Archive for home and homemaking

For Everything, there is a Season

DSCN3825When I was born, my parents lived in a little four-room house that my grandfather had built in the 1930’s  when someone offered to sell him a thousand board feet of wood for a thousand dollars.  With that as an inventive, grandpa built this small house, much like many others he had built around our community. His uncles were carpenters, he was an electrician.

For many years, this little house was the ‘first home’ to many young married couples. It was in a neighborhood surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles. A little stream ran behind the house. It was a safe and loving neighborhood. My grandparents ran a little country store right across the creek, which, at that time could be crossed on a board from one side to another.

If I were to write a book that told the story of everyone who had made their start, or lived in that house when thy were young, it would be a long and interesting book.  I could name many families whose first and often second child was born while thy lived there. It wasn’t big, but it was not just a house, it was truly a home.

I think of all the babies who cried softly for attention in that house, the many sets of used furniture, cleaned up and decorated into a sweet and satisfying place to live. Anything from Model A’s to modern trucks have parked in that driveway. Black Heart Cherries served as delicious snacks on early summer afternoons.

My uncle next door often shared a portion of his garden to the families who lived there.  He would share his knowledge of gardening and even his water from the pump he put in the creek with his neighbors.We are fresh green beans in summer and carved pumpkins at Halloween.

I moved there here when I was seven months pregnant with my first child. To come there from a lonely apartment seemed like heaven. After a short,  rough marriage, I spent many lonely days and even some happy times while I lived there as a single parent of two.

I finished a 4- year University degree  in three years while I worked and raised two kids as a single parent. My two cousins across the creek spend many hours at my house during the eight years that I lived there. We played loud music, card games, laughed and passed the time. My best friend and her sisters would sit on my back steps and we would teach each other songs on out guitars.

There were days in the 1970’s that I spent my time with doors jingling colored beads that  hung from the doorways. Psychedelic  posters, Mother Earth Magazines and children’s books shared my walls and book shelves. I proudly called myself a ‘hippie ‘. Without the details, I will soon move on.  I had wicker furniture, pretty rocks, in a stack in a corner, a small black and white TV, no dryer, a hand- me- down washer and a clothes line beside the cherry tree snd flower garden. There were no extra ended or excesses.

i loved plants and one could be found in any feasible location, the floor, tables, or cabinet tops. The rooms were small, full yet cozy. I loved the claw legged bathtub and those relaxing bubble baths after an exhausting  day. After I graduated from college I moved  to my families” big house” which sat rather ‘ kitty corner’ from this little one. I had lived there for 8 years and for 32 more years, the story went on.

Young couples, single people, elderly widows, many more, lived in that house. A man and his mother were the last to live there. My aunt had promised her friend that she would continue to let her son, who never married, lived there after she died and both my aunts son, who inherited the house, and I, who bought a lot with both this  little house and my aunt and uncles house on it, kept our word.

By the time the elderly gentleman passed away while living in the house, it had seen its better days. In fact, it had seen them long before. The floors were warped, the doors no longer shut well, all the new siding  and Windows  and boards on the porches did not make the house truly livable by my standards after nearly 90 years.

With  a heavy heart, I decided last fall that I would have to tear the house down, it would have cost more to fix the little house than it was worth.  It wasn’t easy to watch the house be demolished, but the ease with which it went down,  showed me that I had made the right decision.  I planted flowers and vegetables in a box garden there this spring.

There are so many memories in that little house, I remember bringing my babies home to it, the soft strum of my guitar on the porch- and the loud Lynyrd Skynyrd on the stereo. I fondly recall the meals I prepared, the friends I entertained, the tears when life was rough and the smiles when life was good.

Even  though the house is no longer there, it will always be there in my mind. So many “firsts” to remember, the first steps of my oldest son and daughter, the first furniture that I bought on my own. Painting the walls, the relaxing warm baths, the  poems I wrote in that bedroom and the pictures I painted in the kitchen.

It is almost always hard when a page turns in our lives. Even if what lies ahead is a bit exciting, it is a challenge to move on. I can close my eyes and see the white picket fence, the rose bush I planted when my first child was born, building snowmen with my kids,  or looking out the window and seeing the first car that I bought myself.

Life goes on, through good times and bad. The ages creep in that little house just as they did with me. There is something about a place that holds so many ” firsts” that keeps it written permanently in my mind. So, it is with the little house at # 10. It is a part of my parents first years, of my own first house, and that of my first two babies.

