I have done a good deal of “traveling” this summer . . .but have only left the rabbitpatch a half dozen times or so. I spent the last five days in Elizabeth City. How good to have a leisure visit with my beloved daughter and grandchildren. I feel quite indulged to have such a privilege. I see first hand, how the girls “find their day” , how they play, what things they celebrate . . . in short, “who they are.” I treasure the moments, thoroughly.
Little Brynn, at two, has a lot pf expressions as she talks It is adorable, just to see. She has the face of a cherub. any way. She gave me several lectures about healthy food and the value of brushing teeth. Brynn can carry a tune like a little songbird, which delights me and she knows what a rose is and also a crepe myrtle. She stands in her mothers’ shadow, most of the time.
Lyla is quite self sufficient and quite organized. She continues to have a great sense of compassion and therefore is tender hearted. Lyla starts school this year. She is as ready as can be, academically -but , I am not so ready. Of course, I cried when she lost her first tooth. Childhood is just not long enough to suit me.
The summer here, has been a bit cooler, than in other years, but that week, was a hot one. The air was about sultry in the evenings. The mimosa tree took full advantage of the conditions, and sweetened the air generously. The mimosa tree is quite a common sight in the south. Every patch of wood and field is host to the mimosa. I have never known any one to plant them, many yards have a mimosa. If you have one, you are bound to have two, as the mimosa springs up freely and without a bit of reservation. It may be said, that the mimosa trees are “a dime a dozen”, so to me they are a miraculous bargain. The same can be said of fire flies . . .and stars.
The rest of my “traveling” has occurred right here on the humble soil of the rabbitpatch territory. There is a routine -I gather fallen branches which takes several strolls. I take account of the grapevines, and the fruit trees. I cut the wicked thorned vines and look for poison vines-and I am thinking the whole while. I have made good progress on this remnant of a farm. Everything is tidy, so there has been some profit in my meandering.
Aside from that, I remain at a “crossroads”, of sorts. I came to this place a few months ago and still, I stand dazed, almost rooted to the same spot. If “patience is a virtue”, I at least, have accomplished that. I liken the situation to receiving some announcement of upheaval with a “no action required on your part” included in the closing salutation. Certainly, there is some action on my part-I am filing for social security and I am putting the house on the market-but in both cases, the process is slow and the results of either are vague. . .So, I stand . I have stood so long, the place is starting to feel familiar-not as strange as it used to be. The thickness of “this fog”, still obscures my vision. . .but fog being mysterious . .also , creates a heightened sense of awareness. My mind went down a hundred “rabbit holes” and I “backtracked” quite a bit. I stumbled from one circle to another, never leaving the spot, I fell in to. . .and that is how I ended up with a very tidy rabbitpatch!
Sometimes . . .I act like Peter, “I do not know Him” and sometimes I am like Thomas, “Show me”. This confession shames me, but one must know the truth, to be set free. I do not like life altering circumstances that seem to shift like sand in a whirlwind. I confess that too. Then again, it is those very kind of circumstances that teach the greatest lessons. I chide myself for saying it again, so consider this my own personal necessity to “second” the subject.
My maternal grandmother, used to say “you can laugh about it or cry.” as she was snapping beans,not even looking up -and most especially when neither she nor I could fix something. How pert that sounded in my youth! How wise it sounds now.
Meanwhile, the peach trees hang full of gold, and the the grape vines and the pear are full of jade. Apples are scarce, so the squirrels are making haste to eat them extra green. The black eyed susans are in full bloom and almost glow. These things remind me, that as it is written . . .“To everything, there is a season.”
Mama and I took a short but sweet trip to Raleigh a few days ago.. We left on Monday and came back on Tuesday. Sydney had to be somewhere or another for most of Tuesday, so Mama and I would care for little Ryan, in the meantime. Ryan has such a sunny disposition, that it can hardly be considered work to tend to him. He is a happy and loving child with a gentle nature. . .at least according to his Honeybee. The day after we returned, I started gathering what I needed to file for social security. Business of any sort renders me bewildered . It was the same way, whenever Daddy tried to talk to me about carburetors. At least, I got started, I suppose.
With a “tropical storm” in the forecast, I spent Wednesday preparing for a brisk wind and rain. The weather folks have been slap wrong for a good while, but I tucked the geraniums just inside the front door and remove the wind chimes . . . just in case. I cooked a pot of dried yellow peas and carrots too . . .just in case. It is an awful thing to lose power and be hungry, after all. On Wednesday night, with a flashlight by my bed, I made a mental list of inside chores to do on Thursday. Thursday morning dawned like any other Thursday. As the hours passed, clouds moved in, and a light rain was falling before noon. Later the wind picked up a bit, but that was all.
I ended up with a sizable bag of clothes to donate . . AGAIN! . . .and that dreaded “business drawer” was reduced dramatically. I now have a folder with social security printed on it . . . and it is terrifying! If I were wealthy, I would not take a trip -or buy jewelry . . I would hire an accountant! To calm myself, I went back to memory lane. . . even though, there was a sharp curve, this time and calamity just around the bend.
