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Blackberry Summer

29720184Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8.  Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life.  Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra.   It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick.  Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good  night.

They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal  for working his crops, papa would load  up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road.  The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air  from the smoke.  It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.

When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny  were  invited in to a lady’s  house for cookies and milk  while Papa was at the farm supply store.

Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the  lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.

Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet  and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it.  He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.

At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape.  He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the  contraption to run clean water in it.

Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.

“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.

“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”

“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped  on her thin waist.  “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”

The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ”  Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!

The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!”  Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.

“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”

Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”

“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”

“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.

Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.

“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.

And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy  mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.

One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!

The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man  try to whisper to Aunt Lena.  He couldn’t whisper very well.

They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking  up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.

“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”

Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”

Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.

“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.

“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t  go live somewhere else!”

Jack looked at Kenny and  took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”

“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”

Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.

“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.

Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.

Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.

Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.

“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.”  He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.

Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.

“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”

“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give  them away!”

…………………………..

And he did.

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Snowfall in Mountains

It seems it’s been years since snow piled up for days-
Global warming, I wonder or just that on storm
That seems to haunt us every year.

It seems the pretty , fluffy snowfalls of my youth
Are gone, the snow melts and freezes,
Days of melting snow and dangerous ice.

I remember walking in the pasture, in the woods
Now filled with disgusting mansions and roadways
We can’t walk on the logging roads- there are none.

I can’t imagine what through are going through the
Selfish developers heads when they cut
And saw- tear down the forest, so disgusting.

If I could only make these people go away,
Go back north or south- just go and put our
Forest back like a God made them.

My grandkids will be lucky to climb a mountain in the snow.
Maybe they can find enough for a snow-fort
Selfish greedy people with your mansions.

I didn’t realize until my own family fell in this trap
That I was the last generation that would enjoy
The winter forest it spring flowers

Unless we went miles away somehow on slick roads
I wish we could make a law to stop development
To stop those blind to the beauty of the woods

That I could scrap their horrible mansions and road away
And put holly trees back and spring flowers
And fall mushrooms and mast crops…

Can I at least wish that the selfish developers
And desperate farm owners who no longer farm
Can find a way to keep the land and stop destroying it?

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Brown Penny By William Butler Yeats

img_0115I whispered,’ I am too young.’

And then,  ‘I am old enough.’

Wherefore I threw a penny

To find out if I could love.

‘Go and love, go and love, young man,

If the lady be young  and fair.

O, penny,brown penny, brown penny,

I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O, love is the crooked thing.

There is nobody wise enough,

To find out all that is in it,

For he would be thinking of love,

Till the stars had run away,

And the shadows eaten the moon.

Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,

 

 

 

 

 

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As The Blossoms Shed in April

 

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I think of you, in the beauty of spring,

blossoms falling from the flowering plums like pink snow…

The gurgling waters after a spring rain,

Seeing a flower raise its head above the soil.

 

I should be thinking of what summer holds-

for you-for your life, of what you deserved to have,

Instead, I kneal in the cool rain, asking why?

Why were you taken with no warning?

 

You, so good, so handsome, so loved.

Why did those who should have helped you, fail you-

Fail your family-why? A few words misspoken-

The wrong directions to 911-too much time for your heart.

 

I wear a badge forever now-“angel mom”-

Finally a word for what I am ,when none existed.

A widow-no, an orphan-no, just a woman

emploding with pain because you aren’t here.

 

I touch your photo each time I pass,

I hear your brother struggle to remember-

I wipe the tears from aging cheeks,

Youth lost amidst the ignorance and negligence.

 

You should be here-there was time.

I feel that when everyone failed you, failed me-

I should have pushed them away and known

That I had to be your heart until they came.

 

I want to see you as the young man you should be-

Hear your deeper laugh, see your young love grow.

I want the grandchildren you should have given me-

To hear them play, and smile-like you.

 

These things were stolen and cannot be replaced,

All I have left inside me is grief and anger,

That help was so close but did not know-

That someones world was dying while they waited.

 

I beg for you to come at night to comfort me,

But you are always young-knowing still,

That you will not grow old with your siblings.

Come to me as you should be-a man-strong, invincible.

 

Yesterday, I thought I felt you walking beside me.

I knew I could relish that feeling freely,

But was not allowed to look at your face,

I took a deep breath and was filled with your presence.

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There Comes A Time- My First Home

 

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Many years ago, my parents brought home their first and only child to a little white house that my grandfather built in the years before the depression really set in, here in the mountains of North Carolina. My grandfather used to tell me stories of a man offering him a thousand board feet of lumber for a thousand dollars. From that, he built a little four room house in the neighborhood where he lived. Everyone referred to it as the “Little House”.