I can close my eyes and see the basket where kittens were born, where I held my newborns, where I dreamed dreams that actually came true once in a while. Little White House, you now live only in my mind  but you are part of me and I love you. I will never forget the night skies or sunrises I saw there. You will always live in my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumn Gifts from Mother Nature

DSCN1095Fall is definitely a beautiful time of year in the mid-south.  I love the webs of orb weavers, like the huge Black and  Yellow Argiope (garden spider) who tends to stay in the middle of her web.  Males build smaller webs around hers until they see a chance to mate. Then there is the araneus, a smaller orb weaver whose webs are often attached to telephone poles and wires, tree limbs and weeds. Unlike the Argiope, she tends to hide near the edge of her web until prey lands within her trap, then she goes in for the kill, wrapping them in her silk for later eating.  Both of these spiders  are mature females waiting for a mate and then for making their paper-bag brown egg casings, often attached to one of the tall, stiff weed stems where they have made their web all summer.

Mushrooms are just amazing in autumn.  The colors and varieties are enormous!  My daughter spotted some mid-sized yellow mushrooms with brown marks on to the other day.  I didn’t look them up or take a photo, but I remember what they looked like, and will definitely check my book!  last year, I spotted some beautiful mushrooms sprouting from the ssump of a rotting tree.  They would start out with a bulb at the top, and as they matured, they opened up, sporting a detached cap.  Their tan color made them blend in with the tree trunk, I did take photos of them. I had trouble finding an exact match in my book, but will try to do some up-dating on mushrooms soon and add the name into the article.

I love the variety of autumn asters.  The tiny white ones are often pulled up as weeds, but I let them grown, ungainly and tall until to burst into bloom in late September and bloom until frost.  Honey bees and butterflies find the late blooming asters to be one of their few sources of nectar this time of year, I wish people would be aware of how important honey bees are to crops!  Diseases and decreasing habitat have greatly reduced the number of honey bees in the Southern Appalachians, please nature lovers, leave the wild asters, both the small gangly white variety as well as the more attractive and larger purple asters so that the bees and butterflies that are still around in autumn will have food!

I cannot forget the beautiful red berries that appear on dogwood trees. They become aparent only as the leaves start to fall near the time of the first frost. Wild roses also sport red seed buds in fall. Both provide food for the creatures who stay for the winter in the Southern Appalachians,-anywhere from birds like the cardinal and gray squirrels.

Wild muscedine grapes seem to flow from the branches of trees at the edge of forest and yards where they can get plenty of sun. They are dark purple, and smaller than grapes that we grow, but were often used by early settlers for jellies, juice and jams. The leaves are dark green and fluted, just as a “tame” grape.  The grapes hang in bunches similar to tame graoes, as well.

Nature doesn’t leave us empty handed in the fall of the year, it just shows the products of summers growth and becomes food for the animals who stay with us during fall and winter.

I will end with a favorite poem that I learned in fifth grade. I appologize for not remembering the author.

Autumn

A road like brown ribbon, a sky that is blue,

A forest of green with that sky peeping through,

Asters, deep purple, a grasshoppers call,

Today, it is summer, tomorrow, it’s fall.

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Going Home

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Jen drove slowly down the old dirt drive. “There aren’t many dirt roads or long driveways left,” she thought. She hadn’t seen her great aunt Sarah in many years. All sorts of excuses rushed through her brain as she got closer to the lovely old farm house at the end of the driveway. “I’ve lived too far away, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t seen her since I was a child,”she thought, then guiltily threw each excuse aside.

She had not taken the time-period. Now, she was 27 years old, a high school history teacher, engaged to be married and she could surely have thought of more valid excuses than those. But something had tugged at her heart. She had come to Alabama to tour a local schools system for a study she was conducting. Remembering that Aunt Sarah lived in this county, she looked her up in the phone book. Surprisingly, she was still listed.

She got out her I-phone and turned on the app that showed her a map to the little town of Rosewood and soon found Cornfield Lane right off the main road. “What would she say?” she wondered as she pulled up the two story house with a wrap around porch. Would Aunt Sarah remember her, welcome her, or would she be treated with disdain?

Jen remembered that Aunt Sarah, her mother’s aunt, had been married, had 3 children and then her husband had died at a fairly early age. She didn’t think she had remarried, because her name was still the same in the phone book. It seems the children would be about her mother’s age, probably with grandchildren of their own.

With her heart beating quickly inside her chest, she parked her Maroon Chevy Van near the house and walked towards the door. It was nearly Halloween, and even in Alabama, there was a nip of autumn in the air. Jen, pulled her sweater around her as she walked up the old brick sidewalk. Before she started up the steps, an elderly lady walked out onto the porch. The screen door creaked as it closed behind her.

