Just Swinging

 

April 22 2011 026 edit_edited-1
Sauer Beckmann Farm, Stonewall Texas

This is a peaceful scene, isn’t it? My eyes are always drawn to a porch swing and, if possible, I allow myself a few minutes to sit and swing. Lazily swinging back and forth always brings back a treasured memory for me….

One of my grandmother’s older sisters lived across Highway 9 from my grandparents. Every afternoon, at the appropriate time, my grandmother would walk me across the road for a visit with Aunt Tient (pronounced like pint, only with a “t”).  She and her husband, Uncle Hayden, doted on me just as they had doted on my mother. They were childless with a lot of love to spare.

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Aunt Tient and my mother, late 1940’s 

When my mother was growing up Aunt Tient and Uncle Hayden lived in Greenwood. My mother spent many hours with them with each visit being announced in the Webster County Times newspaper according to the custom of the day.  Uncle Hayden was a night police man, so he slept during the day.  Mama described Aunt Tient “tiptoeing” around during the day so he could sleep.  She was also one of the few women at that time who knew how to drive; I suspect that Uncle Hayden had taught her so she would be able to drive herself as needed. In turn she taught my mother to drive and to drive very well! Uncle Hayden loved my mother dearly, but I was always scared of him.  He had scratchy whiskers and smelled unpleasantly of chewing tobacco, plus his policeman-like demeanor made him a little gruff.  He worked odd jobs as a painter and was usually gone while I visited.  When he was there he watched television with the volume turned way up as he was hard-of-hearing.  Sometime prior to my arrival they had bought and moved into their converted duplex conveniently across the highway.

My days followed a continual pattern.  Pick and work in the garden in the morning, hang wash on the line, and begin preparations for the mid-day meal (dinner to us).  After the lunch dishes were washed and put away it was rest time.  My grandmother had been up since very early, cooked 2 meals and worked steadily in the rising heat. After resting we would turn to working on processing vegetables from the morning garden pick.  I would wait impatiently for the appointed time to call Aunt Tient to arrange my visit and then off I went.

The first order of business after my grandmother left was to have a cold Coca-Cola.  A daily Coca-Cola was forbidden in my world; my mother thought that one a week was all that a person should have.  Truth be known I suspect that she drank one every day during her visits to Aunt Tient’s! Sometimes we would be a little decadent and add a scoop of the very best ice cream in the world and have a Coke float. As we sipped our drinks she would sometimes tell me stories like the one about the day that the banks closed and people had no money.  She and her husband had $14 in cash, so they were okay until the banks re-opened.  Only many years later would I understand. I remember these times at her table as being serious talks.

After that enjoyable repast we would sometimes gather eggs from her hens, which I dearly loved helping with. Aunt Tient was terrified of snakes and always made a big issue of watching for them while we gathered the beautiful brown eggs into a basket.  To this day I pay extra for brown eggs at the grocery store just to honor her hen house.

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We might also finish up a little cooking project from earlier in the day.  Living in a duplex afforded her the luxury of a cooking kitchen on one side of the house and a cooler kitchen in which to serve and eat a meal.  Jelly and jam was her speciality and I remember watching her pull the little glass jars out of the boiling water. I’m sure that like my grandmother she was also canning and freezing vegetables from her garden to be used during the coming winter months. The kitchen was very old and very hot, so I was always glad when she finished.

Then it was time to head out to the cool side porch and swing in the porch swing.  It was painted a dark green and there was always a cool breeze to be enjoyed.  While we swang back and forth she would delight me with funny stories from her and my grandmother’s youth.  She was quite a story teller and made me laugh and giggle with each tale; sometimes I would beg her to tell a particular story that I loved and she always complied.  Like my grandmother she also had boxes of pictures that she would entertain me with.  As she identified each picture she always had a story to go with it, too. Those hours in that porch swing left a lasting impression on me of good times enjoyed with family and the value of a porch swing. She also had a checkers set and delighted in telling me to “king” her!

Several times she produced a box similar in size to a blanket box and a Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog. She would help me cut out pictures and attach them to the box.  I don’t remember if we used tape or glue, but that box was turned into a beautiful home or so I thought.  I suspect that both of us were very silly in our decorating.

All too quickly my grandmother would cross the road to retrieve me before beginning the evening meal (supper) preparation.  She would usually chat for a few minutes with her sister before we left.  I was always reluctant to leave, but knew that the next day would mean another visit with Aunt Tient in the porch swing.

Memories well created last a life time.

Postcards, photographs, and memorabilia

I entertained myself on many hot summer afternoons with the contents of two boxes that were stored in the bottom of the pie safe that my grandmother referred to as a china cabinet. I never tired of looking through the picture postcards, photographs, and a few letters and other keepsakes that they contained.

