Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tea and Biscuits--& Foaming-Mouth Monkeys


Tomorrow I'm flying out on yet another trip, this one to Nashville to meet with my new publishing house, B&H. On the way I'm stopping in Kentucky for a few days to be with Mom. Known as Mama Ruth to many, she's now 93 and driving her "Ruth's Rocket" red golf cart around her retirement village. Today, in honor of Mom I'm running one of her slice-of-life tales from India. Mom and Dad (J.T. and Ruth Seamands) were missionaries in India for 20 years. This story, as Mom tells it, takes you back to the late 1940s...

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I can still see my big old stone house with twenty-pound langur monkeys pounding over the roof every day. Plenty of holes for the monsoons to pour through. Vast living room with ten double doors—and no screens. It was just after WWII and screen wire was not available. Lots of guests from America visited India to "cheer up the missionaries." One day it went like this: (Names have been changed to protect the frightened.)

Somebody at my door kept clearing his throat, which was my doorbell. "Salaan, Mem-sahib." A tonga driver put his two palms together in greeting. His one-horse shay stood at my steps. "I brought you some guests from the station, Madam." He spoke in Kanarese, which told me he didn't know English. If he had, he'd have been proud to speak it.

I answered in his language. “From the station? Today?”

A portly American stepped forward, taking command off the situation, holding out his big hand to shake mine. "You're Mrs. Seamands."

I nodded. I already knew that.

“I am Congressman Charles Crow, and this is my wife, Susan."

"Oh, Congressman, I thought you were coming tomorrow. . . I could have met you in our jeep. So sorry. . .”

Mr. Crow brushed aside my apology. "It isn't your fault. We got an earlier plane."

"Well, come on in. My ayah will soon have your room ready. Meanwhile, please sit here and I'll get us some tea."

They nodded and smiled and sat on my droopy couch while I paid the tonga walla and dismissed him. Turning to my guests, I hoped to make them feel welcome. "It’s so nice to have you visit us from America. I do get lonely for home folks sometimes." I brought in the tea tray. Strong Indian tea, boiled with milk, spices, and whole cardamom seeds. "Estation tea," we call it because that's what we always get on trains at every station. "Here you are." I passed them large cups full of this special tea. "And try some of these biscuits--uh, cookies. The British out here call them biscuits, but they are American oatmeal cookies. I just made them."

They both seemed quite thirsty. "This is very good tea--and I love the cookies," exclaimed Susan. "I never dreamed I'd have oatmeal cookies in India." They put their cups back on the tray.

I was pouring a second cup when an enormous black-faced, white-mouthed monkey loped from the guest room through the corner of my great living room, and out the front door. Susan Crow’s eyes bulged. She screamed, quickly covered her mouth with one hand and lifted both feet off the floor. "D---do they live here with you?"

"Not with my permission! Don't worry about that monkey, Susan. He's probably as scared of you as you are of him. Because we don't have any screens yet, they sneak into the bathrooms when they find outside doors open. They like to eat the soap."

"Eat the SOAP?" they echoed in unison, their cultural horizons widening with every passing second.

I shrugged. "I guess it's because they don't have any toothpaste."

Charles Crow boomed--if a crow can boom, "Eat the soap? I thought that monkey had rabies! He was foaming at the mouth."

"No, they like soap. Sorry, you will probably find teeth prints on your new bar of soap. It was my last one. Just keep your outside bathroom door closed."

Susan quavered, "M--maybe it's not a good time to stay here, Charles."

He patted her shoulder and whispered, "We'll face it together, Dear."

I smiled at them, remembering how I first felt when I came to India, to this place, and faced all the critters I now encountered every day. "Don't worry, it's a good time. This is usually a pretty quiet place—”

Before I could finish defending my living quarters, we heard a great crash and yell coming from the wall. That was followed by a series of heavy whacking sounds and more shouts. Susan whimpered and drew her feet off the floor again. "Char--Charles. . .!"

The rotund VIP, skilled at taking charge of any trouble, jumped straight up. "WHAT WAS THAT?"

I sighed. "Oh, that. It's just my noisy husband. He's in the storeroom." I pointed to two doors in a side wall. "Killing rats.”

12 comments:

Nicole said...

Ahh, ya gotta love this! Awesome.

Regina Merrick said...

What a great story!! Have fun in Kentucky - I always do!!

Lynetta said...

Delightful story, Brandilyn! You'll enjoy Nashville this time of year. The weather has been perfect and all the blossoms on the trees are gorgeous. Hope you get to take in some sights and shows while you're here.

Lynette Eason said...

ROFL. Wish I could have seen their faces at the word RATS. Enjoy Nashville. I LOVE Nashville. My husband is part of a radio show based there so he (and I when I can) travels to Nashville two to three times a month to help host it. (We live about 5 1/2 hours away.) I told him he needs to do a weekly author spot on it, letting authors promote their books. The show airs nationwide and in Puerto Rico and Canada so lots of listeners. I think he might actually be taking me seriously and is considering how to go about doing it. Will let you know if he does. :) It's mostly a show for teens, but that would be a good fit for your teen series, wouldn't it? LOL. Prayers for safe travel.

Barbara E Brink said...

That was hilarious! Sounds like your mom has lots of stories to share.

Karen Eve said...

Give Mama Ruth a big hug for me. While you're in Nashville you should hook up with some of the MTCW members (Middle TN Christian Writers). You already are acquainted with several of us.
Blessings and safe travels.
Karen Eve

Ane Mulligan said...

Oh how I laughed over that story. I can just see Mama Ruth in that. Does she have these stories in a book, Brandilyn? I'd love to get one if she does. I know she's written and published some books. Where can I buy them?

Katie V said...

Awesome! I can see where you get your story-telling genes from! (not sure about the jeans, with the bling ;)

Did you live in India growing up?

Have a fabu time with Mama Ruth.

Rose McCauley said...

Hi Brandilyn, wishing you and mama Ruth a very special time together. I loved her story. Tell her hi for me and that I could just see her sparkling eyes as she told it!

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Ane, Mom's books about her life in India were titled MISSIONARY MAMA and the sequel, HOUSE BY THE BO TREE. Both are long out of print. You can look for them online through used book buyers. They really are interesting and fun reading. Amazing stories, and with Mom's humor.

Katie, I was born in India. We returned to the States when I was 3.

S. Dogood said...

Was her story "Were You Colder Than This?" fictional or did it actually happen?

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

S. Dogood, the story is true. We've found that story picked up around the Internet again and again. Sometimes it's been attributed to Mom and sometimes not. But, like this crazy monkey story, it's true.