“Why, Jenny!” The lady exclaimed. “Jenny Markham! Is that you?”

“It’s me, alright, Aunt Sarah.” Jen said with a blush. “I have no excuse for not having seen you in so long. It makes those Christmas cards seem awfully pitiful.”

“Well, don’t you think a thing about it,” Aunt Sarah said with a smile as she opened the door and motioned for Jen to come in. Jen obliged, remembering the high ceilings and the slightly old scent of the wooden house. She looked around and smiled. It was as if she had been here only a short time ago.

“Come on in here and let me make us some tea,” Aunt Sarah smiled as she lead Jen to the room behind the living room. Sarah stood and looked around at her Great Aunt’s kitchen. The same long table and chairs sat upon the worn tiles, the curtains were new, but of similar pattern, an autumn harvest with ruffled bottoms around the windows which hung over the sink and the one on the slightly opened back door. It brought back memories of her mother and rest of their big family coming here for watermelon on the Fourth of July when she was young.

“It sure is good to see you, Jenny!” Aunt Sarah smiled. “What on earth brought you way out here in backwoods Alabama?”

Jenny told her about her research project, career and upcoming marriage, inviting her long-lost cousins and families to come. Aunt Sarah sat and sipped tea with her for maybe half an hour before she invited her to come through the house and see the walls and dark walnut dressers filled with pictures of her children, grandchildren and even their kids. Again, Jen’s heart beat rapidly inside her as she took in the years and memories that she had missed out on when her father had taken a new job in East Texas.

She wondered what her life would have been like if they had stayed here. Would her and her brother’s kids been friends with Aunt Sarah’s children, would they have ridden the same bus, lived on the same road, had watermelon on that worn front porch on the fourth of July? Would she already be married, maybe to someone she knew as a child.?

Thoughts swirled through her head as the “what if’s” rushed by. What was the name of the high school here? What college would she have gone to? Would she have been a teacher, like she was now? It was at that moment Jen decided not to tell her Aunt Sarah her secret. She would save it until after the wedding, it would seem better then.

Inside her, Jen felt the movement of her baby, a girl, she had learned just yesterday. She wondered how Aunt Sarah would feel about her being pregnant before her marriage and then grabbed her Aunt’s wrinkled hand. Of course, she would love this baby, just like all the other children that decorated her dressers and walls. Surely, out of all of them, there had been children conceived before their parents married. Perhaps their parents had never married at all.

After a long visit, Jen walked back to her car with Aunt Sarah and her collie, Barney, beside her. She promised her Aunt that she would never let their families loose touch again, and she meant it. In Aunt Sarah’s younger days, having a baby before marriage would have brought many cross looks and perhaps even a few rejections. But this, thank goodness as a different time.

Jen vowed to herself that she would write her aunt a letter and tell her more about her soon-to-be husband and the baby she was carrying as soon as she got back to Texas. There was one more thing she would ask of the Aunt she had just come know again. She would ask her to allow her the honor of naming her new baby, Sarah.

Jen drove slowly down the old dirt drive. “There aren’t many dirt roads or long driveways left,” she thought. She hadn’t seen her great aunt Sarah in many years. All sorts of excuses rushed through her brain as she got closer to the lovely old farm house at the end of the driveway. “I’ve lived too far away, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t seen her since I was a child,”she thought, then guiltily threw each excuse aside.

She had not taken the time-period. Now, she was 27 years old, a high school history teacher, engaged to be married and she could surely have thought of more valid excuses than those. But something had tugged at her heart. She had come to Alabama to tour a local schools system for a study she was conducting. Remembering that Aunt Sarah lived in this county, she looked her up in the phone book. Surprisingly, she was still listed.

She got out her I-phone and turned on the app that showed her a map to the little town of Rosewood and soon found Cornfield Lane right off the main road. “What would she say?” she wondered as she pulled up the two story house with a wrap around porch. Would Aunt Sarah remember her, welcome her, or would she be treated with disdain?

Jen remembered that Aunt Sarah, her mother’s aunt, had been married, had 3 children and then her husband had died at a fairly early age. She didn’t think she had remarried, because her name was still the same in the phone book. It seems the children would be about her mother’s age, probably with grandchildren of their own.

With her heart beating quickly inside her chest, she parked her Maroon Chevy Van near the house and walked towards the door. It was nearly Halloween, and even in Alabama, there was a nip of autumn in the air. Jen, pulled her sweater around her as she walked up the old brick sidewalk. Before she started up the steps, an elderly lady walked out onto the porch. The screen door creaked as it closed behind her.

