My Mom has spoken of it often, shaking her head and twitching her mouth - "They are just ornery. That is a Nicholls thing. They like to do stuff just to be contrary." My grandmother, having married into the scene confirms it: "Pure Nicholls." I hear the family stories and laugh at them, I see the contrariness and the scampy grin on some of my own kids.
I never realized it of myself - though the childhood nickname "Beth-a-mule" should have been a clue.
But this week, a friend and I were watching our kids play at the playground. They ran up with some muscadine grapes they had found along the woods, and the smell as they bit into the juicy grapes brought a story to mind.
Mrs. Whitaker has lived beside my Mom for almost 40 years. She was old when I was a kid; she is really old now. The smell of muscadines reminded me of the many times I would belly-crawl across the dirt lane into her yard, intent on raiding her grapevines. But like many old ladies, her usual pastime was sitting at the window, watching everyone and everything she could see. And out in the country, there is not much to see. So, a little ragamuffin neighbor kid crawling to her vines was pretty obvious.
"Git on outta there! Stay out from my grapes!" She would stand on her stoop, in a flowered housedress and not wearing her teeth. She may or may not have held a broom every time, but in my mind she was a witchy character. She had a large facial mole, after all. I would hightail it back across to our yard and race around the barn, out of sight.
If the petty thievery was frequent, she would speak to my Mom about it. And about me climbing in her tree. My other favorite spot - Mrs. Whitaker's perfect climbing tree for a climb-loving girl. It was a great magnolia that grew right along the road, so I could clamber up and look out over the fields, and up and down the road. Of course I was sneaky about that too - how did she see me when I was climbing on the far side of her tree? The woman was uncanny. "Git on outta my tree! I won't have you breaking the branches out! Ye'll ruin the blooms."
As I regaled my friend with this Tale of a Country Child, I started giggling. "Oh my gosh!" I squeaked, "I was so ornery! My granddad had acres and acres that I could roam, and I insisted on eating that lady's grapes and climbing in her tree! For years." My mouth dropped open and I stared at her. I burst out laughing - "I must have done that just to be contrary."
Thank you, granddaddy Jehu.