Dear Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and my 19-year-old daughter Amy has already come home from college three times. While I’m glad she wants to see her family, I’m worried she’s missing out on a full college experience. How can I persuade her to spend more time on campus without hurting her feelings?

Worried In Worcester

Dear Worried,

Her hands were cracked. They were large and massive, too immense for her short Southern frame. They were knurled and gnarled with age, arthritis, and ancient scars—cotton husks, leather whips, and briar patches had all left their mark on those swollen hands. A world of memories flowed through these veins, spread across her fingers like a chokecherry tree. Those hands had seen a lot of things. “Oh, these calloused, calloused hands,” she told me as she rocked back and forth on the porch, the smell of sweet peach tea hanging in the air. “Sweet thing, fetch me my chamomile lotion.” I told Mrs. Jessups it was time to go, that we’d be late. “Never you mind, chile,” she’d say. “Never you mind.”

Dear Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,

Winter is right around the corner, which can mean only one thing: rats! I would put out traps, but I hate the idea of killing them, and so-called “Havahart” cages never seem to work. How do I get rid of them without being cruel?

Trapped In Trenton

Dear Trapped,

She moved slow like molasses, syrupy but determined. Knowing how much it hurt to move those brittle bones, it broke our hearts. “Lawd, how a body do get tired,” the old woman said, her voice frail, yet proud. “And heav’ns if you young things don’t know what is’ like to sweat! Ah reckon I’m’a soak clean through my bonnet today.” Sunday was Market Day, which meant Mrs. Jessups would go down to the corner and sell her famous shoofly pies, a family recipe passed down from her old Grandma Toots. Later that morning she would put on her old flowered sundress and crisp white gloves and head out to church, her face a vision of pride. “Time to hear the preachin’ man preach.”

Dear Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,

What kind of comfortable but stylish clothing would you recommend for a crisp autumn day? Something that just screams, “It’s fall!”

Fashionable In Fall

Dear Fashionable,

“Lawdy, girl, if you not in ya church dress in 15 minutes I’ll be gettin’ the switch on yeh. Ag’nes! Ag’nes! You bring the lil’ miss her bonnet now. Lawd in heav’n, if this my chile I slap her upside the head!”

My sister was only four, but she knew better than to cross Mrs. Jessups or she’d get a real Southern scare like she used to give her son Rhemus. Far as we knew, Rhemus was still over in county jail for Lord knows what. She didn’t talk about him much.

“Good lawd in heav’n chile, you march yer toot right up that stair n’ fetch me my Bible gloves. Mercy, mercy, mercy! Sweet Jesus, Mary, ’n’ Joseph, this chile gon’ be the death ah me!”

Dear Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,

I’ve been a runner all my life, but after just a few months at a new gym, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis. Does this have anything to do with my new trainer, my shoes, my age, or all of the above?

One Jostled Jogger

Dear Jostled,

Once a day she’d walk on down the hallway, look at pictures from the past. The late Mr. Jessups, Rhemus, Grandma Toots; their smiles permeated the room, erased the suffering for a few treasured moments. A hot, proud tear rolled down the old woman’s wrinkled cheeks. “The Devil’s dust gon’ git ’n mah eyes,” she’d say. “Les’ go back to the kitch’n, sweet things.”

Dear Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,

Yesterday I received a Facebook friend request from my gossipy aunt, which I don’t want to accept for obvious reasons. I could always say yes and then hide parts of my profile from her, but she would definitely figure it out. Is there any good way to resolve this?

Stuck In Cincinnati

Dear Stuck,

After church was when we got to eat the leftover buckwheat cakes. She called it stickin’ food, “’cause it stick to yer ribs.” Our Mama knew she spoiled us, but she didn’t mind. After all, Mrs. Jessups had brought five of us Calhoun kids into this world and Lord knows she’d probably bring five more. “Lawd have mercy, you never heard babies so loud as those Calhoun chillen!” she said as she cooked up sweet potatoes on the stove. “Minute ma’ girl Cecile op’n her mouth, house shakin’ like thund’r storm. I swear that girl gon’ be tall as green beans.” And at that she gave me a wink.

Confidential To Desirous In Denver:

That winter, Mrs. Jessups came down with the consumption and a touch of yellow fever. “Nothin’ a little rest and a plate a hot grits can’t fix,” she said with a smile. Mrs. Jessups, she was a fighter, but deep down, though, we knew she was not long for this world. She clasped my hand in her hers; still cracked, still massive, still proud, veiny, and strong. How many babies had these hands brought into the world? How many times had she put her palm out to silence a bigoted sheriff, to pound a dry crust of buckwheat, to shield a child’s eyes from a lashing? The old woman loosened her grip. I would never know.

Mrs. D’Lulah Jessups As Portrayed By Brian Kirby In His Short Story “The Sun Beneath The Sky” is a syndicated columnist whose weekly column, “Ask An Elderly Black Woman As Depicted By A Sophomore Creative Writing Major,” appears in more than 250 newspapers nationwide.