“Why, Jenny!” The lady exclaimed. “Jenny Markham! Is that you?”

“It’s me, alright, Aunt Sarah.” Jen said with a blush. “I have no excuse for not having seen you in so long. It makes those Christmas cards seem awfully pitiful.”

“Well, don’t you think a thing about it,” Aunt Sarah said with a smile as she opened the door and motioned for Jen to come in. Jen obliged, remembering the high ceilings and the slightly old scent of the wooden house. She looked around and smiled. It was as if she had been here only a short time ago.

“Come on in here and let me make us some tea,” Aunt Sarah smiled as she lead Jen to the room behind the living room. Sarah stood and looked around at her Great Aunt’s kitchen. The same long table and chairs sat upon the worn tiles, the curtains were new, but of similar pattern, an autumn harvest with ruffled bottoms around the windows which hung over the sink and the one on the slightly opened back door. It brought back memories of her mother and rest of their big family coming here for watermelon on the Fourth of July when she was young.

“It sure is good to see you, Jenny!” Aunt Sarah smiled. “What on earth brought you way out here in backwoods Alabama?”

Jenny told her about her research project, career and upcoming marriage, inviting her long-lost cousins and families to come. Aunt Sarah sat and sipped tea with her for maybe half an hour before she invited her to come through the house and see the walls and dark walnut dressers filled with pictures of her children, grandchildren and even their kids. Again, Jen’s heart beat rapidly inside her as she took in the years and memories that she had missed out on when her father had taken a new job in East Texas.

She wondered what her life would have been like if they had stayed here. Would her and her brother’s kids been friends with Aunt Sarah’s children, would they have ridden the same bus, lived on the same road, had watermelon on that worn front porch on the fourth of July? Would she already be married, maybe to someone she knew as a child.?

Thoughts swirled through her head as the “what if’s” rushed by. What was the name of the high school here? What college would she have gone to? Would she have been a teacher, like she was now? It was at that moment Jen decided not to tell her Aunt Sarah her secret. She would save it until after the wedding, it would seem better then.

Inside her, Jen felt the movement of her baby, a girl, she had learned just yesterday. She wondered how Aunt Sarah would feel about her being pregnant before her marriage and then grabbed her Aunt’s wrinkled hand. Of course, she would love this baby, just like all the other children that decorated her dressers and walls. Surely, out of all of them, there had been children conceived before their parents married. Perhaps their parents had never married at all.

After a long visit, Jen walked back to her car with Aunt Sarah and her collie, Barney, beside her. She promised her Aunt that she would never let their families loose touch again, and she meant it. In Aunt Sarah’s younger days, having a baby before marriage would have brought many cross looks and perhaps even a few rejections. But this, thank goodness as a different time.

Jen vowed to herself that she would write her aunt a letter and tell her more about her soon-to-be husband and the baby she was carrying as soon as she got back to Texas. There was one more thing she would ask of the Aunt she had just come know again. She would ask her to allow her the honor of naming her new baby, Sarah.DSCN1026

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As we Grow Old-Photo Essay

Young-Winter-Difficult Days

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IMG_0352My Dad-Late 1940’s, Winter 2013, and after his illness Summer 2014, Lesson-  Never waste time, treasure your memories, let the people you love know it-every day-Remember what they taught you, ask them to tell you the stories of thier lives, write them down, share them with your childrem, and grandchildren.  Smile as we see the similarities and understand that times and ways change over the years, Love and time are the most important gifts we can give.

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The Gifts that She Left

 

Together, we sing a special song, “Morning has Broken” as we sat together at the Celebration of Life of a woman who was taken before her time, but faced her illness bravely, with unbounded love from her family and friends.

I will always remember our talks as we strolled down her driveway or stood admiring each others gardens. She was a school counselor, a mother, a wife, a friend. Only a few years ago, she was full of life, taking the vacations of her dreams, planning additions to their house, planting new flowers. It never occurred to anyone that her dreams would be stolen by illness.

As a mother who has lost a child, I still feel the unfairness of my friends and cousins who have lost their battles with disease as adults. It seems so wrong, they had so much yet to give. I lost my best friend of 35 years to cancer when she was just 48. Oh, how I could have used her shoulder to cry on in the times yet to come!

Today, though, I look at the gifts that my friend and neighbor left for us to keep her alive within our hearts. Every time I see a flower blowing in the wind, I will smile and think of her. When I see a child walk across the stage to accept their hard-earned diploma, I will think of her. When I see her husband, walking, alone, I will see her there beside him. I believe with everything inside me that her life will always hold more meaning than her untimely death.

