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In The Mystery Hours MAG
Mystery hours is what my grandmother called them – that part of night that doesn't belong to yesterday, today, or tomorrow. The time when the minutes slipped through our fingers as we held hands and danced under the stars.
The mystery hours taught me how to be a proper lady. How to fry bacon and scramble eggs, how to skim the cream off milk. How to set a table, address an envelope. Dance, sing, whisper, giggle, tip-toe. The mystery hours created calluses on my feet and a vault of family history in my heart.
The dead of night can only be appreciated by those who understand the value of hard work, who know that early to bed truly is early to rise. When the air around you is thick and empty and the only people in existence are you and yourself.
The sound of machinery was enough to startle a baby awake. The only sounds were the cranks of metal and the soft mooing in the pasture beyond. Sound enough to stir a curious child from bed and down creaky stairs where my grandmother would already be mixing magic into the scrambled eggs, waiting for me.
She'd take my hand and lead me outside, cool air swirling between us. We'd dance hand in hand in the dewy yard with only the stars watching us. My polyester nightie brushed my knees; grass flirted with my ankles while dirt became married to the bottoms of my feet in those mystery hours.
Time doesn't exist in moments like those. There is no light to tell you how late it is, no one to tell you to stop, no schedule demanding your acquiescence. In the year since my grandmother died, this darkest part of night has been my comfort. The only truth about the mystery hours is that they ask no questions. She always promised me that.
My baby sister, my mom, and everyone else would be asleep upstairs as she and I whispered over breakfast preparations around the kitchen table. Noises came from the barn where my uncle tended the cows, pumping milk into a huge, cold metal drum.
She was married during the Great Depression. Her wedding dress was a navy blue skirt and matching blazer, a cream linen blouse, and a painted line up her calves to look like nylons. She counted every cent and pored over the bills at night until she found the last missing penny, and my grandfather finally admitted to buying a candy bar in town.
For everything my mother showed me, my grandmother taught me how to perfect it. We addressed envelopes in black pen, writing across a ruler. She never left the house without applying lipstick. We'd travel 30 minutes in the dead of night for donuts, but we always made the glaze ourselves. I dry clothes by hanging them on the line, not throwing them in the dryer. Eggs are always beaten with a whisk, and everything is stirred with a fork. Never buy canned what you can grow yourself, and never use chemicals on your food.
Sitting on the yellow linoleum counter in my grandma's kitchen, her back against the stove with her arms crossed, I was transported to 1960. My mother was two, and her sister, Susan, one. A party was held at the cabin on the pond my grandfather built on our land. Unnoticed, Susan waded into the water. Stuck in the gooey mud on the bank, the baby drowned. My aunt Anne, 15 at the time, saw her pink frock floating near the surface of the water.
As a child, my long black hair was perfectly plaited by deft fingers. My grandma held my hand as I walked along the white plank fence bordering our property. Even in the dark, I was never scared to fall because my grandmother, who had nine children and 14 grandchildren, never let me down. She watched, murmuring advice and instruction, as I learned to milk a cow by hand and by machinery, and when she drank a glass of that milk, she declared it the finest in all the land.
In 2004 I spent Halloween in Louisiana with my mother's family. It was Uncle Jimmy's funeral. He was 50. Alzheimer's had wreaked havoc with my grandmother's brain by then, and she couldn't remember my name or who I was. Heartbroken by my beloved uncle's death and my only grandmother's inability to remember me, I couldn't sleep and instead wandered around my aunt's house and backyard all night. On the third night I was sitting on the steps, looking across the yard when my grandmother appeared. We didn't say a word, just looked at the stars with our chins on our palms.
My grandmother passed away in the mystery hours. I find that fitting.