I will also say, for the benefit of any who might find this page who didn't know her, Nanny was (and is) a very real person. She was my grandmother. She took her journey to her little cabin December 29, 2012. I was by her side with others who loved her when she went. She was a great storyteller (and if I have anything of that, I got it from her and others in our family who are much better at it than me), and you can hear her tell some of the stories at http://nanny.allanmills.com if you are interested.
Also, I am including a link to the song mentioned in the story here for those interested: "The Lights of Home". Eventually, there will be a Mountain View Quartet web page with all their songs on it. Very special thanks to my cousin Derick Pruitt for literally rescuing and keeping alive the music of the MVQ. If he hadn't saved the music for us all, the inspiration for this story may never have happened.
I hope you enjoy "The Visit". Love and peace to all who may see these words. -- Allan Mills, Topeka, Kansas, January 20, 2013
Last night, sometime up in the wee hours, I was driving down the ribbon of blacktop toward Kansas. I stopped in Winslow, Arizona, for some coffee and a short walk. As on many nights, my thoughts were loose, running free, not stopping on any particular thing. Well, that's not entirely true. Just before stopping, I had been thinking about a woman (no one you'd know – and, in truth, no one I really know either), trying to puzzle out something that I couldn't figure out. It was like a Rubik's cube (ain't they all).
Anyway, I went into the truck stop to get my coffee so I could get back on the road. Suddenly, through the noise of my other thoughts, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself humming my favorite song that Nanny used to sing with the Mountain View Quartet - “The Lights of Home”. Just like that, other thoughts jumped their track, and there was only that tune. Huh. How about that. Usually, in Winslow, if a song is going to present itself for my listening pleasure, it would be “Take It Easy” by the Eagles (of course).
Coffee in hand, on my way out to the truck, still humming to the tune running through my mind, I thought that I should just listen to that song. I had it on my phone. Yes, that's what I would do. Nothing like hearing the real thing rather than the poor karaoke version in play now.
Climbed back in the truck, got out my phone, and fired up the music app. Plugged in my headphones. App's up. Hmmm. What do you know about that? The song that was queued up in the player, just like someone had come ahead of me and set it up for me, was that song. “The Lights of Home.” Ready to go.
Pushing the play button, I heard that clear, delightful alto that was my Nanny start the song . . . “John tells of a city, coming down from above, / where sorrow and death will not be known . . .”
Closing my eyes, leaning back into the seat, I decided that alto voice was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard in my whole life as the words washed over me, and my tears started to fall.
Now into the first line of the chorus: “(oh) I can almost see the lights of that city . . .”
And I swear y'all, it was like she was right there . . .
I opened my eyes, and before me, there she was. Nanny. What the . . . I closed my eyes and started rubbing them to clear my vision. I was more tired than I realized.
Then her voice. “Lord, son, whatsa matter with you? You look like you've see a ghost!”
My eyes jerked open, my head jerked around to face her. Her eyes twinkled as she smiled, and I realized: she knew what she had just said, meant to say it. We both started laughing at the same time, the easy, rolling laughter I remember so many times in her kitchen.
Then, she grabbed me, and hugged me tight, as tight as she'd ever hugged me before. “I love you boy.”
“I love you, too, Nanny, and I miss you so bad. Is it really you?”
“It's me, boy, and I reckon I'm as real as you.”
“Well, you look good.”
“I know that's right.”
“You haven't changed a bit, have you?”
“Well, I have and I ain't. But all you need to know is I'm your Nanny, same as always. Always have been, always will be. Ain't nothin' gone change that, son. Lord, I reckon not.”
“It's so good to see you. So, what's it like . . . you know?”
“Well, it's like I always thought it would be in some ways, and it ain't like nothin' I ever dreamed of in other ways. The truth is, you'll just have to see it to know how it is. But it's a place, let me tell you, it's sure 'nough a place alright, like nothin' you ever seen. Oh Lord, I mean! But you'll never guess who the first person I saw was.”