I struggle to allow myself to have these feelings for my 15-year-old son. I STILL struggle. I will always struggle. But somehow, now, when I see the sunrise up into the brilliant magenta sky I will think of her, perhaps laughing and talking to my son in a different realm. Perhaps the most important gift she left me was the realization that no matter how much time we are given on this earth, there will be those who love us-present tense-LOVE us, and that kind of love does not die as the sun crosses the sky and night falls upon us. It simply becomes a different part of our lives.

 

 

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My Father-A Man Among Men

29720194     My Father-A Man among Men

 

I started this story many years ago, but this week, in honor of his 87th birthday and Father’s Day, I have revised it and added a little sentiment. You see, this will be my father’s last Father’s Day or birthday, if he even lives another week and a half. I found out this week that he has terminal cancer. I have spent the last month in a downhill spiral with him. I have gone from trying to keep him from driving, to trying to keep him able to walk, to admitting him to hospitals, therapy programs and now, the hospital again. Rather than change what I wrote before, I decided to leave it, and simply add the thoughts that come to an only child whose mother is dead when she is loosing her father too.

 

This is the beginning of the story I put on wordpress last year. With some additions that came to me as I wrote this year, tears running down my cheeks.

A few years ago, I wrote this story for my father on Father’s day. I had hope to put it on my blog, but it didn’t happen. I found it today after I got home from my third day accompanying my father to a surgeon and decided that I wanted to honor him every day. It was time to write the blog. My father did not have cancer this time.

I had been looking for a poem that I had written my father years ago, when I felt so young and innocent. Life has never been particularly kind to me, bu the last ten years have seen so many changes in my world that it has been hard to hold onto who I am. I realized more than ever that the only way that I have made it through these time was the love and strength I had received from my father (and my mother.)

Within these past ten years, I have lost my best friend and three cousins to cancer. I saw four of my children marry in only four years and have been blessed with seven grandchildren, with number eight due next week.. Not long after my second child got married, I lost my precious 15 year old son very suddenly while he was playing baseball. I lost my health because of this loss and have come close to death myself five times. Not quite four years ago, when I was still recovering from a hip transplant, I lost my beloved mother. The grief that my father felt after 61 years of marriage took a tremendous toll on him.

This story, however, is about my father, one of the most amazing men I have ever known. My father never had an easy life. His dad was a tenant farmer in Upper South Carolina and then Western North Carolina. His family moved nearly every year when he was young. They moved six times in his first six years. He and his brother would nick-name the houses. For instance, my dad would call the house they lived in by a nick-name so that  he and his brother would remember the houses and the places they lived . One house, they called the “smoky house” because the chimney flue was faulty and the house would fill up with smoke.

He and his brother, who was three years older were out earning money doing chores when they were in grade school. They were raised by their dad, with some help from a maiden aunt. She was kind, but very strict and religious. Their dad spent a good deal of time in a Veteran’s Hospital in Tennessee and they would be passed among aunts and uncles while he was ill. His mother, who had been sickly most of his life died when he was five years old. During the 1920’s, it was practically unknown for a single father to raise his children. They were fortunate that this maiden aunt agreed to come and help him raise them. She cooked them good meals and allowed for a a woman’s influence in their lives.

My father has told me stories of his life since I was a child. I would beg him to tell me a particular story. I called him, “Huckleberry Ken” because his life had been so full of both hard work and mischief. After becoming a parent myself, I suggested that he should write down his stories, so that we could pass them on to his grandchildren, along with others who had enjoyed his art of storytelling.

He took my suggestion, and with me acting as editor, he published four books about his childhood, teen years before World War Two, his time in the Navy in Guam, and his years working on both the Highway and Railway Post Office. He has another book that we never officially officially published. Today, I got a check in the mail for someone who had read about his books and ordered some of them.

Helping him with his books was both a chore and a privilege. I has to order photos from museums, obtain permission to use them, hunt down friends he had known 50 years before and record their stories, then scan and edit everything on the computer. In the early 1990’s a home computer was much more complicated than it is today. Ironically, my laptop computer seems more difficult for me to figure out than that old, but expensive computer that we used to prepare his books for publishing. I often wonder why I ever suggested the idea of publishing the books. To my father, it was the dream of a lifetime. Still, I look upon those difficult days, when I had a house full of little children to deal with as well, as some of the most hectic and yet some of the best days of my life.