The noon meal, referred to as dinner, was just as full as the morning and evening meals with meat, vegetables, and some type of bread.  Of course, sweet tea was the only beverage ever considered.  After the meal was over my grandfather would head back into town and Mamaw and I would wash the dishes.  She would wash and I would rinse and then we would both dry and put everything away.  She would then busy herself with finishing up any kitchen chores or beginning preparing for any afternoon blanching and freezing of the morning garden pick.

I would be on my own until she was ready to lie down on her bed and rest while we played endless games of Old Maid .  During this interval I would often pull out the boxes and immerse myself in their contents.  From summer to summer the contents would grow and I would look forward to the new additions as a way of catching up on any news I had missed during the past year.

It was also a way for me to learn about my extended family.  Who is this I would ask and Mamaw would begin to tell me names, family relationship, where they lived and share any other story that she thought would entertain me. Many of these people I would never meet, but through their cards and pictures I would know who they were and when their names were mentioned I would immediately be able to place then in the proper relationship category.

I still love to look at postcards and pictures from the past and delight in the handwritten notes and letters from years gone by. Sadly, in our digital age, we have moved away from hand written correspondence and saving pictures and other memorabilia.  How will today’s children connect to their family and understand the relationships? It does concern me!

I am undertaking a project to create a book for my family members that features family history and pictures. I may even do two books for my children – one for my side of the family and one of their father’s side.  I am not in a hurry with this as I want it to be complete and easy to read and follow.  Who knows, I may even share some of the stories here on this blog…

Going back

“It is not that I belong to the past, but the past that belongs to me.” ~Mary Antin

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Summer visits to see Grandparents always included trips to cemeteries where family members were buried.  This ritual may seem strange to some, but for us it is perfectly normal.  As Southerners we are firmly rooted in the past and the lives of those who came before us.  Although the relatives are long dead their history is infused with our current lives.  To know the past gives us the understanding of who we are and our purpose in life.

Recently I made my way to the Milligan Springs Baptist Church located a few miles north of Highway 82 between Stewart and Winona, MS.  I arrived thankful that Google Maps on my phone knew where I was and where I wanted to be.  I had double checked the map before I left the hotel and knew if I came into Stewart I had gone too far.  Sure enough I did and had to re-group.  The car GPS wasn’t able to pick up the small country cross roads, so the phone saved me.  After I found the turn off for Milligan Springs I realized why I had missed it – it was marked by an average size street sign that wasn’t visible across the median of a four-lane highway.

I was also thankful that the road is now paved at least as far as the church.  As a child I remember that the turn off wasn’t marked.  My grandparents just knew where to turn off the main highway (which in that day was still a dangerous two-lane highway). In later years I remembered a hand painted sign surrounded by kudzu that heralded the turn for Milligan Springs.  Today there is a sign, albeit small, and a paved road.

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Many of my grandmother’s family are buried here and after so many trips I had thought I would walk right to every grave.  Wrong! As I entered the gate I was surprised at how big the cemetery is and realized I had no idea where to look.  When I spotted several recent graves I realized that they are still burying people there today and that accounted for the larger than remembered size.  Sadly, I was to recognize names I knew on the newer graves.

The afternoon was warm and I had no hat and even though it seemed like a hopeless search I had the idea to walk to the back and along the way began to get my bearings.  I found the graves I was looking for and then remembered that I had not brought any flowers.  I made pictures and lamented the weathering of several headstones that made them almost unreadable.

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As a child I had asked my grandmother about these rocks dotted throughout the cemetery.  She explained that people were buried there long ago, but no one remembered who they were. The lost identities always fascinated me and I would wonder who they were and all the usual questions that run through my mind. I’m sure that these rocks were larger when I was younger and wondered if someday they will disappear.

I would have liked to linger for a while, but the only shade was under some trees next to the church and I knew better than to walk across the grass only wearing shorts (there’s nasty little chiggers in there). As I got back in the car I remembered that this was my grandmother’s church growing up.  This is where she found her Savior and grew up as a God fearing woman.  She left in the 1920’s to teach school in Webster County and married my grandfather there in 1925.  Although I asked her many questions about her life I never thought to ask her about this little church.  I do remember on one visit that after we left the cemetery she directed whoever was driving down one of the little roads and showed us where her childhood home had been.  The only thing I remember was that it was as you came around a curve in the gravel road.

There was no one around that afternoon so I had the solitude to myself.  I wondered if they still hold services regularly. The church and cemetery grounds are immaculate, well cared for and showing signs that people care about this place which made me feel good.  Just like the annual summer visits long ago I knew that I had done well that afternoon to visit again and pay respects to those who have lived before me.