Mississippi Mud ©
Averyell A. Kessler
On a hot day in August, my mother decided to give my grandfather WG another chance. As a result, my best friend Martha and I were bouncing in the back seat of her Chevy as we zoomed north to his cottage in Avery Gardens. Mama was aware of his checkered past as a babysitter, as well as his lifelong habit of getting up to no good. He’d already taught me to shoot craps, taken me into the Pearl River’s swirling floodwaters in a rowboat, and watched me rip down the levee on a runaway horse. During Mama’s tender years, he invited her and her sister Mil, into the basement of his Detroit home and allowed them to smoke cigars. Mama vomited, Aunt Mill did not. He’d also left them alone in New Orleans for six weeks. After checking them into the Roosevelt Hotel, he handed over the keys to a yellow Chevy convertible and boarded a plane to Detroit. Neither was old enough for a drivers’ license. They spent blissful weeks wandering the French Quarter, visiting Bottom of the Teacup Psychic Readings, and waving at Huey Long on an uptown golf course. In his defense, neither suffered permanent damage, but they were forced to return the mink stoles they purchased at Maison Blanche. The stoles had only been worn once, to the hotel’s Blue Room nightclub. Somehow, Mama was still trusting.
“I’ll be back in two hours,” Mama said. “Don’t let the girls get into trouble.”
“Me? Never.” WG answered, smiling sunshine. “We’ll work on a jigsaw. Play cards, maybe.”
“Nothing with chips,” Mama ordered. “Dice either.”
When Mama drove away, the afternoon was ours. Martha and I were already lapping up bowls of chocolate ice cream from WG’s freezer and stuffing ourselves with Fig Newton’s. Maybe he would let us watch cartoons or listen to an edgy, adults only Brother Dave Gardner record. He had something else in mind.
“Come on,” he said. “I got a surprise.” He charged out of his house and down the drive; Martha and I trotted behind him like innocent puppies. Destination, catfish pond – the new one he was digging on the southern end of his property. I wondered why he was carrying two extra-large tee shirts, then he stopped in front of the largest mud puddle I’d ever seen. It was a good fifteen yards across.
“Put these on,” he said, handing us each a shirt. “It’s all yours.” Martha and I tossed off our shorts and shirts, as well as shoes and socks, and slid the tee shirts over our heads. They fell below our ankles. We were wary at first, slowly stepping into the soft mud like leery racoons circling a baited trap. But the gentle, sun baked mud felt like silk as it oozed between our toes. WG sat on a tree stump and watched.
“Dip your fingers in too,” he called out. Soon we were scooping up clumps of mud and letting them to dribble through our fingers. Modeling clay had nothing on this, neither did finger paint. I touched Martha’s nose first, then she touched mine. We created a pattern of stripes spreading across our cheeks and zigzagging across our foreheads. What fun! My mother had never allowed such as this.
As we gained confidence, we began to gallop across the puddle, lifting our feet like prancing horses and kicking up a spray. After a while we raced each other around the edges like track meet hurdlers until our shirts were covered with muddy polka dots. WG, our partner in crime, clapped his hands and called out “It’s a treat to beat your feet in the Mississippi mud.”
I fell first. Not hard, just a gentle swan dive. I slid across the puddle like a child on a downhill sled. Martha followed. Within minutes, were we sodden gingerbread children covered head to toe with brown goo. All that remained was our hair. Martha’s was short and full of curls. Mine was long, blond, and wavy. We rolled on our backs, stretching out our arms and legs jumping jack style, until our hair was coated with muck. Our eyes and noses were clean, but I still remember the taste of mud.
“Y’all gotta to take a shower before your mother comes back,” WG shouted.
“I will,” I answered, as we continued paddling through the puddle on our stomachs.”
When I heard Mama’s horn, I knew we were in trouble. Her car eased to a stop near WG’s tree stump seat. “Where are the girls?” she asked, rolling down her window.
“Out there,” he replied, pointing to the puddle. When we stood and waved, Mama bolted from her car. Dripping in mud from head to toe, we were creatures from the black lagoon, a mix of big foot and mud-covered hippos drifting in a faraway river. “What have you done?” she screamed.
“Just having a little fun,” WG replied “They’ll clean off in the shower.”
We returned to WG’s house, leaving a trail of muddy footprints. Mama shampooed our hair with a vengeance and scrubbed our dirty fingernails with an old toothbrush. Our toes took an extra beating. After fifteen minutes in a steaming shower, we were both clean and fragrant but lobster red from a serious soap and water rubdown. Luckily, our clothes were clean, but WG’s tee shirts were the color of burnt toast and had no future. We abandoned them on the bathroom floor.
“Guess I made a mistake,” WG said as Mama loaded us into her car.
“Yes, you did,” she replied.
“But they won’t forget this.”
“I won’t either,” she laughed. “Wish I’d brought my camera.”