A little jumble of a white house sits in the midst of the orange groves of south Florida. Rooms stick out on every side, and the house has a friendly, homelike look. Two giant palm trees guard the front door, and a dying cactus in the backyard takes its last stand. In the background, cows peer over a dilapidated wooden fence while a mother cat nurses her kittens. Two swings hang from the limb of an old oak tree, and bees buzz around the sweet, white orange blossoms. Cars zoom by on neighboring Highway 72, but life at the little white house flows by as tranquilly and simply as a forest stream. This is my great-grandmother’s house, the place where I go to learn about life. My family visits this prime vacation spot several times a year, and our stay is never long enough. My great-grandmother herself, the meals we share, and the simple lifestyle at the little white house have all played an important part in who I am today.
Children, and even some adults, call my great-grandmother “Big Mommy,” a name coined by my uncle when he was a little boy. Big Mommy is ninety years old, but she is still a farm woman with strength, stamina, and plenty of spunk. This amazing woman drives her own car, cooks her own meals, and finds time to can five bushels of tomatoes each summer. My great-grandmother has determination and drive, but her heart is big and soft enough to mother the whole world. Big Mommy is generous with her time, possessions, and advice. She always thinks of others before herself and does whatever she can to make people happy. From watching my great-grandmother’s example, I have learned that true love gives of itself and puts others first. Big Mommy has taught me to respect and love people for who they are.
Mealtimes are very special at Big Mommy’s house. The honey-glazed ham, the hot, fluffy, buttery biscuits, and the collard greens fresh from the garden are enough to make any normal southern mouth water and perhaps cause a fearful case of indigestion. However, at Big Mommy’s house, the food comes second to family love and friendship. My family gathers around the old dining room table, and we all join hands to pray. After the blessing, the room is a hubbub of chatter, advice, and even a few friendly arguments. Around Big Mommy’s table, we become a closer-knit family group, and our camaraderie helps me realize how important family is.
Big meals are only part of the farm experience. The young and agile folks catch cows and milk them. I squirt warm, white liquid on my cousins’ faces, and we try to make our own butter. Some braver souls might decide to instigate a cow-patty fight. Sometimes Big Mommy sends me to the orange grove or garden to pick fresh produce for the next meal, which is always in progress. The littlest children usually want a tractor ride, so my grandfather hooks a thirty-year-old trailer to an even older, rust-covered tractor. My cousins and I all ride into the pasture with buckets of rotten oranges to feed to the cows. At Big Mommy’s house the words “worry” and “rush” do not exist. I learn to take life slowly and simply, one moment at a time and realize that I do not need to be busy to be happy. I can sit on a porch swing and just think, while the hurry of my normal, busy life fades away.
Many places in my childhood stand out in my mind, but the little white hodgepodge of a house in south Florida is the dearest to my heart. It was there that I learned how to truly love others, bond with my family, and live life simply and fully.