Many friends and family got their start in that little house over the years. Too many to count, at least for anyone still alive today. Years later, my grandfather bought a farm about a mile up the valley, and when I was 17 months old, my family built a house down the road from them.

I don’t remember anything specific about that house when I was a baby, we moved to our new house when I was only 17 months old. I do remember the long list of relatives and friends who had lived there over the years. It was unbelievable how many families go their start, or perhaps wrote the last chapter of their lives in that little white house.

When I was born, there was a white picket fence around the yard and the road was dirt. It was basically a little one lane road that some ‘smart’ person had planted shrubs and trees and blocked off the street from the main roads, not long after the houses on that street were built. No one wanted our little street to be a cut-through to another road that circled the hillside.

When I was a little girl, my aunt ran a “country store” behind this house, on the larger, but still unmarked road. There was a foot bridge between the store and the yard of this little house. A lot of my cousins, aunts and uncles lived there and I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood. Before the city took our land into their ‘double tax nightmare’, this little house was in the city, and the one across the street and down the road a few houses (where I live now)was in the county. Nothing good last forever, in the 19080’s our road was paved and the city extended it border up the main two-landed road. Nothing good last forever.

Even though I was visiting on that street a lot , I didn’t live there in that little white house until I was very pregnant with my first child in the mid-1970’s. Soon, my marriage fell apart and I raised my first two children there as a single parent for nearly eight years. I have decided not to concentrate so much on what happened there, so much as my gentle memories of that time and what that little house meant to so many for close to 90 years.

When the road was paved in 1980, my oldest daughter was a baby. The city tore up my white picket fence and cut down the pine tree, took about five feet off my small yard and along with it my sense of privacy and protection. A lot of memories flood back from my days there, some very precious, and some equally painful. I remember my friends and I playing our guitars on the back steps or cooking meals together in the little kitchen. Nothing quite fit right, it seems, the cabinets leaned just enough to make the doors hard to close, I had room in a corner for a used washer someone was going to throw away. Spilled drinks gently flowed to the middle of the room.

I could still name every piece of furniture I had in that house-there weren’t a lot. I remember every detail of how it looked, my hippie beads on doorways, my posters, the stereo and stack of albums, the tiny 12″ black and white TV. There was wicker furniture with cushions in the living room, along with a cabinet where I sat books and the little TV. There were glass figurines and photos in frames of my children sitting on the top shelf.

I remember years there when I lived “wild and free” and I remember years when I was going to the university and trying to study with a baby screaming and a preschooler wanting attention. All of those years had their moments of joy and sacrifice, heartbreak and unrelenting joy. That is what most twenty-somethings did in the 70’s and early 80’s, I suppose. We laid boards on cement blocks to make shelves, our dished didn’t match, but , oh, how good those sparse groceries tasted when they were steaming on the table as we ate. There ware always flowers on the table. Placques that i painted decorated the walls.

A lot of people were in and out of my house and my life at that time. I know I would have never made it through college without the company of my cousin. Before him, his older sister kept me company on many adventures. I walked mountain trails, played in the snow with my kids, slipped on ice when my oldest was about a year old, leaving a tiny scar, right at his hair line. There were all sorts of adventures with the children, teaching the oldest to read, dressing his sister in fancy dresses I bought from a friend whose child was in pageants. I sewed a lot of my clothes and theirs, myself. I loved the old metal advertizements that were once used in stores. I had a topographical map of the Western Appalachians that my father got when he worked at TVA. (Tennessee Valley Authority)

My kids shared a room that was oddly built by the kitchen, instead of on the side as the bedroom I slept in and the bath. I couldn’t even walk through the house without the creaking floors disturbing them, it seems. That made getting through a four year college in three years, very difficult. Remember, this was before the days of the internet. And with two children, it was rarely that I could go back to campus after my classes and work-study job in the university library. Those were definitely very stressful times. The sink was what I called a “trough”. I hated it. It was just one metal “sink” like you would use by a washer in the basement, with a curtain wrapped around the bottom to hide the boxes of bags and boxes of kitchen things that the few cabinets wouldn’t hold.

I painted the walls in pale yellows, blues and white. I would paint the doorways brown to make them look more like wood. I would keep a few rugs around to help cover and insulate the worn wooden floors. The only room I really liked was the bathroom, which had one of the old-timey footed tubs. My nightly bubble bath was my only relief from a hectic and often frustrating life. (I have a tub like that in my house now too.) Most of the lights on the ceiling were turned off and on by a string that hung from the light. I hated that-it exemplified the life of poverty that I often felt trapped in.