“Boe?” I couldn't imagine anyone else but Boe, unless it was everybody in a big ole group come at once.
“Nope. That's what I woulda thought, too. It was Harold Wilson. I was just sorta standin' there wonderin' where I was, what was a-goin' on, and from somewhere behind me, I heard this voice: 'Hey, Pertty Girl!'
“And I knew right then it was Harold. You know that's what he always called me: 'Pertty Girl'.
“I said, 'I know you're talkin' to me!'
“'I am, Pertty Girl. I am.'
“'Where's Boe at? And everybody else?'
“He cleared his throat, sorta like, and put his hand over his mouth tryin' to cover up a grin. He never could keep a straight face, ya know. I knew right then something was up. I just didn't know what.
“'Well, Aunt Eula,' he said, 'Uncle Boe's fishin'. He said he'd have plenty of time to see you when the fish quit a-bitin', and said I could come on over and git you. And everbody else is waitin' on you just up yonder a ways.'
“Allan, I mean to tell you, I saw fire when he told me that. Me here – here of all places! - and him off somewhere a-fishin'! Tells me he'll see me later. Well, he'd see me later, all right. And he'd thank he was in that other place when I got through with him. I MEANT that thang, mister, as much as I've meant anything in my life.
“Well, before I could ask Harold where he was at, Harold, still just a-grinnin' but tryin' to hide it – like I wasn't gonna see him grinnin' like that! You remember his smile.”
I nodded that I did.
“Well, he says, 'Come on, Aunt Eula, take my hand, and let's go on over yonder. Everbody's waitin' on you and they all wanna see you.'
“So, I took his hand, and just as soon as my hand touched his, everything changed, and I'm here to tell you, we was in the most beautiful place I've ever laid my eyes on! It was sorta like the mountains, but even perttier. Just me and him standing there in the middle of these trees like, and there was this creek just runnin' through there. You could hear it a-runnin' over them rocks, and it was the most peaceful sound I've ever heard. Bluest sky you've ever seen, and 'bout ever kind of bird I think I've ever heard of, just flyin' around, singing. And butterflies – butterflies was everywhere. And flowers, Lord, you ain't never seen the like at the flowers there in that little clearing in the middle of them trees.
“'Where are we Harold? Is this somewhere in the mountains?'
“'Well, Aunt Eula, that's partly true. You'll understand it all more later, but let's just say this is the place that's in your heart, how you picture the perfect place. So, I guess it is like the mountains you loved so much, but it's a better version. It's more real. What happens here is that what's in the deepest part of your heart, what you most want and need, just sort of comes out. It'll make more sense later. But, yeah, I guess you could say this is the mountains.'
“'Well, I guess you know you've just blowed my mind.'
“'I know it. You'll get used to it pretty quick.'
“We walked on through them woods a little ways, how far I don't know. But it was the most beautiful, peaceful place I've ever seen in all my days, I'll tell you that. Anyway, it wasn't too long, seems like, til we come up on this beautiful little cabin, just sittin' there. And I knew it was mine. And, you know, I remembered that little song we used to sang about 'just build me a cabin in glory land'.
“'Well, I guess I'm home, I reckon, is that right?'
“'You're home Pertty Girl.'
“'Well, where's everybody at? I mean ain't I gone git ta see them? And what about Boe?' Lord, when I said that, I got mad all over again.
“Well, Harold, he just laughed, and said, 'Now, come on, Aunt Eula. You can worry about Uncle Boe a little later.'
“He took my hand, and here we went, up three little steps on to like this wood front porch, that had rockers a-sittin' there, just like I'd always imagined havin'. It wasn't very big, though, so I said to Harold, 'Well, I don't know who's here, but it can't be many folk. Must not be a whole lotta folks waitin' ta see me.'
