Hatfields and McCoys
Stories about my Mamaw. A gift to my cousin Lori, who only met her once that she remembers. Set in the hillbilly hollows of Eastern Kentucky. Part of Lori’s and my collective heritage probably includes DNA from both the Hatfields and McCoys. That’s just how things roll around those parts. Mamaw is back row left in the photo below.
My early memories of my Mamaw are skimmed with murk. She had dark skin and the high cheekbones of an American Indian. She often joked that she could get a suntan by standing in front of a window for a few minutes, leaving me wondering how I could be descended from her. My milky white arm next to her coffee-hued one didn’t add up in my little girl brain.
She wasn’t tall, but she had that look, the one that conveyed that she could take just about anybody in a fight. Mixed with her grandmother-tomboy style, she cut an impressive presence in any gathering. I never could reconcile her sporty wardrobe with the piles of costume jewelry that littered her front bedroom, bright shiny objects that captivated me for days.
Her house was a two-story number, and it had the aroma of coal fire all year long. The coal stove sat in the center of the shag carpeted front room, which led through a dining room into a sunlit kitchen with wood cabinets and an ancient fridge. It always held that aura of gas and sulfur, the water dripping from the faucet and turning everything orange.
She slept on the sun porch at the back of the house. Not a real bedroom, but she preferred it. Maybe she could hear the trickle of Greasy Creek out back, or see the lightning bugs blinking on the hillside at night. She never told me why, in her lilting accent that sounded just like a young Loretta Lynn.
Sometimes, when I want to hear Mamaw’s voice again, I find old YouTube videos of Loretta giving interviews. I close my eyes and imagine Mamaw alive, yelling at me for eating the white centers out of a whole package of Oreo cookies and throwing the dark ends in the trash. For a few seconds, I truly feared she would make me dig them out of the garbage and eat them. Every one. She stared me down with her fiery eyes, her nostrils flaring with heat. It was an afterthought when she smiled and warned me not to do it again.
I never did. I never could. To this day, it is the whole cookie or nothing. All because of Mamaw.