My bedroom held the bedroom suite I had as a child and not much more-a small closet-the only one in the house. There was a window on the front and side of the room. Some uneven book shelves had been built between the chimney and the space behind the door. There was no fireplace-it was one of those chimneys that when with the original heating system I guess. Also, in my bedroom, were my dresser drawers which shared my shirts and other clothing with mementos from my elders, having added to this collection over the years.

I had house plants everywhere, it kept the house from looking so gloomy. They would sit on old end tables and the small, oddly shaped tables that were hand-me downs from someone that didn’t want any more. I liked them. I still have a lot of them. It was good that I didn’t like fancy things, because I sure didn’t have any.

What I did have is curtains that matched the beds, or the walls, or the furniture. I was ‘big’ on things matching. I loved to paint pictures, write poems and stories, and I loved taking photographs of the forest and my family. I listened to Lynyrd Skynard and other popular rock music groups every chance I had-loudly! Living there was a blessing when I moved there, but somewhere I was desperate to get away from there. When I moved to my families “Big House” as they called it-just down the street after I graduated from college. I felt like it was a mansion-itisn’t, but its ;home; and I still live there.

I bout the property that the “Little House” sat on last year from my cousin. Though an elderly man still lived there,it had obviously seen its better days. When he passed away after a series of illnesses last November and I finally got to see inside the house again, it was immediately apparent that it was no longer fit to live in. Sadly, I decided that I would have to demolish the house.

Today was that day. My husband and other family members had taken out the tub, (which I kept), the bathroom sink (which my daughter kept), the doors and window that remained were stored in a garage. The floor was warped, the walls were coming loose from the ceiling, lines could be seen where sheet rock had been put on the ceiling. The odor was one that I can only kindly describe as unpleasant. The chimney that help with kitchen, a flue, I suppose fell right over when my husband went up to see how “sturdy it was. It wasn’t. I feel it is important to save what we can, re-purpose it, you might say, so a neighbor got the front door, we kept the bricks and blocks that we could, and I tried to save a tiny piece of a snowball bush that had a decent root on it.

My husband had gone out of town, and with my youngest at school, I slept until about 9 a.m. when my oldest daughter called, offering to stop by with food from Mc Donalds. We spent a lot of time reminiscing, watching with small crane easily knock over sections of the building. Neighborhood children and friends would stop by for a minute and watch, talking with us about their memories of the house, or my daughter and I sharing memories with the newer neighbors. We went down there when the men took lunch break and picked up bricks and pretty pieces of crepe myrtles, lovely smooth wood that my husband had cut down. The children were, of course, fascinated. It was only mid afternoon when the lot was leveled and the fragile pieces of the “little house” gone forever.

Somehow, we never forget a place where we spent part of our lives. Its memory is as clear in my mind as the people I shared those days with. I fought back tears as I realized that the next time the sun came up, it would be without that “little house” there as I went out my side door. But the memories are still there, they will always be there, part of us, part of life, part off that old structure that held our memories.

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A New Kind of New Years Resolution

29720269A New Years Resolution for the Technology Generation

It seems that everywhere we go, half the people we pass are on the phone, using Apps like Facebook, or watching ‘You Tube” perhaps laughing at jokes on the web, We are not really interacting with the people we are with- we are simply with them. We see it in restaurants, parks where people are taking in the scenery ( or used to), at the grocery store- just about everywhere we go. I have had so many older people say to me that they are “alone, even in a crowd” nowadays. “I wish they’d put those things away!”, they often sigh.

I admit to having been caught up in messaging, checking on the kids,, answering phone calls, seeing if a sick friend is doing better, all while I am out with friends. It’s a sign of the times. Almost everyone does it, the young people , more so than the older of us, but anyone with an “i phone” is likely to get a message or phone call while they with others and, it is only natural to answer it.
It is great to be able to call and tell a friend that “you will be late”, or find out that your loved one arrived safely at their destination. Having lived in both worlds, I greatly appreciate being able to stay in touch with my family, and for them to be able to call me if they need me. It is fun to play the games or look at jokes, but, lets face it, relationships are so much more important that spending your time in a room or restaurant with a group of friends, each in his or her own little world. We must learn to put a limit on how much of these modern conveniences are going to talk the place of talking to your sister who has met you at the mall, or visiting a sick loved on in the hospital. Enough is enough.

I have not had a “Happy Holiday Season” in the last decade, but that it not the subject tonight. No matter who we have lost, moved away from, or how deep within our thought we are, it is vital that we open our hearts, our thoughts, and even our worries to those that we find ourselves with.

