Sometimes when I’m feeling sad and this ol’ world starts to creepin’ in on me — heavy-like — I take myself away from other people and huddle down in my old creakin’ rockin’ chair in my bedroom. I sit by the window just rockin’ away and lookin out — not seein’ anything in front of my eyes, but seein’ all kinds of things in my memories.
And at times like these — when I’m hurtin’ powerful bad in my soul — I like to remember Izzy best of all. Her real name was Isadora Bradshaw, but none of us kids ever called her Isadora — not me or my sister or any of our friends who came to visit. In fact, nobody I knew back then called her Isadora. She was just Izzy to all of us who loved her.
She was the best of the best was Izzy. About 200 pounds of love and laughter. Her full, round, black face would get all shiny with sweat whenever she was scrubbin’ the floors or haulin’ big loads of clothes from the wringer washer and carryin’ them out to the clothesline — or when she was standin’ at the ironin’ board with her feet in the tub of ice water.
Yes sir, I have to chuckle every time I think about it now. The picture’s still just as clear in my mind as it was every ironin’ day in the summer. Izzy said ironin’ on a summer day was the hottest one job in the whole world. She said it always made her think about how hot hell must be gonna be, and it made her want to go read the Good Book before she went to bed. Izzy loved that Good Book. And she loved the Lord. Gosh-a-mighty, I can still sing every old hymn that sweet ol’ black lady taught me.
But back to the ironin’ days: Izzy said she sweated so much the sweat would drip on the clean shirts she was ironin, so she decided to start standin’ in a big tub of ice water, and that way it kept her cooled down. When I was a little squirt, I didn’t understand how dangerous that could be, but when I got a little older and had learned a few things about electricity, I told her, “Izzy, you’re gonna electrocute yourself standing in that tub of water while you’re plyin’ that electric iron.”
“Lordy, Honeybear,” she’d say — she always called me “Honeybear” — from the day I was born I guess — but she’d say, “Lordy, Honeybear, if I was a goin’ to lectrify myself doin’ this, it would have done happened years ago. Now, you stop you’re worrin’ bout your old Izzy. If the good Lord did see fit to take me home while I was a ironin’, I don’t suppose it would hurt a thing — ceptin’, of course, you and your pa’s shirts would still be all wrinkled.”
I finally got to the place that I just laughed with her about it. And later on — when she was too old to work as our maid any longer and pa had a little three room house built out in the back for her to live in for the rest of her life, she and I would sit and remember those days and laugh ’til there were tears in our eyes. That was several years after I had finished high school and moved about a hundred miles away to take a job. I’d never been one to hanker after college, and I landed a job doing work that suited me and just stayed with it. I always made time to come home a couple weekends a month to see the family. But I got to be honest. It was Izzy that I really came home to.
Why that dear old black woman was like a second mama to me. My real mama was a good woman, and I know she loved me, but she was awful busy durin’ my growin’ up years with all of her society doin’s, and it was Izzy who made my breakfast, who listened to me read the stories in my grade-school reader, who listened to my hopes and dreams and fears when I’d spill ’em out non-stop the way a growin’ boy does when he’s goin’ through those years of change and uncertainty about life.
And it was Izzy who prayed for me all the time. I heard her prayin’ many a night. After she finally got her work finished up, she’d sit out on the back porch and talk to the Lord, and I’d sit by my bedroom window listenin’ to those prayers. Back then, I didn’t know the Lord yet, and my heart yearned for the kind of easy, lovin’ relationship that Izzy had with the God of the universe. And, of course, it was Izzy who finally led me to give my life to the Lord.
That one act made all the difference in my life, of course, but one of the most important things it did was to make me even closer to Izzy. She said once I was a Christian, that made her and me real family. Of course, to me, Izzy was always my family, but I eventually came to understand what she meant.
I came to understand a lot more than that too. Eventually, I realized that Izzy was a woman caught in a transition time in our nation. She wasn’t a slave. Nobody was a slave anymore. But she had been brought up by a family who had known slavery. Her own great grandparents – in their teen years – had been among the slaves freed after the Civil War. And livin’ in the deep south as they did, they just couldn’t seem to get more than one step away from it in their thinkin’ – mostly because the rest of the south couldn’t get more than one step away from it either. Their world revolved around an unspoken cast system, and Izzy and her family were still on the bottom.
She should have had opportunities for education and a career. She shouldn’t have been relegated to doing all the cooking, cleaning, and every other kind of drudgery work for someone else in someone else’s home. She should have had a home of her own with a good man and a passel of kids and a place in society where she could be involved with the rest of the world — just the way mama was able to do. But Izzy wasn’t a revolutionary. She wasn’t out to change the world. She took what came to her and thanked the Lord for a family to work for that she could also love.
By the time I understood all of these truths, Izzy was 78 years old and finally livin’ peacefully in her little 3-room house behind our big house. Most people called our house a mansion, but to me, it had always just been our house. And with Izzy there, it was all I needed for those growin’ up years.
I finally married, but we didn’t have any kids, and eventually my wife and I went our separate ways. I never took the chance again. Sometimes I wish I had, but wishin’ about it now is wasted energy. After the divorce, I used to sit and talk with Izzy about what I thought had gone wrong. She listened, but she never passed judgment on me — or on my wife. She just loved me, and that was enough.
Well, Izzy’s gone now — to live with her dear Lord. And me — I’m old and tired — and lonely. My family’s gone, and I miss ’em: my sister Ella and Mama and Papa. I miss the visits to the old home place. I live here in this place they call a “senior facility,” but it ain’t what I call really livin’. The truth is I’m just bidin’ my time until I go on home to be with the Lord too. Some days I have pain in my body, but most every day I have pain in my soul. Somethin’ in me still yearns to do things and go places and try out a few more dreams. But the will isn’t enough when the strength isn’t there.
So while I’m waitin’, I sit here in my quiet room, rockin’ and lookin’ out my window and rememberin’. And it ain’t so bad really — as long as I sit here and remember Izzy standin’ there at the old ironin’ board, her feet in that pan of ice water, and us laughin’ together to beat the band . . . and singin’ the old hymns, and . . . .