Second grade was just awful The school ordered a new curriculum for us . . and we were introduced to Modern Math. Being able to add and subtract, was no longer enough, for now we had to learn how to show our work with parentheses and such. I also had a teacher that inspected our lunch trays . We must eat every morsel . .or else. I learned to stuff my milk carton with “spanish rice” and peas and could pass the inspections that way.
Third grade came and for the first time, I liked school. I had a teacher who could play the piano and she taught us lovely songs. I won a writing contest that year and was selected to read some sort of announcement on the radio. Grandmama would stop everything, when it came on and gathered all of us to listen. We were taught poetry and how to write in cursive and in math . . recite the multiplication tables . . which made sense, thankfully. I liked fourth grade too. I still preferred the farm, but school was bearable especially since the fourth grade teacher read us chapter books daily. Then everything changed.
Grandmama had complained about her arm hurting, for as long as I could remember. She would stand in the backyard, holding her arm against her chest and sometimes cried. She would direct her grandchildren to do all sorts of chores and we would scurry about til the “spell passed.” The we ate supper. Every Friday, on the way to town, we would stop by Dr. Swindells” to get her blood pressure checked and then go on to the A & P.
In the middle of an ordinary night, in July, we woke to a commotion. Delores and I were whisked away to my Aunt Agnes’ house. Pop and Mama took Grandmama to the hospital. The next morning, while Aunt Agnes was cooking breakfast, my cousin Faith played the piano for us . . without us having to beg. Faith played like her mama, Aunt Agnes. Lively ragtime tunes rang out and I was happy. Then Aunt Agnes took us home and the minute, my foot hit the soil of home . . .I knew somehow, that Grandmama had died. Mama confirmed this a few minutes later and I took off running and crying. As I write this, I weep, now, fifty years later. It remains one of the saddest moments of my life.
A few days later, the UPS truck showed up. Grandmama had save up her money to buy me a guitar.
I never knew Grandmama was sick in any way. Sadly, I had gotten use to her arm hurting. I think we were all shocked, really. Pop was not the same afterwards. He wasn’t piddling about the farm a bit. Instead I would find him crying, in the barn or behind it. Sometimes in the living room, in broad day light! (Pop was never in the house in the day time.) Nobody was the same after Grandmama died. Mama was young, heartbroken and thrust in to a new role in the family. Aunt Josie and her family, moved in with Pop, after a while. Within a few short years, Pop sold a large portion of the farm . . .well, everything changed. . .when Grandmama died.
A few years later, I thought boys were cute. I cared about how I looked and what I wore. I did well enough in school . . but I was far from brilliant. I was as shallow as could be and did everything possible . . . to have the shiniest hair. Dolls were replaced with records and earrings. I got a job in town at a dress shop. Even so I was known to walk the edge of the fields in evenings. I would think silly thoughts and write them down. I quit playing Hank Williams songs on the guitar and started playing pop love songs. I did stay out of trouble, for Daddy wouldn’t give me the chance, to ruin my life. The “country, may have gone to town” but I had to be home by ten o’ lock -and not a minute later.
It wasn’t until I had my children, that I had an inkling of just how blessed I had been, in my youth. Back then, the elders sacrificed without complaining. They did not announce it nor expect a badge! All work was valuable whether it was toiling in a field, peeling apples and most especially and with utter devotion, raising the children.
This is why I tell the story and preserve what ways I can, from that beautiful time. I admit, that since then, many areas of life have been improved. . .but the substance of those days . .the simplicity of that time -allowed me to really know my family -and for them to know me, faults and all. Their influence was mighty and still governs, as I speak. Besides that, all of the convenience of these days hasn’t seemed to make such a big difference, for no one has “time to do anything”! If I sound old, it is because I am . . .but I can still remember the sound of my grandmothers’ voice . . .and I do not take that lightly.
“Time does fly, when you are having fun!” I have spent the best part of the week, with Jenny and her family. I came home on Thursday and stopped by Mamas’ house , that afternoon. Delores and Dana were there. They had stopped by on their way home, from the beach. Since then, I have been working in flowers. What lovely things to do, I think.
One night, at Jennys’, Lyla and I watched the fireflies flashing. The night was silent, except for both of us, for we announced each sighting with enthusiasm. The next morning, I walked with Brynn, on her tricycle, to a mimosa tree, that is covered in fragrant, feathery blossoms. Such things as mimosa trees and fireflies (we used to call them “lightening bugs”) proclaim summer now, as it did so, many, many moons ago, for me. I walk many a mile down my memory lane. I do not want to forget, so I stroll often. . .and when I find some precious remnant that has survived -I take heart!
I was blessed to hear first hand the stories of my people. It makes a difference to know who I came from. I want my children and grand children to know too., and so I tell the stories.
