The widow lady called me earlier this fall.
She had read a column I had written about a curious rooster statue outside a home on Old Miller Road in Bluffton. The statue was the talk of the town because the homeowner moved it from spot to spot each day, giving passersby a small thrill as they tried to predict where it would be.
The idea of this tickled the widow lady. She was overjoyed for the people who got to drive by the rooster every day.
And it made her think about a very curious rooster in her own life.
“I named him Amadeus,” she said.
Amadeus was a leghorn rooster who appeared one day at her home on St. Helena Island, she told me. And he was mischievous and bold. He caused quite a bit of drama in her household.
I listened to her story, which came out in laughs more than words.
I laughed too, contagiously, though I couldn’t keep it all straight at first. Was this a real story? Or fiction? Were Mae Liza and Scooter and Pumpkin people or pets?
People. No, cats.
OK, now who is the widow lady?
“I am the widow lady,” Delores Nevils said. “Amadeus was beautiful, beautiful. ... All the animals got jealous.”
He was so beautiful, in fact — and had such a large personality — that Nevils decided to write a children’s book about him.
“It’s in its third printing,” she said.
And this is how I found myself spending the next Sunday afternoon with her.
Nevils is a tiny woman who lives alone in a cottage amid giant trees. Her home is tidy and uses every inch of space to store her eight decades of memories. The flatter, tangible ones she tucks under cushions and slides under her couches.
She knows where they all are.
Pamphlets, letters, manuscripts. Photos. Clippings.
She shows me them.
In her head, she packs the stories.
About being the first African-American hired at Ladies Home Journal. About her ornery aunts, what they ate and how they ate it. Her childhood. Her need to be tougher than the boys. The trees in her yard. Her work with the Republican Party. The celebrities she’s met. Her children. Her time in Harlem. Her family’s resort in Massachusetts.
And she showed me the book.
“Do you know Jonathan Green?” she asked.
Nevils described her time with Amadeus in words.
Green, who illustrated the book, described it in colorful paintings.
“On the island of St. Helena, South Carolina, there is a widow lady who lives in a tiny cottage that has twenty-six windows. A ramp, painted red, leads to the doorway ...” her book began.
I read quietly. Nevils watched me from her perch on the other side of the couch.
In the book, the widow lady tries to shoo Amadeus away. He wakes her up every morning. He wakes up her cats. He wakes up her dogs. He struts and pecks and bosses around her coterie. Soon enough, though, she finds herself buying special treats for Amadeus and looking forward to his visits. His antics entertain her.
Her house is full of joy and lots of activity until the day comes when she must give away the dogs and then the cats.
Until the day Amadeus no longer comes to her yard.
The widow lady’s heart breaks.
She is lonely again.
“If you visit the South Caroina coast,” Nevils tells her readers in the end, “please keep an eye out for him. ... Wherever he is, I hope he is happy.”
“Amadeus: The Leghorn Rooster,” by Delores B. Nevils and illustrated by Johnathan Green, is available through Amazon, the University of South Carolina Press and at the Red Piano Art Gallery on St. Helena Island.