Photographed in Greenville, Mississippi
Let this be the tenth installment of "I am the South and the South is me: Southern portraits." Portrait ten: A man I call my favorite person.."
"My fingers fumble as the phone rings in my ear. I casually wonder what he's eaten today. Has he eaten? What will I talk about other than Cowboys. He answers, his accent thick and slow. Slow as molasses. As sweet at the Magnolias in Mississippi he grew up with. I cut him off before he can begin. "Happay Birfday Paw Paw, I yell!" I imagine him to wince as he thanks me. He never did quite understand my enthusiastic nature. A familiar sound strains the back of my ears. I pause before askin' him what he was doin'. "Listentin' to I am Redeemed the hymn", he responds. "We sang that at church this mornin", I pipe back. For someone never much amused unless the Cowboys are on his little ol' TV, I swear I can hear the light and smile in his voice. " I did't do much today but leave the house for church", he rambles on. The church I know to be the light of his day. Little bitty church, big ol' steeple I think. The same church he was baptized in. The same church my distant cousin pastors in. The conversation haults... he wants to know if I've put his birthday in the internet yet. "Not, yet Paw Paw. Not yet I reply." He stops me many times in the span of minutes. I never was quite good at lettin' him get a word in I think. He wants to know if I saw the pictures of Momma's childhood home that recently burned down.
The conversation halts. Now is my chance I think to myself. "Paw Paw, I begin." Where you alive durin' WW2?" I catch him off guard. "Yes, But I was little don't remember much. '35 I was born. Daddy didn't have to enlist. He raised us 9 kids and was a farmer. He got a waiver." I strain to listen. His accent thicker than usual. "Leon my older brother, he was in the Korean Conflict." I chuckle. Did anyone still call it the Korean Conflict?
I pause, a bittersweet feelin' rushes over me. My whole life I'd wanted to know Paw Paw's age- his life. I'd call him every birfday and he'd say, "I'm Sixteen today." He was private like that. Never shared much. He'd finally told me what I wanted to know. In not so many words. My smiled faded. Always wonderin' was half the fun.
I imagine I'm a child again. As the days of, " no no no I love you more. No you hang up first. HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS flood my soul.
And so the A man I call my favorite person clears his throat as if to silently acknowledge we'd reach this point, as I pass the phone.
I am Samuel 'Baby Boy' Waller
I am the South and the South is me.Happy 80'th Birfday Paw Paw.