“'Well, just come on, you'll see.' He led me right up to the door, and opened it. I didn't see nothin' inside til we crossed that threshhold. Lord have mercy, you coulda knocked me over with a feather, now, mister. We was in the biggest room I've ever seen, and there was people everwhere. It was crowded, but there was plenty of room, you know what I mean?
“I said to Harold, 'Where are we? This can't be the same place we was just at. That was a little small place.'
“'We're in the same place, Aunt Eula. It's like I was sayin' before: here, whatever needs to happen just happens. When there ain't nobody else here, the room will seem like it's smaller. But right now, it needs to be bigger to hold all these people waitin' to see you.'
“Well, let me tell you, boy, there was more people in that room than I've ever seen in my whole life. Everbody I ever knowed or thought of knowin' looked like they was there. And some folks I didn't even remember knowin', and others I didn't know but who knew me. It was a sight, now, let me tell you. I just stood there lookin' like a cow lookin' at a new gate, or I don't know what.
“But Harold said all these folks had been a-waitin' for me. They didn't look like they was waitin' to me. There was people laughin', cuttin' up, and Lord, at the food! I ain't never see ta beat. They had everthang you could ever think of, and some stuff I couldn't a-thought of. Music, laughing, people playin' games. And them actin' like I wasn't even there. And this supposed to be my house. Whatever they was a-doin', it sure wasn't waitin' on me. This thang had commenced a long time before I ever got there, I'll tell you that. I was about to git plumb perturbed. And Harold just a-standin' there grinnin', lookin' at me.
“Then I heard it. Over everthang else. 'Sally!' Lord, I'd know that voice anywhere. That, and that he called me 'Sally'. It was my Daddy. You know, he called me 'Sally' all my life before he died.
“Well, mister, I looked around to see where he was, and then I seen it. I hadn't even noticed it before, so I don't know if it was there or not. Lord, that is the strangest place you ever seen. Anyway, there all of a sudden, I see this little raised wooden platform, not more'n six inches high. Big, I mean, you know like that place where they used to have the dances up in Cherokee.”
I nodded. I remembered. She continued.
“Well, there he was, up there on that stage. And there was a buncha people playin' music – ever kinda instrument you ever heard of. And he was just a-dancin'. You know, I've told you 'bout him dancin' before. Now, he was shore 'nough a dancin' fool, mister, once he got a-goin'. And he was dancin' ta beat all, now, I mean he was.
“And he yelled at me, still just a-dancin', 'Come on up here, Sally, an' let's dance!'
“Well, here I went. Didn't even know if I could dance, but man I meant I was gone try. I got up on that stage, and Daddy stopped long enough to squeeze me so tight I thought I'd shore 'nough be thin as a plank when he got done.
“'I love you so much, Sally! It's good ta see ya. We got us a lotta catchin' up to do. But first thang we gone do is dance!'
“So, here we go. And you know, all I had to do was think about it, and I was dancin' just like he was. And, let me tell you, son, we burnt it up. Ain't nobody danced like we danced. And, Lord, I was laughin' and cryin' at the same time.
“And just about then, I seen her. Mama. She was over yonder with all them other folks, some of 'em I knowed and some I didn't, but there she was a-playin' a fiddle, let me tell you. And not just a little bit, either. She was flat playin' that thang good as I ever heard anybody play anythang. Charlie Daniels and none of them others got anythang on Mama. 'Course, ain't nobody here got anythang on anybody about nothin' there. Well, anyway, I never heard tell of her playin' no fiddle, but she was shore 'nough gittin' it goin' like nothin' you ever seen or heard tell of.
“She was lookin' right at me when I saw her, and she just raised that bow up and waved it at me, and went right back to playin', laughin' and dancin' herself. Beat 'nythang I ever seen.
“Well, I don't know how long we danced like that, but after a while, I wanted to go see them other folks. Went over and hugged Mama real good first, and she stopped playin' and we just had a nice long visit.
“And then, I started just a-goin' around to different folks, huggin' 'em and sayin' hey and visitin'. There wasn't no hurry or nothin', and it was like we had all the time in the world, seemed like.”