We did not come from “saints” nor from what the world deems as “high society”, I suppose to any one else, my elders were quite an ordinary lot with their plows and goats and gardens. I know different.
In the first decade of my life, I was mostly around Mamas’ family . . all of them. I had my great grandmother called “Mama Hodges” and great aunts and uncles, third and fourth cousins (who seemed like brothers and sisters) besides the next generation of aunts, uncles and cousins.
The women were tireless “housekeepers” and tended to the children, hung clothes on lines, watered the animals, sewed clothes, tended the garden – and did all of this as food simmered in the kitchen. Not a one of those things was an easy task.
The men spent their lives in fields and barns, unless it rained -then they were confined to a shelter to fix whatever was ailing the tractors or an old truck. I knew early on, that picking strawberries or snapping beans were the sort of chores, I preferred. Oh, but those summers of yesteryear are etched deeply in my heart.
My cousins and I did a fair share of chores, but we also had a fair share of liberty, too. . .most especially with the adults so busy. We were mostly quite self sufficient as it was a tragedy to “be babied” in those days. We roamed the countryside and pretended impossible things. We were always on the lookout for kittens and four leaf clovers. . .and clouds in the shape of anything. We had contests -races and high jumping, broad jumping etc. We had a small herd of barely tame ponies. In the early summer, there were always new foals. The goats did their part and usually had twins. After a while, the littlest goats and ponies ran around the farm with us. What a sight that must have been! . . A flock of children and goats and ponies traipsing about in golden sunlight.
Thankfully, none of us had to adhere to any real schedule. We did not take tennis lessons or swim lessons. We organized our own ball games and made our own “clubs”. Siblings would argue sometime, but the cousins did not quarrel with one another. We all got stung by bees frequently. We all got cut with rusty things at some point. Once, my first cousin Chris got stabbed with a pitch fork! Somehow, we lived to grow up and tell about it.
There wasn’t a thing on TV weekdays, for children. We did not “talk on the phone either. We lived outside. Only rain kept us in. There wasn’t a toy box in the house, either. There was a set of World Book Encyclopedias, and a Sears & Roebuck catalogor two. Delores and I made paper dolls from the old ones, sometimes. . .but we all loved the encyclopedias best. A rainy day was the best chance of a cake too.
By July, we sat in the grass and ate watermelon or cantaloupe. Sometimes on Sundays, we had homemade ice cream. Aunt Christine and Uncle Gene came with “little Gena” . They lived about 25 miles away, and for us that seemed so far away, in those days. I can still see my little cousin running to keep up with her country cousins , golden curls bouncing from beneath a little white hat-I was sure she was a doll.
In the evenings of late summer, the adults sat around and talked til dark. Someone was always shelling peas or beans. We didn’t change the clocks in those days-but the days were just as long anyway. By the time we went in, we had found the first star, and made our wishes . The Bob White had called out and bats were darting about.
The dirt of the day was scrubbed off with a vengeance . We said our prayers and went to bed.
It is no wonder, that I never wanted to go back to school. I found it dull and artificial. I had wonderful class mates and kind teachers, but my heart belonged to the back roads and my own people. I knew how to read and do the math, already. I had learned these things connected to life on the farm which was so natural. I actually mourned and would cry at the “drop of a hat”, at school. I did well though I had to sit in the “Lonesome Chair” on occasion, for yelling out answers to silly questions. “What color is the dog?” I could not comprehend that the class didn’t know and I did not see the need to waste my life waiting for someone to guess about it. So I would try to put an end to the misery. No one else was talking, so it did not seem impolite to answer.
Had it not been for the library, I am sure that I would have perished from the boredom. It took me three months to convince the stern librarian, “Miss Susie” that I could read the “third grade” books, for it was considered “trespassing” for me to go in that section of the library.
The school bus took the longest way home, but when I finally saw our house and the farm, and the door opened, I “hit the ground running”!
I have countless memories of those summers, and I think a lot, about what it felt like to be a child in those days. Weather was of utmost importance and dictated our actions, so even children learned to recognize signs. Light was our clock and even now, I know the hour according to the where the sun is. The only need to rush, back then, was when a storm was coming and clothes were on the line or the ponies got out. (That was always exciting.) How peaceful life is without schedules, I want to shout to the world.
I learned so many valuable lessons-a collection of “precious remnants”, that still make a difference and ring true.
Work and play are both equally vital -so we ought to grow tomatoes and flowers. Immersion in nature, is really like going to church for you will be humbled and grateful, all at once. Loyalty to family is valuable beyond measure, whether they are “saints or sinners”. . .You can learn a lot from both sorts. Do not become so tame and civilized, that even your thoughts can’t wildly ramble. Stay curious . Curiosity is the spark we must fan, to keep learning and rest assured, even life long learners never know everything. . . and for goodness sakes . . LOVE like your life depends on it, for in some ways, it really does . . . and it does “cover a multitude of sins”, after all.