The August sun baked the ground, drying it into dust. Cicadas buzzed a symphony, bees flitted among the clover, and butterflies darted from flower to flower. Momma's hollyhock, clematis, and honeysuckle bloomed along the fence by the lane. Geraniums, impatiens, petunias, and begonias splayed their assorted colors in patches in the yard and around the base of the house.
Three little girls darted around the farmhouse yard amid the bursts of blooms. The oldest was five years old, and the other two were four. One of the youngest had been two pounds at birth, but had survived. She was still small for her age, but she was a happy child.
'What we go play?' one of the little girls said.
'Let's go catch butterflies,' said another.
'Naw, let's run and catch each other,' said the third.
The children were never called individually, so the smallest girl did not know her name, or the names of the other children. When they played together, they talked at each other rather than to each other. They had not yet learned to socially interact.
Momma and Daddy called them 'children,' collectively. They knew that when they heard that word, they were to go to Momma or Daddy.
Momma was always busy in the house, cooking and cleaning. The little girls could hear her talking to herself. 'I better hurry up before the sun gets too high. They'll be in from the fields soon. Think I'll cook some pone for that okra.'
When she'd stop her one-person conversations to call the girls, she'd move to the screen door and yell for them. That would cause them to stop their play and run to the house. It was either time for the noon meal or supper, but when it was dark, it was time for bed.
At suppertime, when they piled into the front room of the big house, Daddy, would be sitting in his rocking chair, reading the newspaper. He'd say, 'Here comes my children.' Since he left the house early in the morning to work in his fields, the children only saw him for a short time at the noon meal, and then not again until supper.
They could not contain their joy at his presence. They would try to jump into his lap, almost tipping his rocker over, shouting, 'Daddy, daddy.' They squealed in delight while Daddy laughed deeply. Momma would give them a stern look, saying, 'Come and get washed up, all of you, right now.' But the three little girls were always reluctant to leave Daddy to his paper.
One day, as the little girl and her playmates were looking through the fence at the pond trying to spot a frog, they heard Momma call, 'Children.' They scampered to be first at the table, but when they got to the front of the house, they saw a big black car in the lane that led to the farmhouse.
A lady and two men were standing on the porch with Momma. When the lady saw the children, she looked at two of the little girls and said, 'Freeda, Darla. Come to Mother.' The three girls were confused. Momma was the only momma they ever knew. They felt scared and ran to Momma, grasping her legs tightly.
The lady said, 'Darla, Freeda, don't you know me? I'm your mother.' The children did not budge. After pushing Freeda and Darla toward the lady, Momma said, 'I'm your momma.' Then she pointed to the lady. But this is your mother.' The lady pulled Freeda and Darla to her chest.
The littlest girl stood back, not understanding why she wasn't hugged. Momma looked down at her. 'This here is your Aunt Birdie and her husband, your Uncle Marvin. They're the parents of Freeda and Darla.' The littlest girl still didn't understand. She continued to stare at the strangers.
One of the men walked to the car, looked over his shoulder, saying, 'I'll pick y'all up tomorrow morning. The man turned the crank, got in the car, and left.
Most of the day, Aunt Birdie cooed to Freeda and Darla. 'My sweet darlings have grown so much. Let Mother have a big hug. I missed you babies terribly. Here, let mother button your dress.'
Soon, Darla and Freeda were hugging their mother. The little girl watched and listened. The lady did not talk to her.
Momma stayed in the kitchen, cooking on the big, black stove. She carried on her one-person conversation. 'I hope I made enough cornbread. I think I'd better cut up some more tomatoes for the corn. Whew, sure is hot today.'
For the first time, the little girls were allowed into the big dining room to eat dinner with Momma, Daddy, the lady, the man, and the five bigger children. Usually, the little ones ate by themselves at Momma's big worktable in the kitchen.
There was so much talking that the littlest girl could only catch parts of the words. 'Taking the children back. Catching the afternoon train. Got to get back to work. Got an apartment.' She didn't understand, and knew that she couldn't ask questions. Momma always said, 'Children should be seen, not heard.' Since everyone seemed so happy, she felt happy, too.
The children didn't take their usual afternoon nap. Freeda and Darla spent a long time with their mother in the children's bedroom, putting clothes and toys into boxes.
The littlest girl tried to peek her head through the door, but Momma came by with more boxes and said, 'Go play. You're in the way.'
She went out to the porch, crawled in the porch swing, pumped her feet to get the swing going. There was no one to play with and the chirp of the birds, the buzz of the bees, and the songs of the cicadas lulled her to sleep.