26 February 2008

Most Fridays

Here's a story/memoir I wrote to be turned in to a cultural arts for the Homemakers group I'm a member of:

Most Fridays

There are a million and one different stories I could tell about my childhood. I was a busy child, always interested in many things, with parents who took the time to nurture those interests, so there is far too much to tell without writing a novel or series of novels. I spent time inside closed off in my room playing and listening to music; I spent time outside under my pine-tree playhouse inventing a rope and pulley system to hold my tea kettle over my imaginary campfire. Every day was full of excitement for me as I had the entire world as my own personal tea party, but I think the day I grew to look forward to most back then was Friday. Friday was the day that Pa and Jojo were home.

Before he retired, my grandfather (the aforementioned “Pa”) was a dentist with his own practice. Hygienists came and went, but, at least during my lifetime, my grandmother (Jojo) was his ever-present assistant, finishing his sentences and interrupting his stories each and every day over whoever the patient might be. Every day, that is, except Friday. On Fridays she finished his sentences and interrupted his stories at home because that was their day off and the day that I got to spend with them. Not every Friday was a big adventure. Sure there were times that we would venture into town and once we even went all the way to Nashville to visit Opryland. Most Fridays, though, we stayed within spitting distance of home. And that’s how I preferred it.

In the summertime, I spent a big part of my Fridays outside swinging on the tree swing or wading in “the branch,” a small creek that runs through my grandparents’ land. Some days I would explore the barn loft on the lookout for any new batches of kittens, which I knew I’d never be able to catch but sought after regardless. When I wasn’t or couldn’t be outside, there were always plenty of movies to watch or clothes to play dress up in. It didn’t matter if it was hot or cold, rainy or sunny; there was always something to do. Best of all, though, there was always something to learn. I guess most of the time then, I didn’t realize I was learning things I would hold so dear now, but these are the things that mean the most.

Some things that I learned no one had to teach me. I became well-acquainted with red clay mud stains and their tendency to stick around. I learned that the solidity of the topmost layer on the floor of the barn stall is no indicator of the layers that lie below. In a couple of cases gravity was my teacher as I went sailing off the side of a round hay bale or as I picked myself up from the creek bed having been the season’s unfortunate first and last rider of a grape vine. Once was enough to teach me that when you jump out of a tree your shorts don’t always follow in an intact fashion. When I got older, I found out that the left pedal on a tractor works in no way like a brake (and made it out alive, thankfully) and that riding a tobacco setter gives you a funny one-legged sunburn. There are other lessons that I learned simply by watching and following suit. For one thing, crumbled cornbread in a glass of milk is about the best dessert in the world and hulling green beans isn’t actually as fascinating as it looks.

The lessons I learned affected every sense of my body. I learned that there is nothing more beautiful than a white-board fence row full of bearded iris and that when the afternoon sun hits an herb garden, it smells like a three-course meal. I learned that you can sink up in freshly plowed soil about six inches and the feeling of it between your toes is one of the best feelings in the world. A sound that I grew to love after Pa pointed it out to me was the sound of the old peahen, Big Bird, calling his name: “Cliff-ooord, Cliff-oord!” Maybe, though… just maybe the most affected of my senses was my sense of taste. Jojo’s kitchen held such culinary masterpieces as macaroni ‘n’ cheese made with milk and butter and Velveeta as well as holy little wonders called “drop dumplins.” Be still, my heart!

In the end, though, the sweetest lessons I learned were those that I will forever associate directly with my grandparents themselves. You see, if I had never spent those days with Pa and Jojo, I might have never known that it’s okay for a grandmother to go down a slip ‘n’ slide in her underwear. I might have never learned how to make peanut butter cookies with the criss-cross shape on top or how to crochet. I wouldn’t have known that my grandfather’s favorite poem is “Jenny Kissed Me” or that we share a favorite hymn: “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” I would have never been forced to hug my cousin when we were so mad at each other we would have rather died (a practice which doesn’t seem quite so heinous now since I do actually still love the guy after all). I would have completely missed those lessons on making trips to the feed mill or to Baldock’s Lumber because, sure, we needed some ground feed or nails, but not nearly as much as we needed that Coke and Snickers. And I know that I certainly might need to know someday how to shop for and purchase a bushhog, which I most decidedly would not know had I not skipped the last half of my last day of high school to accompany my grandparents to Ben and Elmer’s. These are all important life lessons and just think what the consequences might be had I not been so blessed to have experienced them all.

Pa and Jojo have a comfortable home filled with wonderful treasures and surrounded by hundreds of beautiful blooming things. They have a decent-sized farm, a few barns, and a nice herd of cattle. I’m sure some people would look at all they have and all they’ve accomplished and ask me what of theirs I’d most like to have someday. I’ve been blessed to have such people in my life and to share them with my sister, 6 cousins, 2 nephews and a niece, and now my own son. I have little pieces of them and their lives scattered all through me. So I think could answer that question very simply: I couldn’t ask them for any more than they’ve already given me.

-Megan Carter