The top and bottom porches at grandma Miller’s house face dew East. On fair days, when the clover of the Lehigh Valley isn’t under cloud cover, rising suns shed flaming rays of warmth down Goosegreen Street. The glowing infrared beams come to rest on the weather warn wood of Mal-Mal Miller’s house. She hangs her laundry on the top porch on clotheslines. In Summer, she places aloe vera and other houseplants up there to grow.
“I don’t sleep upstairs with Bill gone. Cost too much to heat! I do gotta clean out the bat shit in the attic. It drives me nuts just thinkin’ ‘bout it. I keep my Nativity figurines up there!”
Seven children, three girls and four boys grew up in the house of the rising sun. On hot nights in summer, the kids slept outside on the top porch, despite the bats that lived in the attic and the mosquitos of Petersburg that were known to grow as large as the bats.
A fresh pot of coffee is always on at Mal-Mal’s. It gets her going. Up and down the stairs she travers all day– to the top porch to water plants by hanging dripping clothes over them. Keeps her busy– the coffee. Nobody cares about her– if you let Mal-Mal tell it. She will beg you to stay– she loves company– not too many strangers in Petersburg anyway. Mal Mal still refuses to lock her door.
“Hell there ain’t noffin’ to steal from me, and this is Petersburg. Always been like this ‘round here and who the hell would want to kill me? I lock the doors at night though with Bill gone, though.”
Only her granddaughter Shannon comes once and a while in Summer to mow the yard and that’s only if Mal-Mal Miller’s son Francis, brings her and the riding mower to do it. Yes she named him Francis– they were, after all, part French.
“Hope ya like Maxwell House– that’s all I get at the Weiss Store in Huntingdon. I’m on a fixed income– see. You take milk and sugar? I can’t stand sugar in my coffee. Just some milk? That’s how I like it!”
The best place to sit on clear mornings at Mal-Mal’s is the cement stairway. Bill built them. He poured and mixed the cement himself, tossing in chunks of limestone rock to give the steps leading into the kitchen structure. The steps are so old. So are the cast iron skillets in the kitchen. Wish Bill were still here frying bacon.
Water from the creek came up three times and covered the steps. The swift muddy currents of a flooding Juniata River were not swift enough to sweep them away. Now the coal-like limestone chunks of well weathered cement stairs have surfaced, but people always sit there, watching the morning sun, often ten times larger than it is at mid-day.
Lots of running up and down wore these steps smooth like a bench, Mal-Mal explains, “I love sittin’ here and watching the sun come up over Goosegreen. Bill is gone. He always smoked out here in the mornings. I still sometimes imagine smelling him smoking. Wish heed’ never smoked but I still smell him in the house sometimes. I put my cabinet with nick-nacks next to that window where he sat all the time. Should move it, but by noon, all that sunlight comes in here and I can’t stand being hot. Can you?”
The tap water in Petersburg is delicious. Makes the best drip coffee. No need to buy expensive filtration devices. Mal-Mal always got a pot of coffee on. She will insist on brewing a fresh pot if ever a neighbor or off-spring stop by.
When mornings break, just as the sun is spotted boiling down Goosegreen like the eruption of a lava lamp, it is best to accept Liz’s offer for a fresh pot because she makes her coffee so strong and it turns bitter after just a few minutes on the burner. You’ll need it to keep up with her, conversation wise.
Maxwell House coffee is what brings out the great story teller in Mal-Mal. Sit down and listen and she’ll chew your ear off if you let her. Stories remain dormant behind her soft-pink lips until someone calls or comes by. Her eyes, the shade of a morning sky on a clear day, flutter in unison with a high-pitched voice carried forth from a flapping jaw line, not always filled with false teeth. She blinks like a cardinal- bird at the end of each complete sentence.
She clutches a rather robust, highly white bosom when listeners seem engaged with what she has to say.
Twice each day, the seventy-six year old grandmother of many crawls into a bathtub and cracks the window that forms the back wall of the bottom porch. The wooden, plywood banister painted in a shade of her eyes, protects Mal-Mal’s nakedness from external Petersburg. The heavy glass and wooden window is hard to rise. She lifts it with just enough space to permit the steam out and the morning sun of the East into her bath. She is the shade of the morning ray when she bathes and it feels good to come out after a good hot scrub and sit here and have some coffee with a friend.
Mal Mal will hear you come up the steps if she’s in the tub. Do not try sneaking up on her. Just announce yourself and sit down and face towards the sun.
She’ll gracefully retreat from her bath without slipping upon a heavily scoured claw foot bathtub, reaching with a towel free hand to silently let down the shade without having to close the window–
“I’m naked as a jay bird. What are you doing here so early? Ya want some coffee? I just finished worshin’ dishes, scrubbing the kitchen floor, and I did a load of laundry all before six this morning. The floor’s still wet. Stay outside. Be careful. Don’t sit near this window. I just hung up three blouses and that floor on the top porch leaks. Wish someone would fix it. Stay right there, I’ll bring you your coffee. Hope ya don’t mind I’m in my nightgown, still.”