I am back from sunny Gulfport, Miss. I stayed in my house for two days. It was so nice to just sit and enjoy the view out of my window.
Today I rode up Turkey Creek to look at the homestead. Memories flooded my mind and enveloped my heart. Mixed emotions revolved in my mind.
It was like I was reliving the past. I could see back when I was just a little boy, how I started crying because my parents went to the store. My Aunt Lila was sitting on the chair and told me to sit in her lap. I still remember how warm and comfortable I was as she held me.
Pop was all the time milling around the house doing something. We had a pan to wash our hands in and clean up. He would hold a nightly ritual. After he was done washing he would put on deodorant and then move his arms back and forth very fast. I believe he was making sure the deodorant was evenly spread.
Everyone had to have a washcloth bath out of that pan each night. I can remember Grandma or the aunts checking behind our ears.
Grandma sewed for everybody. It wasn’t unusual to see a dress pattern laid out on the dinner table. I can see my aunts and my mother cutting out a dress or something that Grandma needed cut. One time Aunt Ellen was leaning over the table cutting a pattern. She had just gotten a new hairstyle. I was probably 16 years old. I crept up on her from behind and snipped a lock of her hair. Boy howdy did I catch it. She told me that I had better have that lock of hair with me until the day I died.
I am sure my grandparents and aunts must have dreaded “David’s boys” coming down. All the three of us could do was fight and bicker. One of us would start howling and crying and one of the aunts would be heading towards us in full discipline mode. One time my Aunt Lila, Aunt Phyllis, Aunt Ruthie, and Grandma were stringing beans. We thought it would be fun to pretend that we were fighting to make them chase us. A staged fight and a few hollers and one fast running aunt would be on us with a switch in hand. Raymond and I would jump over the rail; Ronnie would head down the steps. How we would cackle and hee-haw, at a safe distance, knowing they missed us.
Stringing beans happened often at Grandma’s house. Grandma and all three of her daughters would sit in a circle, drinking coffee and snapping beans. Ray got the bright idea of putting a bean in Aunt Phyllis’s coffee. She was surprised when that soggy bean crossed her lips.
One time, Raymond and Uncle Steve started playing around. Next thing I know Ray comes plowing through the front door. I mean he came plowing, busting out the glass in Grandma’s storm door. The playing stopped. It’s all fun and games until someone runs through the storm door.
Grandma had cooked many, many years on a wood stove. I am not sure if it was her wood or electric stove she was cooking with that day. One of my cousins, he must have been just under 2 years old, walked up to the stove and put the palms of both of his hands on the stove’s window. It sure didn’t take him long to look through that window. We were all in shock. What shocked us the most was when another cousin, about the same age, went right behind him and did the exact same thing. Both of them looked like twins with their hands bandaged up.
One of Grandma’s remedies for coughing was a heaping teaspoon of sugar with two or three drops of lamp oil on it. So goes the saying “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Uncle Denny showed his nephews how to shower in the rain. It was a hot day when a huge rain storm came up the holler. The front yard looked like a river and the creek was almost over its banks. He put on his shorts, grabbed the soap and shampoo and ran out in the rain. It looked like so much fun my brothers and I joined him.
When I talk about Aunt Ruthie, I talk about her more in the older sister frame of mind. I can see her catching crawdaddys and minnows with us in the creek. She took us picking berries and she didn’t even mind that we ate a few.
We had plenty of people walk in out of the Packs’ house. Every one of my aunts and uncles had friends in these hills. I can’t remember a harsh word ever spoken during those get togethers.
When my grandfather heard some good bluegrass music over the radio, he would break into a hillbilly high stepping jig. His arms would hang down to sides, his feet would shuffle and tap to the music. He had a big old smile, “like a jackass eating briars,” a term he fashioned.
Grandma liked to make “homemade soup.” She would make four gallons of it in her dish washtub. One time she pulled a dish rag out of it after the soup was done. She swore it was a clean rag. I was never convinced of that, but all of the adults backed her story. My brothers and I threw a fit and didn’t want to eat it, but we eventually did. I can’t help but chuckle at that memory. When I think about it, the soup was good. How I would love to have a bowl of that soup out of that tub today, dish rag and all.
The three of us brothers must have given Pop and Uncle Denny headaches from acting up so much. One morning Pop got us up real early. Ray was probably 12, Ronnie 8 and me 10 years old. We ate breakfast and followed him outside. He put claw hammers and crow bars in our hands and started pulling out a bunch of boards. All of them had nails. He told us to pull the nails and pitch them into an old coffee can. When Pop said to save the nails, we knew Katy-bar-the door, we had better save every nail. We pulled nails all day long.
The next day Uncle Denny came over and we had to work again, this time to build the three of us a tree house; we were so excited. Uncle Denny and Pop did all of the work, we just fetched the boards. You know they straightened and used most all of those nails that we pulled to build the tree house. Just another lesson taught to by my Pop and Uncle Denny.
Grandma would want to make an apple cobbler for dinner. She would tell Ray to go get Bessie, the horse, from the field, get a gunny sack, take me with him, and get a mess of apples from Mr. Cogar’s apple trees. He and his wife lived one house up the holler. Off we’d go bareback, heading to the Cogars’ place. When we got there both of them were usually sitting in their rocking chairs on the front porch, spitting tobacco in a golden spittoon. Mr. Cogar would tell us, “You boys can have all the apples you want, just don’t pick none off of my trees!” We scoured the ground and always came up with a mess of apples. All the way home, Bessie, Ray and I would munch on apples.
Grandma made the best apple cobblers in the whole wide world, probably the universe. She had a milk cow and that cold farm fresh milk poured on a piece of hot cobbler would make your tongue hit the roof of your mouth so hard and so many times a person could get brain damage.
Pop had these sayings that still tickle me. Every once in a while he would end his conversation with, “you sapsucker you,” or highlight a conversation with, “slap crack your grandmaw.”
There were many nights, just after dark, that we would all get gather on the front porch. As I look back it was a time we would commune in the silence of the dark. The conversations were spoken softly as if not wanting to wake evil. The crickets played a two-part harmony while the fireflies provided a soft glow. There were so many stars. Twinkle, twinkle, said the stars…
The homestead is falling in like so many old mountain homes back in the hollers of West Virginia. Her grandeur tarnished, but not forgotten, the bricks on her chimney caving in, but glazed by the fires that warmed her; her spirit lives on.
I pulled out of the driveway heading for home. As I reflected on my past, my family, some emotions became overwhelming. Pulling out on highway 60 I may have wept, just a little.