My grandmother was never much inclined to leave the comfort of her Carolina home for any length of time. When she did make it was only for a “day or two at the most.” She never quite unpacked and resolutely left her suitcase smack dab beside the front door. My daddy would tease her about making a “quick getaway”. To which she would mumble something about a “day or two at most.”
Once I remember she came and stayed for the whole summer, the first and only time I recall her doing such a thing. Mama must have really been ‘ailing’ because that time Granny unpacked and was in no hurry to get back to her little corner of “God’s Country.” And that was mighty fine with me.
Her name was Margaret Alice. I guess she was rambling along in her eighties, medium height, high cheekbones and smudgy blue-green eyes behind steel-rimmed spectacles. She was a real beauty in her day. (She told me so) and had pictures to prove it! She had a lively wit, and hair the color of frosted sunshine. She was in good health, humming with energy, and was what the young from their pinnacle of invincibility called, “spry!”
What with the biological closeness of youth and old age, my bedtime was Grandma Alice’s too. I sat propped up in the big old four-poster bed, my head in rag curlers, my face glistening with Stillman’s Freckle Cream; and I was content to just lay there and watch her every move.
I watched as Grandma shook out the tortoise shell hair pins and draped her hair down her back. It was long enough to sit on. Everyone was impressed that her hair was long enough to sit on. Grandma brushed the shining mass 50 strokes with her silver- back brush. She never cheated; I know because I counted every stroke right along with her. Then she put on her flannel nightgown that buttoned clear up to her chin, got into bed, snuggled under the elder down comforter, and we held hands; giggling like school girls.
Grandma had a reassuring way of talking; she used her own set of words to fit a given situation. My be-frilled dresses were full in the skirt and often so short that it was possible to catch glimpses of lace trimmed underwear. “Mercy.” Grandma would say to my mother, “you’ve got the child’s frock plumb up to Texas.” A burned old pot was “black as sin.” Nights on the farm were “dark as Egypt.” Someone, or something that was remarkable, was a “wonder and a marvel.” Good news, or bad news was a “time in the land.” Trouble meant the “devil was a’sittin’ on your doorstep.” Jealousy or envy were reserved for little-minded folks with “scattered brain seed.” Conceit was “looking in the wrong mirror; pretty is as pretty does,” she’d say.
Grandma Margaret often spoke of a magical land called “Beulah Light.” It was some far-away place, “way out yonder.” It was so up and so away that she used it to measure distances beyond her comprehension. “As far as from here to Beulah Light” she’d say in that breathless voice of hers.
It seems her Beulah Light was a green and golden land of enchantment, where everything wonderful was whistling around the corner. Chocolate trees saluted the skies. Everyone was content and happy in Beulah Light; no wars dared enter; and although it was far and away, nobody wanted to come back home once they found it. The streets were paved with gold, and it was never “dark as Egypt.” “Hey Grandma” I would tease, “Is Beulah Light good as heaven then?” “Glory child, no. Nothing could compare to heaven, but everything considered, Beulah Light is about the next best thing to home and heaven.”
Every night that summer in the smooth, sweet warmth that only Mother Nature can offer, she would tell me a Beulah Light story; I wish I could remember them all. They were, of course, always about magic and goodness. After she sighed, a little regretfully at the end, she would send me scurrying for her shawl. The reason I could do so many errands for her, was because I was still on my “first legs.”Hmmmm.
Later when I discovered parties and sassy-girl-stuff, I would find Grandma still awake, waiting for me to come home. “You are late” she would say peering over her steel-rims. “I know,” I would laugh. “We were looking hard for Beulah Light and just got lost Granny.” Her face would crinkle, and her mouth would twitch in a smile. “Lordy, you’re eating your white bread now, child.”
Grandmother and her stories happened a long time ago. Time though never washed away her ties to her North Carolina home. And her Island of times past still lives
It seems, Granny in her own way had made a careful study of life as she knew it, and tried as best she could, to fill in the blank spaces with love, spiced gently with bits of her Southern magic. I think she reasoned that folks sometimes needed their world to expand. Hence, Beulah Light.
As for my Beulah Light, well, I haven’t found it yet; though I thought I’d glimpsed it once or twice over the years. Nevertheless, I’m still looking; very carefully looking, especially on all those nights that are “dark as Egypt.”
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society.