I have raised my family now, and savor the chance to be with my children or grandchildren. It doesn’t matter if we are at home on the couch, going to the store, or taking a hike, our time with other people is important. It allows us to share, to hug, to laugh to love. True, we can do a lot of these things on our “i phones” in this day and time, but who wants to go out to eat only to watch people talk on their “i phones” when the whole purpose of meeting was to spend time together?

When I go on a walk, I want to observe nature, listen to the birds sing, smile as a squirrel scuttles up a tree. I want to show my grandchildren the caterpillar climbing a plant, a butterfly gathering nectar, a flock of birds flying over head. I want to tell my son that I appreciate him fixing my car. I want to hug my daughter, and tell her ‘thank you’ for taking the time out of her busy schedule to meet me. When I get home, I am sure my husband or parents want to hear about my day, compliment me on my new outfit or gently touch my shoulder and say, “I’ve missed you today,” We are missing so much of the meaning of life when we fail to do these things.

I think it is time , that we as a people, old and young, remember that there is a time for the technologies that all of us enjoy and a time to put them down and think of those around us, to remember the days when communication was largely done in person. I think it is time that we all value the personal side of relationships. How can we get to know a potential friend, welcome a new employee, even meet a possible mate if we cannot disconnect ourselves from technology long enough to take advantage of these simple pleasures that have brought us all to the place we are today.

It is a fact that technology will be a part of our future, and it can be a tool used to comfort those waiting on us, check on our loved ones, or make an appointment. We can use these advances to our advantage, or we can allow them to separate us from those we love and those who need us to look into their eyes and express our kindness and caring.

Let’s make a New Years Resolution this year that we will spend more time without our technological devises safely within arms reach than we do clinging to them like an oxygen tank on a sinking ship. God gave us the gift of speech. He gave us the gift of knowledge to invent technologies. But He also gave us each other. The ability to form relationships cannot truly take place without eye-to-eye contact. There is an old saying that reminds us that “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

Make a mental note of how much you enjoy the company of others, the conversations you have, a game of cards, singing or listening to music together. Fifty years ago, having a television was an amazing leap in technology, families found themselves crowded around them, listening and laughing together. Before that, our grandparents huddled by the radio listening to the news of World War II.

What did we do before that? We read, we had conversations, discussions, we laughed together, we watched the antics of children. We worked without interruption. We managed just fine without our modern technologies. It is important that the things we make a part of our lives, do not become more important that the people we live with, love and help. Though very few of us would want to give these technologies up, we must find a place for them within our lives-not allow them to take over our lives.

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Cleaning out the Wars

29720218A stack of shirts, long unworn, wrinkled.

Shorts, a little short and revealing for someone my age.

The necklace from Aunt Libby’s cruise in 1995.

And then, at the bottom. the forgotten cards and letters.

I’ll admit, I don’t remember the act of writing them,

or receiving the occasional ones that I received from him.

I remember the feeling of incredible new love,

I remember the affection , unsolicited and so long ago.

But it has been so long since those days, those moments-

little kids, fussing, playing out side on warm summer nights.

Their fussing ending quickly when lightning bugs came out.

Life, as I dreamed it, had been almost real- for a while.

Now, I read my words and remember them so clearly,

both the days when the words flowed truly from my heart

and those when I swallowed hard, and tried to remember

as I wrote those same letters, lying, with tears on my cheeks.

Now, I carry the pain of loosing a beautiful teen so wrongly.

Feeling that God betrayed me when I did everything I could.

I lost my health, my faith and the deep bond with my family,

When my health was destroyed by the horrible death of my son.

The destruction had gone on for years, slowly, before that day.

Now, I was filled with misery and they were young adults.

College, marrying new houses, kids-and my one still small child.

He gave me life, saved my soul, but I had to let him grow up too.

The letters and journals became ways to cope for me

Often pretending, other times literary screams of pain.

The older kids were at heir house, I was at mine.

I was living in a house that used to be a home.

Mixed in with black nightgowns and alluring bathing suits,

there were only scribbled notes, half apology, half excuse.

That’s all I got. I no longer wrote such letters at all.

My journals, tear-stained, of my ruined life replaced them.

Affection was gone, grand children became my solace, my life.

I felt like a stranger to my family-I have never felt so alone.

Now letters from past generations haunt me now. My parents died,

never intending me to read them, as an only child I had to.

I saw myself in my mom. Her struggles, her pain as she aged.

A million more tears and less understanding of my haunted past.

There, at my childhood home, I again shuffled thru the memories.

Finding unbearable pain in cleaning out the drawers, and the wars once again.

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