My dad was the good student, the hard worker, his dad’s “favorite”. His brother had more difficulty in school and would probably be labeled “ADHD” in this day and time. When the school would send home letters about his brothers lack of progress, my father would read them and tear them up, knowing that his brother would be unjustly scolded by their father and realizing that no one at school would follow up on the letters. In the decade when he and his brother were students, kids from impoverished families were looked down on by teachers and administrators. Many of the children had parents who could not read or write and children started school with little knowledge of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” as it was often called. Often, in rural areas,there was a shortage of materials and children who could not pay for books, never received any. There was little chance for these children to get an education when no one could help at home and no one at school seemed to care.  Most of the children from poor families has quit school by their early teens, with boys working late shifts in factories and girls staying home to work on the farm. Many girls were married by their mid-teens. Though there were child labor laws “on the books”, it was easy to lie about your age and not be questioned.

Once, when my father was in the 5th grade, he decided to change schools. After hearing from friends that a nearby school was better than the one he was attending, he made up a simple plan. All he had to do was walk a little further and catch another bus. Without ever discussing it with his father, he simply started the new school year at his “new” school. It was nearly Thanksgiving before his father found out, and since my father was doing quite well in his “new” school, his father just let it ride.

When my father and his brother were still in grade school, they would be out looking for jobs on weekends and in the summer, in order to get enough money for “soda crackers, a can of Vienna sausages and a soft drink for lunch.” In summer, it was easy to pick berries and sell them to the wealthy families who would come south “to summer” in the low country of the Western Carolinas.

He and his brother learned to work hard for very little pay. Often, they were asked to tear down old barns and storage buildings, and do odd jobs. When a wealthy resident or better yet a local contractor would ask if they could “fix cars, lay brick or haul cement”, their answer was always, “sure”. It was in this way that country boys like my father and his brother got most of their “education”.

When World War II was on the horizon, my dad and some friends headed north seeking manufacturing jobs that they had heard were plentiful in the growing automobile industry. A few of them stayed, but my father and a friend, who owned a car, did not. They came home and found work in the construction business, taking any job they could get. They learned to drive trucks, build houses, and any other job that might lead to a “step up” on the employment ladder.

Not long after returning from their adventure “up north”, my father received his draft notice and decided to join the Navy before the decision of which branch of the service he would be drafted into wold no longer be his choice.

His brother had injured his knee when he was a child and did not pass the physical to be placed into the “service”. One of my father’s most poignant memories was hearing his dad’s last words to him as he boarded the bus for basic training.

His father had bowed his head, hiding a tear and whispered, “Son, I don’t think I will ever see you again.” He didn’t. While on Guam during the Christmas holiday of 1945, my dad was called into the chaplains office and told that his father had died of a heart attack. He still has the letter hr received four days later from his father, saying that, “everything was fine.” Communications were very slow in those days but the letter was profound, his father’s prediction had come true.

Upon landing in Guam in the fall of 1945, my father was asked by his commanders if he could drive a truck. Even though he had never held an official driver’s license, he replied confidently, “Sure.” and thus found his job with the Navy would be that of a truck driver as our military men struggled to wipe out the final skirmishes of war and rebuild the devastated countries that had been left in its rubble.

His book about this time of his life is titled, “Two Hundred Thousand Boys on a Rock Called Guam. On the cover is a photo of he and two friends sitting on the top of a captured Japanese submarine, the “rising sun” that was the Japanese flag was seen right below their young, smiling faces. To me, this book is the story of a group of boys being thrust into an unthinkable situation and showing their determination and fortitude. It is the story of “boys” becoming “men”.

My father did not come home from World War II with the ticker tape parades and tearful families rushing up to their ships as it was shown in the newspaper. He got off of a bus in Upper South Carolina and walked several miles down a dusty unpaved road to an uncles’ house where he had lived for a while when he was a child. When he got there, tired and thirsty, no one was home. After walking to a country store to get a soda, he returned to his less than excited family who had been away selling produce. He stayed at their house one night, and realizing he wasn’t wanted, he took a bus to the home of a friend in Western North Carolina, hoping only for an invitation to supper and a bed for the night.

 Surprisingly, the reception he got there was one of love and acceptance. The idea of a third son to help around the farm seemed good to the father, Mr. Jackson. A warm smile came from his wife, Mabel, who had always loved my father as if he was her own. Aunt Mabel, as I was taught to call her, had always had an affinity for this long, lean, hard working young boy. Hoping only for a good nights’ sleep, he stayed there four years, until he met and married my mother.  Mr. Jackson taught my father the skills to help him get construction and truck driving jobs, and was happy to have him “pay for his keep” by helping out around the farm. My father earned enough money to buy an old truck, which he nick-named, “Old Hully”. This allowed him to move up the ladder in the construction business to the hauling of materials, rather than carrying the heavy rocks and such to the construction site. The Jackson family called my dad, “Kenny”. And the name stayed with him in that neighborhood throughout his life.