She laughed to herself, “An' I guess we did.
“An', Allan, you just wouldn't believe the people that was there. And the people that came by.
“I seen Mister-n-Miz Tucker. They was all dressed up a-goin' somewhere, I don't know where, but they stopped by to say hey. Mostly, though, they already knew I was a-comin' here, even before I did, and they told me to make sure to tell you hey, but mostly, they wanted you to tell Ann they said hey and they was okay and would be here when she got here. So, you make sure you tell'er now.
“An, Lord, sometime or other, you'll never guess who come in. Lee Roy! And he come up a-ridin' on that three-wheel bike thang like he used to ride in Florida. He come straight up ta me, and hugged me real big-like. Then, he rared back, you know how he done, and he said, 'Hell of a place, ain't it?'
“You know that Lee Roy ain't got none, has he? And we both just laughed. Well, you know Lee Roy, he never could sit still more'n a second, and after a minute or two, here he went, back outside. An' I seen him through the winder, ridin' off on that three-wheel thang.
“Well, after a while, I ended up over where Mary an' Phoebe an' Louise an' Dub was standin'. We had the best reunion. It was so sweet.
“And then Dub – that crazy Dub – he said, 'Where's Boe at sister? I thought for sure he'd be with you.'
“Now what I didn't know was all them people – ever last one of 'em – they all knew what was a-goin' on. I was the only one o' the whole bunch that didn't know.
“So I told them what Harold had told me, about him a-fishin' and he was gonna come when the fish stopped bitin'. Well, Dub just laughed, and said, 'Well, sister Eula, somebody's done told you wrong. The fish don't stop bitin' in this place.'
“Well, don't you know, that kicked the slats outta everthang when he said that. Man, I mean, I was mad. 'Where's he at? I mean I'm gone find Boe Mills and git him told if it harelips hell!'
“Well, I said that, and Phoebe said, 'Well, Eula!' Mary started havin' one of her laughin' spells, and just fell out I mean. And Louise, Lord, she started waggin' that finger at me, sayin', 'Now, Eula, you know you don't wanna talk like that where we are. It just ain't right.' And, Dub, crazy thang, just walked away for a minute, he was laughin' so hard.
“Finally, he come back over, and told me there was a path just outside the back door, and if I followed that path, I'd come to the little pond where Boe was a-fishin'. So, man, here I went. I meant I was gone find Boe Mills if it was the last thang I ever done.
“Well, after just a little while a-walkin' that path – an' it was the most beautiful sight you ever saw, Allan, just that little path through them woods, squirrels, birds and deer everwhere – Lord, Randy Taylor woulda been in heaven if he'd a been there.” She stopped and looked at me, and we both laughed at what she had just said. Then she went on.
“'Cept, I don't think they'd go in much for huntin' there. Lord, I don't know. Anyway, after a while, I come out of the trees into this little meadow-like place. And there was the most beautiful little pond you ever saw. And, there he was, sittin' on the bank with his back to me, pole in the water, just a-fishin' like Harold said.
“Now, man I was mad! I meant I was gonna chunk him in that water. So here I go. I got almost right up on him, and he just turned around, and looked up at me, grinned that grin he has – you know what I'm talkin' about – and gave me that wink.
“He said, 'I thought you never was gonna git here. I been waitin', seems like forever.' An' he reached over and got me this little cane pole like I like to use, and he handed it over to me. He had it waitin' for me, ready for me. He knew I was a-comin'.
“'Sit down, here,' he said, 'we got a lotta catchin' up to do. And the fish are bitin'.'
“Well, when he said that – well, really, when he grinned and winked at me – everthang was all right. I knew just as sure this was how it was supposed to be, and I was all right. Everthang was all right. And they had all planned that whole thang, do you believe that? And I know as sure as I'm sittin' right here talkin' to you it was that crazy Dub and Robert Mills that done it. Arranged it, ya know.
