Mississippi August

A Personal Narrative

“One more bucket of ears and you can go inside,” Momma said. Those days spent picking corn in midday Mississippi August heat are ones that I remember well. I vividly recall my toes digging into a mix of decomposing potato roots and freshly toiled soil, the weight of the bucket I lugged behind me, and Momma hollering at me to finish the row of corn I’d already spent an hour on. Why are these early days a pristine memory, still freshly ingrained in my mind? Virginia Woolf stated, “I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time.” Many people forget the specifics of their childhood, as have I, but a handful of Mississippi August days have stuck in my mind.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel the fine mist of rain blanketing the freshly sown watermelon seeds and hear my grandfather sloshing behind me in his ragged rain boots. I loved late summer, not for the back to school commercials and uniform shopping, but for the advice my grandfather graced me with as we picked snap beans and green tomatoes. “Sometimes parents aren’t right, you know.” One look at my face and he knew exactly what I was upset about, without me uttering a word. He was always attentive as I rattled on about stoichiometry and polyatomic ions. He continued to drop seeds into the ground as he told me about his military trips to California, Germany, and South America. I did not linger on these meaningful interactions much as a child, ever engaged in whatever Nancy Drew novel I had my nose stuck in at the time. Today, however, things are different. I rarely see my grandfather, with his mottled skin and forgetful brain. His deeply set eyes light up when I talk about college. He never went. I will admit, I have learned more from that man than I will ever glean from any institution. Not only did my grandfather nurture and raise those seedlings we had sown, he watered and pruned me as well.

I don’t remember which day in August my father lost his job, but I do remember many of the days that followed. He would go away for weeks at a time to work “outside jobs.” To work jobs that gave him ticks and a sore back. My mom went back to teaching to put dinner on the table every night. In the middle of renovation, the table saws ceased to buzz and the living room floor remained untiled. This August was the hardest. I learned how to go without lunch and the latest pair of sneakers, as well as how to cook, wash clothes, and keep the house up without my mother there to oversee. This, as my grandfather consoled me, was a “character building” phase in my life, a time that everyone experienced at one point or another.

Family reunions are always in August. One in particular still echoes in my mind. Nose deep in a book, as usual, I heard my uncle lumber over to my corner of the dining hall. “Books won’t get you anywhere in life, ya know.” He shuffled away, leaving me shell shocked. “Books won’t get you anywhere in life” repeats in my mind as I graduate eighth grade at the top of my class. “Books won’t get you anywhere in life” radiates as I walk across the stage to accept my Coca-Cola Scholar Athlete award. I heard “Books won’t get you anywhere in life” when I was accepted into one of the best high schools in the nation. “Books won’t get you anywhere in life” will drive me across the stage when I graduate top of my class as a first generation college student.

Wherever I decide to attend college, I pray that August there will be like August in Mississippi. I want to continue to be rocked by change, by profound statements, and by different viewpoints on life. After August, I expect to be a different person. A better person.

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