Miss Hattie was a frail looking little woman who had a wrinkled face and appeared much older than her sixty-eight years. Her skin had furrowed from many hours toiling under the relentless sun in her vegetable garden. Her lips sunk in around her bare gums; her teeth long ago removed because of decay. She owned a beautiful pearly white set of store bought teeth but she only wore them on Saturdays, when she went to town to buy supplies for the following week, or when she went to church. She certainly did not need them for eating. Although her voice had begun to crack, us mischievous grandsons respected the authority with which she spoke.
She rose every morning before daylight and prepared a hearty country breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, grits, and her delicious buttermilk biscuits. She served the humble meal with fresh churned butter and plenty of pure cane syrup. The adults received coffee to wash down their food and we children accomplished the task with whole milk. Often she poured the coffee from her cup into a saucer and then slurped softly from the saucer occasionally blowing gently across the broad thin layer of liquid to cool it. We boys knew better than to make fun of this odd behavior. She did not extend to us any freedom to make her the brunt of our foolishness.
We grandchildren called her Ma-Val (pronounced Maw Vaul) and were required to attend church with her when we came for our summer vacation. She spent many hours on her knees praying for our salvation. She hoped that at least one of us would receive the call and dedicate ourselves to a life of ministry.
One Wednesday evening, my cousins Lonnie and Johnnie, Ma-Val, and I were waiting at the side of the road for a ride to church. She was dressed in a faded gingham dress with her arms folded around her Bible to hold it near to her heart. Lonnie, Johnnie, and I were throwing rocks that we were picking up from the gravel road when we all stopped because of an unusual sound. It sounded like water being poured to the ground. We looked at each other in horror when we realized it was hitting the ground between her black laced up shoes. Her expression did not change and she never let on that anything unusual had happened. We wanted to laugh but for once, our better judgment kept us quiet. I thought it best to lock this incident away and forget it. I had forgotten it for nearly forty years, until today.
PS: A few Words about this special woman who I have made light of in this story.
Even though she passed away when I was fifteen years old, Mrs. Hattie Nichols Duvall had a tremendous impact on my life. She had already raised seven sons and two daughters by the time I met her. Often there were no children for me to play with during my summer vacation days so I spent time with her. I drew from her tremendous well of knowledge as the two of us sat facing each other shelling beans or shucking corn.
She was the first person I knew who exhibited real faith and who had an honest relationship with a living God. She talked about Him frequently and spoke with him often. She understood the importance of me learning to pray on my knees beside her. It was also normal for me to overhear her praying alone in her room at night about circumstances and the people she loved.
Note, I originally wrote this story in 1998 and updated it today to correct a few minor errors and to add my comments about her influence on me.
Wayne Brady 11/2/2014

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