“Well, we just sat there and fished and talked, and fished and talked. Never no hurry, and they was right – them fish never quit a-bitin'. We talked about everbody, all you young'uns.
“And I'll tell you this – as much as Boe sits there a-fishin' – 'bout all the time to hear him tell it, and it might be. Time works funny there – well, there ain't no time. You'll just have to see it when you git there. I could tell you about it but you wouldn't understand it, and if you could understand it, you wouldn't believe it.
“Anyway, as much as he's a-fishin', he told me he spends most of the time goin' around to all you young'uns, and some other folks, too, but I don't know exactly who, keepin' an eye on y'all and helping y'all. That's what everbody there does – or everbody I seen – they're always just goin' around doin' little jobs they got to do, and a lot of it is comin' here just to watch and help.
“Boe visits all you grand-young'uns and the greats and the great-greats – Lord, however many there is, he sees'em all. Told me he comes around you mostly when you are writin'. And would you believe? Boe Mills has learned how to read. I didn't believe it. Said I'd have to see it first. Well, soon as I said that, there was a book just layin' there. I know it wasn't there before, but sure as you're born, there it was. I told you thangs works strange there. And, sure 'nough, Boe picked that thang up and started readin' it. I don't remember what it was – might be somethin' you wrote, or you're gonna write.
“Well, anyway, he told me he likes to stand behind you lookin' over your shoulder while you're a-writin'. That was why he learned to read, just so he could read your writin'. Said besides that, he didn't much care about it. He'd got by without it this long, he could be all right without it now. And, besides, he said, he'd rather be a-fishin'.
“He said he thinks you're a right good writer sometimes. Said that just like he was John-Boy Walton or somebody, and him never read a book in his life! But I believe he knew what he was talkin' about.
“He enjoys lookin' in on everbody, but he said he gets a special charge outta goin' to see Kristi. Most of the time – well, all the time, I guess – nobody knows he's there. But that Kristi, now, he said sometimes she sees him, he don't know how, but she looks right at him. And he just grins and winks, he told me. And then goes on to check on the next one, or to do whatever he has to do next. They keep you busy up there, now, mister.
“An' you know what else he told me? And this'll shore 'nough blow your mind, it did mine. He said the way thangs work there, with time and all that stuff, places, and such as that, he's learned how to be watchin' over Joan and Quinton ALL the time, no matter what else he's a-doin'. Lord, I 'bout fainted when he told me that – I almost said 'died' but I caught myself, you know what I mean?”
We both just cackled at that. Then she went on. And I – I was in heaven.
“Well, anyhow, it's been like that since I been there – just a-goin' and visitin', havin' get-togethers, doin' different thangs that needs to be done. I been learnin' a lot – got a lot more to learn, but I'm a-gettin' there.
“Well, then I found out I was supposed to come here and see you. And I was excited. One day, right before I left, I hear this sound outside – I was there in my little cabin – well, I go outside, and if it ain't Lee Roy comin' up this road – I swear there never was a road there before, but there was one now, I guess because Lee Roy needed it for the truck he was in. Lord, it was some old Ford he said he'd had in Missouri. Looked to me like it was held together with string, but he was just as happy in that thang. He was on his way to do somethin', I don't know what, but I guarantee you it had somethin' to do with one o' them young'uns 'o his, or Christine. She keeps him busy, you know. And, Lord, you know they got young'uns spread out everwhere.
“Well, anyway, he drives up to the house, me standin' there on the porch, and he stopped the truck and cut the motor off. He told me to tell you when I seen you to tell all them Joneses he said hey and he was fine and they was keepin' him busy. He laughed when he said that. 'Hell of a lot busier than they kept me when I was there,' he said. But, you know, he likes it that way, bein' busy. Then, not another word. Just waved, started that old truck right up, and rattled on down that little road. I come out a while after that, Allan, and that road was gone, let me tell you. Lord, I ain't never seen the like. You'll love it there.
