It is still dark outside when I hear my grandfather's voice, Here, Sarah - sit up a little, as he slips a dress on over my head. He gently lays me back down and puts my shoes on, then wraps me in a blanket and carries me to his pickup truck. It is wintertime, and the truck is blowing white smoke and chugging in the cold air, but inside it's already warm. He lays me on the floorboard of the cab, amid a pile of blankets and pillows, and I curl up for the ride.
He takes me inside and sets me down, still half asleep. I walk over to my grandmother, bent over the butcherblock counter, cutting biscuits. She pauses, wipes her hands quickly on her apron, and gives me a small kiss on my cheek. Go lie down, sweetheart. Jimmy is there, brushing the tops of the biscuits with butter. Good morning, little girl, he near whispers, and there is white flour on his brown nose. It makes me smile.
I bury myself under my blanket on a braided rug next to the heating vent. The rug is old and smells like cooked things; it smells a little like dirt, and a little like dog. Mostly, it smells like me. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep, and I listen to their voices. Grits on? she asks. Yes'm, they reply. Bacon frying, biscuits baking, great vats of gravy peppered. There is the clang and clatter of plates on plates as the dishwashers roll out carts. It is the easy patois of kitchen folk.
During it all, I must have fallen asleep, because my grandmother is waking me now. She passes me a warm mug of coffee, heavy with sugar and cream, and a warm piece of toast, spread thick with cream cheese. I carefully dip the toast in the coffee and take a bite, as I had seen her do each morning. It is warm and cool and sweet and tart and simple and wonderful.
Then the boys come. Hastily dressed, eyes still crusted with sleep. The fronts of their hair parted and slick and still wet; the backs bristle-brush dry and sticking straight out. Their pillows must still be warm, I think. They jostle and jockey for position in line, throwing the occasional good natured elbow. My grandmother begins an endless stream of commentary about growing boys and extra helpings and too skinny and eat everything on your plate. Some days, she may throw in a proverb or remind them of the starving children in Africa. They grin and nod and yes'm, willing to listen to anything she has to say in exchange for biscuits and sausage gravy.
I listen, too. I listen to her voice and the boys. I listen to the scrape of forks on plates and of Jimmy, slurping his coffee beside me. I listen to the hum of the heating vent and the far-off rumble of my grandfather's truck and, under it all, the slow beat of my heart. It ticks in time with the boys and the plates and the heat and it all says one word, again and again - home, home, home.