My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books:

In the Georgia mountains of my childhood strollicking was frowned upon. The only excuses for idleness were illness, like double pneumonia or paralysis, extreme youth (younger than five) or tottery old age. Of course, there was Sunday, a day of rest sanctioned by scripture, but even on that day farm animals had to be fed, milked, and tended. Meals had to be cooked, dishes washed, and water drawn from the well. Most of these jobs fell into the category of “women’s work.” and by the time all chores were finished, most women didn’t feel like strollicking. Sometimes men like my Grandfather Junkins did. Dad got it down to a fine art.

On Sunday, children could play–as long as they didn’t become irreverent. To my stern Grandmother Junkins, running, loud laughter, or yelling all crossed the line into irreverence.

Me, I longed to strollick, and at home I was sometimes allowed to. However, when we visited Grandmother Junkins, my mother followed Maw’s standards. My solution, once I learned to read, was to make sure I took along a book from school. Reading, I could do quietly, and I could read stories to younger siblings and cousins. However, books like Tom Sawyer could reduce a huge bunch of kids to irreverent laughter, which was sure to alert Maw. Such books weren’t true, she pointed out, so I was reading plain out lies Her solution to this was Bible reading. When I got older, I wondered if Jesus’ parables didn’t count as stories. And didn’t they tell the truth? I dared not ask.

By my teens, Maw was herself doing a version of strollicking, though she would never have owned it. She and Dad broke up housekeeping and lived with different ones of their nine children a week or two at a stretch. Seldom did they both stay with the same children at the same time, so they saw each other only in passing, and I think they liked it that way.

My other grandmother outlived two husbands and had many other hardships over her near-century of living, but Ma Long always had fun too. That woman knew how to strollick. In her eighties she, too, broke up housekeeping and visited about with different children. Sometimes her visit coincided with that of Maw Junkins.

One particular time stands out in memory. My sister was dating and had managed to borrow a gown to wear to the prom. Though modest by modern standards, it exposed too much skin in Maw’s opinion, and she said so. Ma Long declared that Jean was “pretty as a picture.” The appointed time passed and Jean impatiently tapped her satin shod toes. Mama was frazzled with trying to calm Maw while watching the road. Ma Long undoubtedly picked up on the tension . She finally looked out at the muddy yard (it had been raining all afternoon) and said to Jean, “The boy’s just running late is all. Why don’t you strollick up the road. I bet you meet him on the way.”

Yessiree, that woman knew how to strollick!


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