Down here in the south, May is traditionally the month in which, “decoration day” is observed. It all got started after the Civil War. There were so many confederate soldiers buried that their families began meeting annually to maintain the grave sites and cemeteries. Eventually, the commemoration evolved into to what we now recognize nationally as Memorial Day.
Pop said that when he was little, they would gather at Crane Hill where the men would trim around headstones and spruce up the plots while the women were busy spreading out food for “dinner (lunch for you non-southerners) on the grounds”. After a brief service in the chapel, everyone would enjoy a fine meal, say their good byes and head back to their sometimes distant homes.
I sit and watch Pop write a lot and I don’t think he minds. I suppose, bein’ May and all, he’s been thinkin’ about those times because he wrote a little about his family heritage. Here’s some of the story . . .
My father and his father were Jacks of all trades. Grandpa was a carpenter, blacksmith and farmer. He doctored his own animals when they needed care and was pretty much self sufficient. He built his own house, grew his own food and raised his children in the admonition of the Lord.
When I was a child and had needed stitches in my ankle, at the appointed time for removal, Grandpa did the honors with a sterilized pocket knife (extra sharpened & dipped in “alkiehol”) and the massive fingers of his bear-like paws. I sobbed in anticipation of what I feared would be excruciating pain but, in reality, it didn’t hurt a bit.
I squirrel & rabbit hunted with him and later with my dad where I learned that sitting still and being quiet in the woods was not only therapeutic but also provided the stealth necessary to be a successful hunter. During my childhood, whitetail deer and wild turkey were all but wiped out in our part of Alabama. The depression had been particularly cruel to rural residents and they subsisted on whatever they could, including big blocks of commodity cheese (similar to Velveeta) and tins of peanut butter for those of us on government assistance. There were dry goods, too, like beans and rice. Prior to that, my grandparents raised a few cattle when I was little (the outhouse days when running water was limited to the kitchen sink) and some commercial chickens. There was always a field of corn , harvested by mule drawn wagon (later by tractor) and mainly used to feed the livestock. Once grandpa got that tractor, he was in the fields from sun up until sun down with only an occasional break for lunch. They kept a good sized garden, too, with enough pole beans, okra, “maters” and various other vegetables to enable enough canning to last for months. We caught all manner of fish from lakes, ponds and creeks. I probably spent more time chasing “minners” and crawdads and tadpoles than fishing in the creek.
I suppose I’ve eaten chicken in more ways than Bubba ever described ways to prepare shrimp to Forrest Gump. My favorite (and Dad’s) was Grandma’s chicken and dumplin’s. She made a mean nanner puddin’, too.
Grandma was almost always cheery and sang fa-so-la songs (with no words) or gospel tunes while she cooked or washed clothes in a galvanized tub (later a wringer style washer) and hung them on a clothes line to dry. I tried to help during the labor intensive job of cleaning the gallon-sized watering jugs (also washed in that same galvanized tub) collected periodically from the 3 large chicken houses that kept thousands of poults. As the jugs occasionally slipped from Grandma’s hands in the soapy water and she cut herself, I was afraid that I would lose my hands in the bubbles, too, and draw back a bleeding finger. She would tear off a strip of cloth to cover her wound and keep right on washing. It had to be done or the chickens would get sick from bacteria in the water and those jugs couldn’t wash themselves. On really hot days she wore a bonnet reminiscent of the times of the pioneers and I hardly ever saw her without an apron. I do not recall ever seeing her wear any jewelry.
On the rare occasion she was sad and quiet, I’d ask her what was wrong and she’d say “Oh honey, I’ve just got the blues.”
Grandpa’s wardrobe consisted primarily of boots and overalls. He didn’t smile as often or freely as Grandma but when he belly laughed over catching a nice fish, he almost always ended with his catch phrase, a loud “hey ho”. He dipped Red Top snuff and chewed tobacco cut from a plug or a twist. It seemed nastier to me than chewing tobacco from a pouch and there was sometimes a trickle of stain near the corner of his mouth on his tough, sandpaper-like beard. He was a hard man; not demonstrably affectionate like Grandma, even to children. His tolerance for nonsense was short-lived and I understand now that he exuded the toughness of a combat hardened Marine who had killed men and seen his comrades die in the most grotesque of fashions. As a private, he had earned the nation’s second highest honor for valor and bravery, the Navy Cross. It is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.
He came from a family of 3 brothers and 7 sisters. Grandma had 3 sisters and 2 brothers. Together they had 6 children, 4 boys and 2 girls. My dad was the eldest.
Dad seldom called a plumber or mechanic for repairs. He had a tool box that contained just about everything necessary to fix anything and the knowledge and expertise to do it. I was usually the designated holder of the light that allowed him to work in dark, small spaces under the hood or under the sink. When his paws (no doubt inherited from his father) were too large to fit into a tight spot, I was called upon to insert a tool or twist something as finger tight as I could. Otherwise, I fetched tools for him as needed. That responsibility normally ended once he had asked multiple times for a specific item that I either couldn’t find or identify. He was trying to impart his knowledge to me the same way Grandpa had taught him and some of it stuck – some of it didn’t.
They were both Masons, too; something I didn’t gain a complete understanding of until, as an adult myself, while regaling a dear friend about their teachings I was asked, “Why aren’t you a Mason?”. That was rectified shortly thereafter.
Grandma and Grandpa both died in their sixties – one of cancer and the other of heart disease. Dad didn’t live even that long. He was 57 when he died in his bed at home during a midday nap. Like Grandpa, he had coronary problems and succumbed to the stress of trying to stabilize his trucking business. Essentially, he worked himself to death.
I’ve tried, although not as diligently, to pass on the wealth of knowledge I inherited from those folks to my sons, in particular. Although I’ve probably been most successful at teaching outdoor and wilderness survival skills to my Boy Scouts, I hope that (like me) at least some of what I’ve attempted to impart to Charlie and Logan stuck. They learned to tie lots of useful knots, whip or fuse a rope, navigate using a map & compass, identify flora, fauna and celestial bodies and handle almost any basic first aid need. They could probably even save a life. Mostly, though, I like to think they learned to be good citizens, husbands and fathers as Godly men.
Except for maybe changing the oil or spark plugs in your car, automobile maintenance is much more complex in the computer controlled age and only time will tell if Logan can fix a leaking toilet or re-wire a circuit. He knows it’s important to measure twice to saw once and that every gun is always loaded. He’s a damn good shot and can skin a deer or breast a turkey and he knows how to clean a fish. I have been remiss on not teaching him how to grow a garden, though. There’s still time for that . . . I hope.