“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
The time and place of my birth and early life seems alien today…the middle of the Twentieth Century in a Southern, rural, farming community. There is little resemblance of my childhood world to the modern one. A Baby Boomer, I might have grown up in a foreign country…or another planet. I did grow up in a different century. It is certainly not your world, my grandchildren, my loves.
I feel the need to tell stories. Hopefully you will recognize the language, hopefully you will learn that your roots run deep.
The hands of the clock moved slower then…there had to be more than twenty-four hours in the day. Not because we were bored but because it seemed we did so much in the time that we had. Days so rich and so filled, there had to be more minutes in the day than the 1440 we have now.
In the time of my youth, cotton was still king with cotton gins and textile mills running at full capacity. Pulp wooders were still stripping the hills of pine trees to feed the hungry paper mill just across the river from my home. John Deere tractors pulled disc harrows or hay bailers toward the river bottoms. There were more cows than people, when “backyards” included vast pastures and mixed forests. There were no traffic lights and few stop signs.
Dark-skinned truck drivers were still carrying huge loads of red clay past our house to Ashe Brick Company in distant Van Wyck. Distant…which was just down the road a piece but might as well have been on a different continent.
Little white boys with crew cuts and flattops standing out in their yard giving the black truckers a universal sign of pumping fists they smilingly returned by blasting us with their air horns. They seemed to never tire of it, I know we didn’t. Huge grins blindingly white against dark complexions.
My little brother playing in a sandy ditch using his voice to mock the trucks as they shifted through their gears, pushing his Tonka Toy Truck as he did. My parents worried he would destroy his vocal cords if he didn’t quit. I might have wished that he had…but just a time or two.
Sitting under a huge pecan tree on a hill above a two lane blacktop, watching the sparse traffic and being able to recognize the cars of friends, family, and acquaintances, some by their distant sound. There was always a stir when a new model cruised by. Knowing who the occupants were just by the cars they drove. Everyone waved and smiled. It truly was a different era.
It was a different time because my family was still intact, and the place of my youth still existed. Family and place are important. Two hilltops and two ‘hollers’ filled with extended families. Grandparents and Great Grandparents, uncles and aunts, all making sure we always toed the line. The old Nigerian proverb ‘Oran a azu nwa’, “it takes a community or village to raise a child,” certainly was true.
Cousins to play with even though I was between generations. Younger than one generation and older than another, I sat dead in the middle, alone. It didn’t matter. My closest friends of the same age were just across the road or just up the road apiece, all within walking distance. I am amazed at how long an hour of playtime was during those days.
Forays through our mixed forest into the piney woods across the “crick “ to the Morris’ home or across the road, walking past the scary kudzu shrouded ravine to the Jackson’s. An active imagination wondered what might be lurking there. What animal or monster, or if the kudzu might reach out and kidnap me. An unofficial club house in a privet shrouded share cropper’s home that sat abandoned next to my house.
If we had a penny we might trek to Pettus’ or Yarbrough’s store for a small Sugar Daddy or BB Bat. “You be careful crossing that road, now, Stop, look, and listen.” Traffic was sparse but our parents still worried.
There were few families in my little world I wasn’t related to. If the last name was Griffin, Pettus, Perry, Rodgers or Wilson, our family trees probably merged at some point…sometimes becoming quite tangled or maybe without limbs at all. An aunt on one side of the family was also an aunt on the other side of the family, and also my third grade teacher. I need to ask questions because I don’t exactly remember how that came to be. The last name, Miller, was a rare one but then my Dad was a transplant from Fort Mill, thirteen miles away.
Playing football or baseball in the stubble of harvested hay, or corn, or cotton in the field across the road. At least we didn’t have to worry about avoiding cow patties, but we never learned to hook or popup slide, either.
Corn cob fights around the corn crib and barn where we did worry about cow patties. The forts and tree house we built on a bluff above a stream that led to the distant Catawba until cut by one of Bowers’ lakes…not so distant after all. Playing war in the eroded red clay banks between the cotton and corn fields. Our parents threatening to tan our hides because of the ruined clothes, once white tee shirts forever stained by the red clay.
Walking or riding my bike down the dusty “river road” to Bowers’ ponds teaming with blue gills, largemouth, and the occasional catfish. On to the river that seemed so distant then…probably no more than two or three miles away today. Could it have moved closer?
I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions. “What was it like during the depression?” “What did it feel like to see your first car?” “What was it like to work on the railroad.” “How did you make your biscuits so moist on the inside and buttery crisp on the outside.” Hopefully these stories will answer some of your questions after my soul joins “The parade of souls marching across the sky.”
I’m going to tell stories that will be alien to you. I hope you will take the time to read them sometime. Hopefully, they will be educational. Hopefully, you will want to read them. Maybe you should read them to your mother and father, too. Some will be humorous, some painful, some will just be. All will be written with love.
An introduction to Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren, a work in progress.
Quote from Goodreads.
Image produced by Canva
Quote “The parade of souls marching across the sky.” from the song Wheel Inside a Wheel by Mary Gauthier.