My paternal grandmother was called Ma by me and her four other grandchildren. We called her that so much even my grandfather changed from her given name Betha to calling her Ma. Ma was a wonderful storyteller who saved her best material for the small round table in her kitchen. Her audience usually consisted of me and my grandfather who, of course, became known as Pa.
One of my favorite “Ma” stories involved my grandfather’s brother Ebb and his wife Carrie. They lived in Hearne, Texas which was roughly 50 miles from our little town of Richards where my grandfather had a barbershop with one chair. Ma wasn’t very fond of Ebb because he drove all the way from Hearne to have Pa cut his hair for free, and he usually brought his horrible twin toddlers Phil and Bill. Phil and Bill also received the family discount rate of “free,” and this irritated Ma.
They’re nothing but freeloaders, George, Ma would say to my grandfather after every visit. But that’s not the story. This is.
The Methodist preacher asked Ebb and Carrie late Saturday afternoon if they would mind to put up Sunday morning’s visiting preacher at their house that Saturday night. Well this put them into a tizzy because Carrie told Ebb the house wasn’t straight and they didn’t have anything for breakfast on Sunday morning. But being the good Methodists they were, they determined to welcome the preacher and give him a place to stay.
Before the preacher came to the house, Carrie called the bad little four-year-old twins Phil and Bill to the kitchen to tell them that they were having company and she didn’t have enough food for breakfast the next morning.. They only had three eggs left so she wanted them to be sure they said no when she asked them if they wanted an egg for breakfast.
Ebb had them practice the routine Saturday afternoon.
Phil, do you want an egg for breakfast? No, Daddy.
Bill, do you want an egg for breakfast? No, Daddy.
The next morning came and sure enough, the preacher was sitting down at breakfast with Ebb and the twins while Carrie was making the food.
Phil, do you want an egg for breakfast? Carrie asked. No, mama, Phil replied.
Bill, do you want an egg for breakfast? Carrie asked to which Bill replied Me bweve me have fwee eggs.
And then Ma would laugh uproariously at the thought of the expression on Ebb and Carrie’s face when Bill asked for three eggs. Ma loved nothing better than capitalizing on the misfortune of others – especially if they were the part of Pa’s family that didn’t pay for their haircuts.
Honestly, Ma told the three eggs story on Ebb and Carrie for many years, and I laughed appropriately at the punch line every time she told it. So did my grandfather because he thought Ma was the funniest person who ever walked the face of the earth. I think the secret to their 65 years together was the laughter they shared at the little round kitchen table every day. He would tell who came to the barbershop that day, and Ma would be off and running on her monologue. Ma was a sit-down comic as opposed to a stand-up one.
As for me, I miss those lunches – both the food and the conversations, the love and humor. What I wouldn’t give to hear Ma tell the three eggs story again today. She was a very large part of my women’s history.
Ma and Pa