A Memory Mix
I’m writing this new post from ‘The Cumberland Plateau’ in Tennessee, looking out across a wooded canyon to the ridge across from my new home. It’s not really so important to anyone but I wanted to try and capture some of the memory mix that holds captive my brain…some bad, some good.
The bad? There was the family fighting, the uncertainty of youth, the times, and the emotions difficult if not impossible to catalog or figure out. It’s likely many of us have experienced a family disconnect and have had the confusion that comes into the young brain. I mention it here because it’s my feeling that a big part of who I turned out to be came from this environment and this time. No doubt, the heredity sides had a lot to do with my youth and with my adulthood…perhaps in some enigmatic but important ways, this heritage fusion kept me more or less sane through the years — of course, a definition of sanity can turn many corners in the mind.
The good? The happy times in the hills of Tennessee came from both sides of my family tree.
On the paternal side, I lived for awhile with my grandparents – Mama and Papa. With kids of their own (my aunts and uncles) they seemed to take no extra burden from me and treated me with much love and kindness. What the memory mostly serves up during this time are little things that meant a lot…
I remember Mama sitting on my little cot of a bed smiling down at me with her beautiful but weathered and wrinkled face, her grayish red hair in a bun, her long flowery workday dress soiled from her labors of the day, reading to me of people and things that made me stay awake long after the lights went out, lost in the thoughts of what I might one day heroically accomplish.
I remember Mama doing her washing outside the clapboard house at a big black vat, a fire underneath keeping the sudsy clothes hot while Mama stirred them with a broom handle stick.
I remember Mama wringing a rooster’s neck until its blood and body went flying through the air, her right hand still holding its head. After retrieving the still moving rooster and it finally stopped its death throes, Mama soaked the rooster in a pot of hot water, until she could more easily pluck the feathers. I didn’t much think so at those particular moments but that chicken sure was tasty when Mama served it up for dinner, fried golden brown, with mashed potatoes and country gravy.
I remember Mama churning her butter in the screened room off the kitchen, her long dress and apron tucked between her legs with the long churn-bowl, looking off toward the rolling hills at some place in her thoughts.
I remember Mama at evening time sitting in her big stuffed chair, slowly tapping her fingers on the chair arm, lost in thought, occasionally reaching for her snuff spittle can on the floor. More than anything I remember a stoic, a warm and wise woman full of love.
I remember Papa leaving for his railroad engine early in the morning with his metal lunch pail full of Mama’s goodies. He hummed as he walked down the old country road and tooted the engine’s whistle as he started around the mountain for another load of lumber for the sawmill.
I remember watching for Papa to come walking down that old country road in the late afternoon, after I had rounded up old Bessie for milking — that old cow could wander far on some days. Papa would grab me as I rushed up the road to greet him, laugh at me and try to whisker me until I begged him stop.
I remember an irritated Papa going to the front door late at night to let his sons in, followed by the sheriff… They had been drinking corn liquor and had been in a fight.
In the fall, Papa would send me into the hills to gather leaves in gunny sacks for the hogs to wallow in. In the spring Papa would have me hoeing corn, row after endless row – I didn’t like that too much and never lasted too long.
Papa would let me ride Fred, the old mule – once or twice he would whack old Fred on the backside and make him bolt. Papa had the tether line so Fred didn’t take me too far, but I do remember being frightened – and Papa laughing.
I remember Papa whittling in the evening the pieces of wood for starting the pot belly stove on a wintry morning.
Well, you see what I mean by a memory mix… Writing this post, looking out through the trees, so very much comes back to me. When my Dad came and gave me the choice of a pony if I stayed with my Mama and Papa or going to live with my Mom, I chose my Mom. I loved Mama and Papa so very much but I wanted to be with my Mom… I missed her very much.
Now, I could tell you about all the good family weekends of aunts and uncles, of watermelons and home-made vanilla ice cream at my maternal grandparents railroad station master house, how much I loved being with my Saintly grandfather, my grandmother, my Uncle Stanley, my Aunt Bessie (yep, same name as the cow on the paternal side), but I’ll save that for another time. Suffice it, my maternal grandparents were wonderful and also full of love for me — my sister lived with them during the time I lived with Mama and Papa… It was the economic times of those days that made for the family disconnect.
So here I sit, back in the state of my youth, feeling mostly good about my return to these lovely hills. As I have said on another occasion or two, maybe I’ll find some pieces of me that will help solve my own life’s puzzle.
For those of you who might be interested I’ve written a couple of memoirs that pretty much tell my story – plus eight more books of mystery, suspense, and romance. You can find them all at: http://www.goo.gl/fuxUA
You can also follow me on Twitter (@brchitwood)
My main website/blog: http://billyraychitwood.weebly.com
A short bio sketch: http://www.about.me/brchitwood
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