Saturday, June 21, 2008

AEA Week and Ramblings

Up until about ten years ago there was a week in March known as AEA week to Alabamians. To anyone else it might simply be considered Spring Break. We were out of school for the week and the teachers had the opportunity to attend the annual Alabama Education Association conference.

On the farm, AEA week was for planting. To this day, the smell of fresh turned soil takes me back to AEA week, walking barefoot in the soft tilled earth--a welcoming of early Spring which led to Summer. [A reminder that school was almost out.] Just the same, the smell of fresh cut grass reminds me of summer days on the farm, taking turns pushing that lawn mover, sweat dripping off skin laden with minute slivers of grass cuttings and drinking water straight from the water hose. When we mowed Mamaw and Papaw’s yard we would each get silver coins and were allowed to walk down to the Log Cabin Grocery where we would get a RC or Nehi Cola in a returnable bottle, maybe some peanuts or a MoonPie and penny bubble-gum! Ah, another smell-of-remembrance--wind-blow, sun-dried linens. There’s little more comforting and relaxing than to lie down on linens dried by Mother Nature.

For many years, we didn’t even own a clothes dryer. I remember helping mother take clothes off the line that were frozen stiff. When they weren’t frozen I almost always buried my face in the sheets and towels before tossing them into the basket.

Those clothes lines and poles were multi-functional. Sometimes during the summer months, Mom & Dad would allow us to have a party. Farm raised meats, fresh from the butcher, were on the grill served with fresh veggies from the garden and fruits from the trees. We had watermelon eating contests, ran about in the sprinkler hoses, played Red-Rover, Hide-and-Seek, Witch in the Well--for those who may not remember that, the “Dad” started the game by saying: “I’m Going to Town to Smoke My Pipe and Won’t Be Back Till Saturday Night”--and apple bobbings. The apples stems were tied to a string and hung from the clothes line. Your hands had to go behind your back as you attempted to grasp the apple between your teeth--which was tied just high enough you had to be on your tippy-toes to do it. I eventually learn to go for the smaller apples! [My first kiss was had at one of those summer parties--out behind the old barn.] Those T-shaped clothes line poles called out to you, ‘run towards me, leap, grab on, swing’--we did--till Mother yelled at us. We’d wait awhile before going back again, but not too long.

Mother ironed everything! All of us girls learned how to iron at a fairly early age--starting with wash cloths and dish towels -- yep, even those. I still sport a scar on my hand from attempting to straighten a corner of a dishtowel while watching and learning how to iron from Felita. Mother had a white plastic bottle (much like the quart milk bottles in the markets today) that had an aluminum top which mother had punched holes in. It was the starch bottle. You had to sprinkle whatever you were ironing with starch first. The bows on the the back of our dresses stood UP. The school teachers often commented on those stiffly starched dresses.

I was well into the second year of school when I wore pants to school for the first time. The kids in my class were shocked. Girls could only wear “pant suits” and the top of the suit had to come down to the fingertips. Mother made a lot of our play clothes and pajamas when we were young. Brightly coloured flour and feed sacks were her main source of fabric. I felt special to wear something mother had made from salvaged goods. I think memories such as these--along with all of the farm life--may have something to do with my tendency towards and my foundation in living green.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Young Uncle and Other Cousins

Uncle John was Daddy’s youngest brother, born 21 years after my Daddy. I was born 20 years after Uncle John and Uncle John’s first child was born 2 days before my sister, Felita. [Okay, now that you’re completely confused and I have it set in my mind...]

My first memory of Uncle John was when he arrived at the farm after a military tour in Germany. His eyes sparkled [he often bragged about having 20/10 vision], there was a pleasant look about his face, he smiled and laughed a lot. I remember thinking he looked really young to be my Daddy’s brother and--Uncle John in uniform--well, I thought he was really something special. This was also my first memory of someone in military uniform.

The first wife and that child that was born two days before Felita were no longer in the picture. Uncle John brought a new aunt and a bushel basket of new playmates to the farm. There were five in the bushel--two boys, the eldest and the youngest, and three girls; they were from Texas. All the girls had long straight hair and the youngest one--well, she did this peculiar thing, she would twist a stand of hair around the base of her thumb, stick that thumb in her mouth and suck on it. I never understood. I asked her about it once, but couldn’t understand what she was saying--with that thumb stuck in her mouth. The youngest son was named Billy--always made me think of that old folk song “Oh, where have you been Billy Boy, Billy Boy...”. I’m sure we even sang it to him at times.

