The morning started off like many late October days in Wayne County, Mississippi; cool and crisp. Fall had begun more than a month earlier and summer was long behind them.
For the children, this day would be much like every other day for the previous eight weeks. Maw Vall had cooked a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, with biscuits and the ever-popular grits. Milk was fresh. The kids had taken turns milking Ruby, the family cow, the evening before. The men had eaten early and left to begin their workdays.
Most of the children were excited about the new day. They were running and playing while they waited for the bus; all except one. Elmer was not happy, and it showed.
When asked, he simply said, “I’ve gone to school my last time. As of today, I quit! I ain’t going back.”
Maggie, the youngest girl said, “I’m telling,” and off she ran toward the house to find her Mama.
It was not long before Maw Vall appeared among them, “Where’s Elmer?”
“He’s sitting over their on a stump,” Aro said.
Maw Vall turned and walked over to where Elmer was sitting. “What’s this about you not going to school today?”
“Nope,” Elmer responded. “Matter of fact, I ain’t never going back!”
Maw Vall simply said, “Elmer, you will get on that bus when it comes.”
“No, I won’t. You can’t make me.”
Maw Vall calmly said, “Elmer, just you sit right there until I get back.”
It was only a few minutes before she returned. She was carrying Papa’s double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun. She broke down the barrels of the familiar weapon and inserted two double-ought buckshot shells, one into each barrel, and then lifted the gun in a fast gesture that caused the barrels to swing closed.
It was not long before they heard the school bus tires crunching the gravel coated red-clay road as it rounded the curve by Mrs. Wilson’s house. It would only be a few seconds before the big yellow machine would be stopping in front of their house.
She turned to her other children and said, “The rest of you, go wait at the bus stop. As y’all get on the bus, tell Mr. Hand that Elmer will be there directly.”
As the others headed for the bus, Elmer said again, “I ain’t going.”
Maw Vall calmly said to him, “Then, right there is where you are going to die. Either you get on that bus, or the rest of us will be going to your funeral tomorrow. Your choice.”
“You wouldn’t shoot one of your children,” he responded with a little hesitation in his voice. His Mama had never lied to him in his life.
He could hear the bus brakes squeal as “Ole Yeller, stopped at their driveway.
Elmer glanced at his mother rather quickly, and then planted himself firmly on that stump.
Several of his brothers and sisters, shouted, “Come on Elmer, let’s go,” begging him to get on the bus.
All except one.
Herman screamed, “Shoot Him Mama.”
Maw Vall did not say a word. She stood, turned to Elmer, and pulled the hammer back on the left barrel of the shotgun to ready it for use.
Elmer looked again at his Mama. The school bus was waiting, Mr. Hand raced the motor as if to say, “Come on Elmer, hurry up.”
Elmer had watched his mother shoot, with deadly accuracy, as she killed a rabbit for dinner just last week.
Maw Vall pulled the second hammer back and said, “Elmer, it’s time. Go get on that bus.”
Elmer, apparently saw the determination in her eyes and heard the resolve in her voice. Suddenly, he leaped up and yelled, “I’m coming, wait for me,” and took off running as fast as he could toward the bus.
Mr. Hand kept the door open until Elmer had grabbed the rail and bounded up the steps into the bus.
Elmer slowly walked the aisle to take his seat by Maggie and glanced over at Herman. No one on the bus said a word.
As the bus pulled away, they all watched Maw Vall staring at the bus, the shotgun still in shooting position.
Herman broke the silence as he said, “I ain’t never seen anybody get shot before.”
As Maw Vall watched the bus round the next curve and disappear out of sight, she slowly released the hammers, first the one on the right and then the one on the left. She turned and walked toward the house, thankful that Elmer had not challenged her to prove she would have shot him. She was not sure of that answer.
Note, I reconstructed this mostly true story with a little writer’s license from an incident my mother, Maggie, told me about several times during my lifetime.
by Wayne Brady 2/5/2021