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  • R. P. Singletary

C-r-a-n, Cranberry

by R. P. Singletary

Mee-Maws loved cranberries fresh. She had sewed new curtains over the last few months, wanted them to match the congealed salad and fresh sauce she served every year. She did not have much, but for some reason she fussed over cranberries every autumn. Years before common, she ordered fresh berries from Down East, saying she never understood the Maine folks.

“Down East up near Beaufort, North Carolina, don't them Yanks know theirs geography?”

I loved my Mee-Maws. She loved me and all of us, but she told me once she loved me best and most. She said I could never tell a cousin that, and I promised. It was the day no one else could drive her to the store, I realized later. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and she'd forgotten to place her cranberry order or the farmers Down East had striked or the postal workers had, I don't rightly recall the why of the matter. I remember being hungry before she started loving on me again.

“Just between us,” she whispered.

For a moment, she stared me in the face like the warted mask that had fallen out of the holiday closet when she went searching for all her fake fall-leaf assemblies earlier that morning.

“Just between us.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

I had to say the two words three times to please her, and like a fairy tale she changed back into the lovable granny we all knew, the woman ever on the ready with hot meals every Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and yes ma'am every Sunday noontime and eventide, if truth be told. All from scratch and nearly all from her garden, everything but the cranberries.

She handed me the keys to her old red sedan. Everyone knew she'd never learned how to drive. I had just passed my driver's test, and she was happier than me over that.

“Let's see if they passed you with good reason, sonny.”

She winked and then pointed to turn left, as if I didn't know the direction of the only store in a day's drive.

“Aren't them red leaves lovely?”

“Yes, ma'am,” I said.

She usually penciled a list before she went to Mrs. Howard's store, but I figured the one item too easy to remember and thought nothing of it when she handed me the couple dollars and nothing else. I still looked odd at her. She waved me to skedaddle as she fingered her watch.

Once inside, maybe I was nervous from driving or the distant kin expected by now from off, I forgot our one item to purchase. Mrs. Howard wanted to play her guessing game. She rattled off butterscotches, heavy cream, tub of lard, festive napkins, pound of flour, cup of sugar?-- I stopped her. She almost cursed me, her nerves frazzled over the last-minute crowd, too many people all at once and everybody's emotions excited with the perfect rush of family festivities. She usually had closed by this hour the day before any holiday.

“Let me go ask Mee-Maws.”

“What wrong, sonny?” she asked as soon as I opened the car door.

“I done forgot what I went inside to get.”

“Cranberry,” she replied.

“Mrs. Howard in one feisty mood, said you to write it down, store too busy for any more back-and-forth today, she about done, ready to close up.”

I thought I had handed Mee-Maws the little scrap of paper and nub of a pencil from Mrs. Howard, but the items dropped on the car floorboard. Her face no longer ruddy, Mee-Maws sat speechless as if robbed of any hope for cranberry. Several shoppers rushed out the store. We saw Mrs. Howard jerk the chain of keys behind the crowd she rushed out. She waved at Mee-Maws, who didn't motion back.

“It's cranberries,” she said to me, “and I can't spell it.”

I don't think she looked me in the eye this time. I was too embarrassed for her to look at her. I reached down for the paper and pencil.

“C-r-a-n-,” I started. I was pretty sure I knew how to spell it. “Not k-r-a-n-.” I tried to joke at myself. “I think c, not k,” I added, not wanting to act schooled in disrespect before elder.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mee-Maws nod her head. By this point, she had waved back at Mrs. Howard, still throwing her key chain around in circles to hurry the final shoppers.

“Just put c-r-a-n,” Mee-Maws said. “She a good woman, always passed her spelling mark.”

She howdied again at Mrs. Howard.

We didn't talk on the way home. Mee-Maws didn't comment on her favorite season or the roadside leaves. Without a “y'all best not dirty up” to the kids in the yard back home, she carried the paper bag of cranberries in the house. More cousins had arrived to spend the night ahead of the bigger feast the next day. They all yelled for me to join them for play in the yard. I felt too old for country child's play, not just because of the new driver's license I felt proud in my pocket, but for other grateful and unspoken reasons of thanksgiving.


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