Johnnie, the eldest of the bushel was considered “big enough” to handle the tractors. Uncle Frank and crew would come in from NC and Johnnie and Dink always got to go out on the tractors with the Uncles. I wasn’t allowed. However, I had a secret.

One day I was standing in the cow pasture with my doll, Tickle, pressed up against the fence watching cousin Tommy on a tractor in the cotton field. [Cousin Tommy was eight years older than Uncle John, so he seemed more like an Uncle.] Tommy waved, made a couple passes and then stopped that tractor, came over, lifted me and Tickle across the fence and took us for a ride up and down the rows of cotton. It was our secret. I wasn’t to tell. I didn’t tell secrets like that until I was grown. Then I ‘fessed up to lots of stuff to my parents and my siblings. That was kind of fun, too.

Cousin Tommy was a bit of a wayward soul. He would be around for awhile and then gone again until next time. During my fifth grade year I wanted to sing the opening song for a festival we were having at school. Mother didn’t know the entire song and I needed to learn it. Cousin Tommy happened to be there at that time. The next day when I came home from school he presented me with the sheet music for the song I needed to learn. That made me feel extremely special. I kept tabs on Tommy through the years, and went to visit a few times when he finally settled down in Memphis. One of my sons even had the fortune of spending time with him while in Memphis for a high school basketball camp. I miss Tommy.

Uncle John, Aunt Jo and the whole bushel basket stayed in Mamaw and Papaw’s house while a house for them was being built on the other side of Papaw’s barn in the far east pasture. Very soon thereafter Danny arrived--another son added to the bushel. Uncle John and his Texas family only lived there for about five years before things changed again. Somehow, somewhere along his sojourn Uncle John met my future Aunt Ann. Aunt Jo and the bushel basket went on a trip to Texas and never came back. Tippy Smith, who years earlier had bought the Log Cabin Grocery story from Papaw, also bought that little house.

Soon Uncle John brought Ann to our house for a visit. They held hands all the time and Ann held onto Uncle John’s arm as we walked around the farm. Uncle John took out his pocket knife and carved a heart in the bark of the aged beech-nut tree. [That was a great tree for carving.] Inside the heart he carved..John + Ann. And so it was, though not carved in stone, they soon married, had a son and moved away the following year after Mamaw died. My Uncle John died about eight years later at the young age of 41. I miss him, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Photos on the Blog

To save space and create some continuity, the photos I place within the blog are small images. Clicking on the image will open a new browser window where a larger version, and sometimes a more enhanced version of the photo can be viewed. This does not take you away from the blog, yet allows a closer view of the image in a separate window. On the lower right corner of an Internet Explorer window [I’m not well versed in other browsers.] there is a magnifying glass. Clicking upon the magnifying glass will enlarge the image even more. Just a tip for those of you who want a better view of the images.

Till next post....”May your house be safe from tigers.”

Discovering Lost Islands

On more than one occasion, I heard Daddy tell the story of a lost island in the middle of the Tennessee River. This island, called Knight’s Island, was--of course--the place of his birth. Daddy found a bit of humor in the fact that we thought it quite a tall-tale.

A recounting...Papaw was the foreman for some project on the island. Late in the day on June 2, 1920 a storm was moving in over the island. Papaw worked late into the evening securing the work site. The storm moved in full force before he made it to their little island home. It was then he learned Mamaw was in labor and would give birth during the night. The storm was so severe they could not risk taking the boat out, thus could not make it back to the mainland. Daddy was born in the wee hours of the morning, June 3rd.

Several years ago I sent for a copy of my father’s birth certificate. It could not be found. I was told by other extended family members that my grandfather was a boilermaker during this time and did indeed work on an island near Decatur for a while.

I began my search for the lost “Knight’s Island” to no avail. However, I did discover Browns Island, a very large island--over 1,000 acres--in the Tennessee River. It was located west of Decatur in Lawrence County very near the Morgan County line. This island was inundated in the 1930s when the TVA flooded the shoals during the Wheeler Dam Project. According to old TVA maps there were several homes located there and the island was owned by -- who? -- Jenny W. Knight. Ah-ha!

Yesterday would have been my Dad’s 88th birthday. In memory of Daddy...