“I went back in the house, and just sort of waited til it was time for me to come here. And here I went, out the front door, bounced down them steps, just a-gittin' it. Well, at the corner of that little cabin, there's some bushes. Wasn't there the first day, but one day, I was just sittin' on the porch, and I thought how much I'd like to have me some flowers and rose bushes here and there. Well, I no more than thought it, and there they was, just like they always been there.
“Well, here I go around that corner, around all them bushes, and just as I got past one of 'em, this voice comes outta the bushes.
“Lord have mercy, I bet you I jumped 10 feet if I jumped a inch! And I was 'bout to take off like Blaylock's mule --”
“Or Moody's goose,” I said, and we both laughed. Then she continued.
“Well, anyway, do you know who come outta them bushes? It was Jimmy Wilson. He's the one hollered at me like that. And he was just a-laughin'. And right behind him, here come Smokey. And him a-laughin'. Well, that got me ta laughin'.
“Now, you got to understand, before this happened, everbody knew I was a-comin', and everbody wanted me to tell so-and-so this and so-and-so that. Finally, I just had to tell'em, 'Y'all gone have ta tote your own mail 'cause I ain't gone be there that long. And Lord knows, I'd fergit half of it before I ever left.' Which wasn't true, 'cause you don't fergit up there, you know, but they knew what I was sayin'.
“And they really knew anyway that I couldn't take all them messages, but they was so excited that I was comin' like this. I'd a-been the same way I reckon. Well, anyway, everbody just said to tell everbody here they love'em and they are lookin' out for'em. And, let me tell you, that's a fact shore 'nough. That's 'bout all they do seems like to me.
“Well, anyway, here's Jimmy and Smokey hijackin' me right as I'm 'bout to go, so I told'em I had to be gitten on with it, you know. So Jimmy says, 'We know Aunt Eula. Just one thang – and this is from the top, you can go ask if you want to – but make sure you tell him to let Squeegee know I was right there the whole time. He'll understand. You just make sure he gets the message.'
“And then Smokey says, 'And tell Quinton hey.'
“'Yeah,” says Jimmy, 'tell ole Horse we're waitin' on him.'
“Then Smokey again: 'Yeah, we done made some plans for Hoss when he gits here.'
“And they both just looked at each other and laughed. Like kids they are, I'm a-tellin' you. There ain't no tellin' in the world what them two's got cooked up for your Daddy. Them two's just liable to do anythang, you know that.
“Well, here I am, and I ain't got much time – well, I do, but you ain't, you know what I mean. You gotta get back on that road. So anyway, I want you to tell everbody hey and I love'em, and everthang's just fine here.
“And, as for you, I got some thangs to tell you.”
I started to ask her somethin', and she held her hand up.
“Don't you say a word. I ain't got much time, and you know you ain't too old I can still box them ears and jack them jaws.”
And I knew she meant it. So I kept quiet.
“All this figurin' you're a-doin'. Stop it. You ain't gotta work it all out, or understand it. It's all took care of a whole lot better than you could do. You just need to keep believin', keep trustin', and doin' your best. You don't have to understand it. Just trust. That's your job. That's it.
“Boy, I've seen thangs ahead for you that you wouldn't even believe the half of it. It's all gonna work out. Your part is just to trust. Nobody needs no help from you, and what help you give is what's put into your heart to give, so it all comes from the same place, you understand me?”
I nodded that I did.
“All right, then, son, I got ta go now. But I'll see you again, and I'll be watchin', just like Boe. Tell everbody I love'em more than they know. And tell that Mamie Jo me and Bobby Sue's already cooked us up some trips when she gets here. Ain't no hurry, but you tell her.”
She got up, came over to me, and hugged me just like she did before.
I said, “Nanny I love you so much. It sure was good to see you.”
Suddenly, the end of the song, and the words: “And I can almost see the lights of home.”
I opened my eyes. I was in the truck. The song was over. And it was time to get on the road.