My father had always valued an education and enrolled in a local Junior College under the G.I. Bill, which had allocated him funds for attaining an education. He took a double major in Accounting and Truck management at the Business School in the larger town nearby. It was there that he met my mother, who was also taking Accounting, riding the bus to night school while working in a bakery during the day.

When they married several years after meeting, my father was working at a Trucking Company and my mother still held her job at the bakery. They soon moved in to a small house on the street where my mother had grown up. I wasn’t born until nearly six years later. I had my father under my spell even before I was born, but when he laid eyes on a little girl with golden curls, his heart melted. After growing up with men and living in a home with only sons, having a little girl was both frightening and a blessing to him.

My father worked two jobs most of his life. He worked in the insurance industry, but decided not to move to Ohio when the company transferred there. I was nearly five years old when my dad was offered a job with The Life of Georgia Insurance Company in Atlanta. Hoping that my mother would be happy in Atlanta, where her mothers’ family lived, he took the job and rented an apartment. Most of the time, my mother and I remained in our new house that he had built in our home town, and my father came home on weekends. When he moved our family to Atlanta, my mother was miserable. It wasn’t long before dad turned in his resignation and came back to our home town hoping one of his applications would be in the mail.

Surprisingly, an application did await him. It was for a job at the Postal Service! The hours were bad, the schemes, where an employee had to put cards into the correct hole in a large stand-up desk were a nightmare, but my dad was up to the challenge and while keeping his part time job with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he passed the test and got the job! His early years at the Postal Service lead to his book about his years riding a highway mail bus that was so long that it required a bolted back section to traverse the country roads, and his years working on a railway mail car, sorting mail and throwing it out onto poles made for this purpose in rural areas. These jobs often required “lay-overs” of several hours or even a whole night and the Postal Service rented out rooms for their employees to rest in as they caught their next “run”.

My father’s job at the Tennessee Valley Authority was my favorite. He often let me help him decode the machine-made charts from places up in the mountains with lovely names like “Sunburst”, which sparked my poetic soul. There was a secret phone number with a coded message on it that told the depth of the river at different locations. Dad trusted me with the number and I would call to check the gauges which sent a piece of equipment down into the different rivers and let out a series of beeps to tell the worker the depth of the river. The office also held volumes of books filled with photographs of the famous 1916 flood which devastated our area and caused several deaths.

More importantly, the TVA office was where I saw my first computer! It was in the late 1960’s and the machine took up a whole room. Its only job was to make the charts that we read to compare the depths of the river at different locations. The most exciting part of being “daddy’s girl” on his TVA job, was that I got to ride with him to observe and record data about floods that occurred in Western North Carolina. I loved telling my friend the stories of seeing houses, flooded up to their porch rails, with a cat sitting forlornly on the roof.

Being a girl, and an only child, I had to be my father’s “son” as well as his daughter. That meant I got to learn all the “boy” jobs, unlike my friends. My father taught me about the stock market, investing and he shared his love of learning with me. We played geography games, such as “who could name the most states, state capitols, or fill in a blank map”. We read books together, he taught me the love of reading and learning. He helped me with my homework. He would stay up hours doing math with me, a man who had only a 7th grade education before he took a double major at a Junior college. He would wrap my curls around his finger and assure me that if he didn’t know how to help me with an assignment, he would learn it with me.

We worked in the garden, build sidewalks and fancy brick walls and made crafts out of wood. He taught me the names of the flowers, trees and insects where ever we went. Although I spent many hours with my mother, aunt and grandparents next door, it was my father who taught me about life beyond our valley.

I had thought about sending a copy of this story only to my father, but later decided that it would make an interesting blog. ab A little girl and her devoted father would make a heart-warming story. He always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln, which did not please him. But he was tall, with curly, dark hair and a serious face, much like our 16th President.

