water of a small fishing hole, where several dragon flies perched on cattails to warm their wings. Opposite the pond, on the other side of the road, there was a large field that was the home to a giant apple tree. A handful of horses sought a shady refuge under the tree’s vast canopy, and a few dairy cows grazed on the sweet green grass nearby. Mocking birds flew all around in search of food, and several rested on the old wooden fence, held together with rusty nails, that bordered the road. They squawked loudly, in a way that almost seemed rude, as the teenager passed, letting him know they did not approve of him being on their farm.

 

As the boy neared the heart of the farm, a small, white wood paneled house and an old red barn came into view, shimmering in the heat. He began to walk a bit faster because he could already taste the cool glass of sweet iced tea or fresh lemonade that would be handed to him when he got there. As he neared the house, a friendly four-legged watchman quickly ran out to greet him.

 

“Hi, Fred!” the boy shouted. He shifted the sack on his back, and bent down to play with the elated pooch. The sandy colored mutt with long, fluffy light brown ears jumped and ran excitedly around his favorite human, snorting and sneezing with joy. When Fred settled down a bit, he pawed his way into the boy’s lap and began to lick his face. The teenager laughed, struggling to keep his face from being completely smothered in dog kisses. Henry, the fat, salt and pepper colored cat, tip toed over to the boy’s side and meowed at him. Fred stopped licking him and barked in disapproval of the cat’s presence. The cat hunkered down in fear.

 

“Fred!” the boy scolded and gently took the dog off his lap. He stood up, patted the dog on the head, and swooped up the feline in his arms, cuddling him like a baby. Henry purred in contentment as the teenager scratched him behind his furry ears. The boy walked to the kitchen door, with the cat still in his arms and the loyal Fred at his heels. He could smell the wonderful aroma of country cooking wafting through the screen door as he approached. The teen peered through the screen to see Mrs. Martha, the lady of the house, frying chicken while singing the chorus of the hymn “Victory in Jesus.” He knocked.

 

“Miz Martha!” the boy called through the screen. She turned around to see who was at the door.

 

“Jacob!” she exclaimed. A big grin came across Jacob’s face, and he waved. Mrs. Martha wiped her flour covered hands on her apron and hurried to the door.

 

“It’s so good to see you, Jacob! Come in, come, come!” Jacob put down Henry and told Fred to stay put. Feeling rejected, Fred sat at the door, looking through the screen.

 

“No, Fred, you can’t come in!” Mrs. Martha explained to the mutt. Jacob giggled as a look of dejection came across the dog’s face. Fred lay down and pouted, still looking through the door.

 

“That stinkin’ dog!” Mrs. Martha laughed, “If I let him in here, he’d have all the food down his throat if I just turned my back to ‘im!” They both laughed. She walked back over to the stove, and Jacob followed, examining the meal being cooked. His mouth watered as he scanned each item: fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, mashed potatoes with gravy, homemade yeast rolls, and to top it all off – a pitcher full of sweet iced tea.

 

The food she was preparing looked fantastic, as usual, and Jacob chuckled and thought to himself, “I know I’ll be staying for dinner!”

 

“How’s your momma and daddy, Jacob? Are they well?” Mrs. Martha asked, tending to the fried chicken.

 

“Oh, yes Ma’am, they’re doing just fine… they said to tell you hello, and hope you’re doin’ good,” Jacob replied. He wiped his forehead.

 

“Well, tell ‘em hello for us, too… Oh! Where are my manners?! I forgot to get you somethin’ to drink! You must be dyin’ of thirst. It’s burnin’ up outside!” Mrs. Martha exclaimed, reaching for a glass.

 

“Oh, I’m really alright, Miz Martha… it’s not too hot out there,” he lied.

 

“Now, Jacob, don’t be tellin’ stories! It’s hot as blue blazes out there, and you’ll dry up and blow away if you don’t drink somethin’!” She poured him a glass of iced tea.

 

“But…”

 

“Nope! Just drink it! There’s plenty more where that came from,” she said, handing him the glass.

 

“Well, thank ya, Miz Martha, but I’m really alright,” he said, pretending to take the glass reluctantly.

 

“Jacob, you know I know you better than that. So don’t you try and fool me, hear?” Mrs. Martha said with a grin. Jacob smiled, embarrassed, while taking a gulp of the wonderful iced tea.

 

“Now! What’s all this stuff in the bag?” Mrs. Martha asked, looking at the sack on the table.

 

“Well,” Jacob began, setting down the now empty glass, “It’s some paint, some brushes, and a canvas.”

 

“Oh? What you gonna paint?” she asked, flipping over the fried green tomatoes and putting the rolls in the oven.

 

“Well… I was kinda hopin’ I could paint you and Mr. Isaac,” Jacob said sheepishly. She shut the oven door, and turned around.

 

“Me and Mr. Isaac?” she asked surprised, “Why us? There’re so many nice things to paint, and you want to paint... us?” Her voice sounded shocked, but partly flattered.

 

“Well… yes, if it’s not too much trouble,” Jacob replied quietly. Mrs. Martha smiled, and her bright blue eyes twinkled.

 

“Well, I don’t see why not!” Jacob was thrilled.

 

“I guess I need to get somethin’ else on… this dress isn’t half flatterin’, and my hair’s a mess!” Mrs. Martha said, looking at her plain black house dress and patting her thin blonde hair.

