i went to girl scout camp for a couple of years, probably when i was 8-10 years old.

as at most sleep-away camps, many things revolved around the dining hall. we learned how to fold and unfold the flag into a triangle. we put it up in the morning, and retired it at night.

we literally sang for our supper: you sang to get in the hall, you sang to see who would get served first, who got to leave to go to the pool first (loudest group won)...we sang grace, too.

each day, one camp would arrive early to set the tables and serve. that meant one or two people from your camp sat at each table, and you were something of a waitress for everyone else that day. everyone rotated, so everyone had the experience of serving and being served.

one of the folks in the kitchen was a black woman named mayo--at least that's what we called her. not even "miss mayo", which--as a properly raised quasi-southern young girl--would have been her proper title. just mayo.

mayo loved us. she gave us treats for our hikes, smiled at us as we came through the kitchen. she probably called us things like "baby" and "honey", too.

i'm sure she gave everyone those treats and those smiles. but--in the spirit of the best teachers and grandmothers--she had a wonderful way of making you feel like you were the only camp she was giving treats to that day.

i'd never seen anyone like her. i was used to large people; my family is tall on both sides. but mayo was tall and wide.

it was impossible to tell how old she was. she could have been 40, she could have been 80.

and she was dark. up until then, i'd never met anyone who was as literally black as this woman was. she wasn't what we'd call blue-black, but she shone.

she was loud, too, but not crude. her voice had a natural resonance that she either could not or did not want to contain. if she was annoyed, it was rolling thunder. if she was happy, it was an endearing, steady hum. there was something utterly southern about her.

i am certain i had to have had ancestors like her, but she's the closest representation i've seen in the flesh, before or since, of what we must have been like somewhere between africa and the first couple generations who had english as a first language.

obviously, she left an impression.

every so often, i think of her. i have no idea why.
but, it moved me to write, so i went with it.

mama mayo, wherever you are, i pray you are blessed.


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