My hope now, years after I first wrote this letter, is that my children and grandchildren will look back on this simple tribute to my father as one of love and respect. At only a few days from 87 and in extremely poor health, he still commands our respect, still teaches us the lessons that he has learned in his life and still remembers our names. Last night, as I left the hospital, he had not spoken in hours. He turned to me and touched my hand. “We live and we die.” he said simply. I kissed his cheek, fighting tears and he said, “Goodbye, Brenda. “ I honestly didn’t know if I would ever seen him again, he was so very sick. He slept all morning but this afternoon was able to listen as his youngest grandson (my youngest son) told him that he had been awarded an internship in his school’s district office. It was an honor only two kids were chosen for . My father looked up and whispered, “I knew I didn’t save all that money for college for nothing and smiled at my 15-year-old son, nearly 6 foot three, tall and thin like my father, who lay before him, sometimes cringing in pain. My father has been generous with his help, strict with his rules and filled with an unequaled devotion to his family.

Though he has not always been agreeable with our modern ideas, he has tried to keep up with technology, taught us to invest and “save for a rainy day”. He reminded us of HIS “Golden Rule” which is “Who ever has the gold makes the rules.” and that, of course , was him.

I cannot imagine having a father who loved his errant, non-conformist, self-proclaimed “hippie” daughter with any more patience and unabashed devotion than he has had with me. It goes without saying that he has had this same love and patience with my children and grandchildren.

I can only hope that in years to come, that my children will have even half as much love and respect for me as we all have towards him. As the old saying goes, “He has learned to turn lemons into lemonade.” The gifts that my father has given have been many, but none were more important than his time. He chose being with me over friends or hobbies. When I asked him what “the most important thing that we had , as young people in this crazy world ” and he would squeeze our hands together and softly say, “Time.” You can’t buy it, or even earn it, but you sure can waste it.” I wish I had listened more closely to his simple wisdom. I feel so fortunate that I have had so much time to spend with him.

This past few weeks , doctors have told me that I was fortunate that he had lived past his very close bout with death, when I was 11 years old. Many doctors and nurses said that it was so rare to see such resilience in a man with a body that had been in pain for nearly 50 years, that they were all amazed by him, that he could smile, still hope, still say “It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were greater than the pain. Next June, I will try to honor him by remembering his determination, his talent, his stern but loving voice. I will try not to cry, but instead, to tell my children and grandchildren what hearty stock they came from and simply, to live to make him proud.

 

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Cooking from the Grain to the Table

 

Mo’lasses!

I could smell the fragrance of the thick molasses all the way in the upstairs room my brother and I shared. My grandpa’s molasses making trays and tools were still tucked under the shed, waiting to be washed today before the bugs went crazy

The lightning storm that had crept up suddenly the night before had almost ruined this years molasses run, be together, our neighbors, my father and brother finished the load.

I don’t think any one who has never gone through the grinding of cane stalks, the shuttling of the sugary fluid through the zig-zag trays, or stood sweating in the August heat should be allowed to savor the incomparable taste of warm biscuits slathered in molasses!

When we were young, our family had a joke. If you asked for ‘lasses, that meant that you were asking for your first serving. If you wanted a second service you asked for “molasses!”.

Not many people get to see the metal trays set up for molasses making these days They done see horses turning the machine that grinds the stalks of sugar cane, they don’t watch the paddle moving the molasses along the divided trays above the flames. Indeed the love of molasses has nearly disappeared in some areas.

Oh, go on to the store, buy a bottle and try to imagine the making of molasses I have described, use the little honey stirring device to drizzle the molasses on your canned biscuits. I guarantee, you will get a glimpse of the way grandpa make then as you close your eyes and savor the first bite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could smell the fragrance of the thick molasses all the way in the upstairs room my brother and I shared. My grandpa’s molasses making trays and tools were still tucked under the shed, waiting to be washed today before the bugs went crazy

 

The lightning storm that had crept up suddenly the night before had almost ruined this years molasses run, be together, our neighbors, my father and brother finished the load.

 

I don’t think any one who has never gone through the grinding of cane stalks, the shuttling of the sugary fluid through the zig-zag trays, or stood sweating in the August heat should be allowed to savor the incomparable taste of warm biscuits slathered in molasses!

 

When we were young, our family had a joke. If you asked for ‘lasses, that meant that you were asking for your first serving. If you anted a second service you asked for “molasses!”.

 

Not many people get to see the metal trays set up for molasses making these days They done see horses turning the machine that grinds the stalks of sugar cane, they don’t watch the paddle moving the molasses along the divided trays above the flames. Indeed the love of molasses has nearly disappeared in some areas.

 

Oh, go on to thee store, buy a bottle and try to imagine the making of molasses I have described, use the little honey stirring devise to drizzle the molasses on your canned biscuits. I guarantee, you will get a glimpse of the way grandpa make then as you close your eyes and savor the first bite!

 

 

 

 

 

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