 

“No, no, you look fine Miz Martha, and besides, I want the painting to look, you know, more natural,” Jacob said, examining her black dress with a white collar, topped by a brown polka dotted apron.

 

“Well, alright then, but at least let me go spruce up! I have flour on my face… well, I kinda have it everywhere! Listen, I’ll be right back, you go find Mr. Isaac and tell ‘im what you want to do. I think he’s in the barn,” she explained, trotting up the creaky wooden steps.

 

“Alright!” he called up to her, but he didn’t leave the kitchen immediately. He watched up the stairs to see if she was coming back down, and when she didn’t, he quickly ran over to the table and uncovered the dish full of fried okra. He grabbed four pieces – one for himself, one for Fred, one for Henry, and one for the big, fat pink pig, Edward. He covered the bowl back up, grabbed his sack, and headed out the door. Fred and Henry followed. Jacob ran into the barn that was right next to the house.

 

“Mr. Isaac?!” Jacob called. Rustling came from the hay loft above.

 

“Yes?” a gruff voice called back. Then, Mr. Isaac appeared, covered in hay, holding a pitchfork.

 

“Hi, Mr. Isaac!” Jacob shouted up at the man, waving.

 

“Jacob, my boy! How are you?” Mr. Isaac shouted down.

 

“Doin’ good! How ‘bout you?”

 

“Just fine, just fine.” Mr. Isaac started down the ladder. Jacob was waiting for him at the bottom. Mr. Isaac turned around and gave Jacob a firm handshake.

 

“I’m glad you came to see me!” he smiled. He put his hand on Jacob’s shoulder, and they walked outside. Mr. Isaac sniffed the air.

 

“Mmmm! Smells like my wife’s been cookin’!” he smiled.

 

“Yes, Sir, she has… I think she’s done, actually,” Jacob replied. Just then Mrs. Martha came walking out the door.

 

“Oh, good you found ‘im! Was he in the barn, like I thought?” Mrs. Martha said.

 

“Yes, Ma’am he was.”

 

“What have you been cookin’, Martha?” Mr. Isaac asked.

 

“Oh, just some chicken, okra, rolls, tomatoes, and some potatoes, nothin’ much,” she said, “We can eat when Jacob’s through paintin’.”

 

“Paintin’? Paintin’ what?” Mr. Isaac questioned.

 

“Oh, Jacob, I knew you would get sidetracked. Jacob wants to paint our picture.”

 

“You want to paint our picture?” Jacob nodded. “Well, I’ll let you paint my picture only if you promise to paint me with a full head of hair,” Mr. Isaac laughed, giving Jacob a friendly punch in the arm.

 

“I’ll see what I can do!” Jacob chuckled, rubbing his now sore arm. Mrs. Martha rolled her eyes.

 

“Here, put this on,” she demanded, handing Mr. Isaac a black Sunday coat.

 

“What’s this for?” he asked.

 

“It’s so you’ll look nicer,” she said, “Oh, you’re a mess.” She brushed off the hay. “So, Jacob, where do you want to paint?” Jacob looked at his surroundings.

 

“Right here,” he said. It was right in front of their pretty little two story house. “And, Mr. Isaac, I want you to be holdin’ your pitchfork.” He moved the couple into the position he wanted them. As he was mixing the paints, Mr. Isaac asked Jacob why he wanted to paint them.

 

“Well, there’s this shot gun I really want, and the fair is coming to town, and they’re havin’ a paintin’ contest, and they’re giving the winner prize money… and that would be enough to buy it,” Jacob explained, carefully painting their outline. He made sure he painted every detail, from the golden lady on Mrs. Martha’s broach, to the lace curtains in the window, and even the Mother-in-law’s tongue and caladiums on the porch. And for the first time, while he was painting, Jacob noticed how weathered Mr. Isaac’s face looked, and he also noticed something else – how tired he appeared. Jacob started painting quicker, because he knew it was getting late.

 

“Y’all doin’ alright?” Jacob asked, putting the finishing touches on the picture.

 

“Doin’ fine, Jacob,” Mr. Isaac replied, “just a bit hungry. Can’t wait to eat!”

 

“Miz Martha, you alright?” Jacob asked, noticing the worried look on her face.

 

“Hmm? Oh, yes, I’m fine, I was just wondering where Fred was… that’s all.”

 

“Done!!” Jacob exclaimed, rubbing his cramping hand.

 

“Terrific! I’m starved, let’s eat!” Mr. Isaac said, setting down his pitchfork, and taking off his coat.

 

“Well, let’s see the painting!” Mrs. Martha said, clapping her hands. Jacob turned the painting slightly, so they could see it. Mrs. Martha gasped.

 

“Jacob!! It’s amazing!” she put her hands to her mouth, “Isaac, look at that!!” Jacob was proud of his accomplishment; now, he felt sure he would win that contest!

 

“Well, are you ready to eat?” Jacob asked.

 

I am,” Mr. Isaac said, patting his empty stomach.

 

“All right then!” Mrs. Martha began, “come and get it!” The three shuffled into the house, but they quickly stopped at one very surprising scene.

 

Fred!!” Mrs. Martha shrieked. Fred had somehow gotten into the house, and eaten everything on the table. Fred cowed down, knowing that he had been caught.

 

“Get out! Get out of my house!” she yelled. Then she turned around slowly. “Boys, I’m sorry, but it looks like our dinner just ran out the door.”

 

The End.