Sunday, May 17, 2015


   This year I'll turn 55, if God so wills me to be here in a couple of months. I sat outside, under the Gazebo that is covered in Grape Vines, and looked around at what remained and what had not. More than that though was who was and was not. Some of my kids have kids now, and some not yet but will one day perhaps have a few. How did I become the old man that the kids thought was out of date and ignorant to the ways of the world? Why I was young I was radical and considered "cool", I remember a teacher calling me a Muckraker. I considered that a compliment when she told me the definition. So what happened, is that something that with time wears away?  I wasn't a bad looking guy either, built fairly well and strong as an Ox. Probably not much smarter than one either.

  From my vantage point I could see the little block Milk Parlor we had built after bad guys burnt down the massive Milk Barn. I also remember their first attempt and for one, he would never get to attempt it again. I could almost hear us working on it, not so much the outside of it, they hired that done, but the inside and the steps. I took pride in making sure each block was laid with care, ever so confident that it could withstand anything, and so it did. When the big Milk Barn was destroyed, all that remained was the block inside I had laid. I could almost see me, Gerald, and Mark at the Milk Barn. To the right of that a hill stands tall where once there were three old cars, not worth much back then but they would be worth a lot these days. Me and Joe decided one day we were bored so we played with the old cars, none of them run. We ended up breaking out all the windows with rocks, which actually was fun for a while. Right up until we got caught, then came Hickory Switch time. The red whelks they left behind on the legs lasted a few days, slightly tender to the touch, reminding us not to do that again.

  To the left was two other barns, one big and one a good size but smaller and with a hay loft. I remember being too small to lift a bale of hay so I drug it over to the hole and attempted to release it. The key word was attempted. My fingers stuck in the strings, it was a good tight bale, and down both it and I went. That earned me another trip to the doctor, Doctor Allen, who laughed as he sewed my forehead up and told me not to hold on the next time. I think that was stitches number two in that spot, the first was a wooden step years before. The big barn was a Tobacco Barn, and I don't remember how many runs we could put, but it was a lot. I remembered the cold, damp, air, a small Pot Bellied Stove sometimes giving a little heat, as Annie, Papa, Gerald, and Edna graded and hand tied each bundle. Me, Joe, and Mark were too young to tie, Annie had standards of what she liked. We would bring the graded Tobacco over to each area and place it for them to select and tie. A few bales of hay with Tobacco Sticks stuck in the hay, making dividers for us to place each grade. As memory serves me there were seven grades, but I could be wrong. Those barns has since fallen and not even remnants remain now.

   Looking in the field just a ways down I remembered me and Joe "hunting", which meant we shot anything that moved. The shotguns were bigger than we were, but we usually hit what we shot at. One day we spooked a covey of Quail. They sounded like a dozen Helicopters taking off, scared us to death and we both shot out of being alarmed. We missed but almost hit a milk cow. Can we say Hickory Switch time again, since we scared the old cow and she didn't give milk for a few days. Me and Joe were connoisseurs of the Hickory Switch. It didn't kill us, make us scared, or have a lasting effect, but it did teach us there are consequences for our actions, ones you really don't want. We were never whipped while they were angry, nor abusive. I have to say, we earned each and every one, and then some.

  The stories kept on coming, I've been here all my life. Now there remains only me and Mark of the ones I've mentioned. For a moment I felt a load of sadness, a lost feeling, depression. I remembered the last time I saw Papa. He and Annie were sitting on the porch reading the newspaper. They had a program that year where the poor kids could work for the city and me and BB, another cousin, had gotten a job that year. I could see the house where they lived, and me as well when mom and dad worked. Seven people plus farm hands in a four room house that was probably about 700 square feet. Papa had a heart attack that day and when I returned from work, he was gone. Two days after my 15th birthday in 1975. Joe was murdered in 1983 and that same year Annie died from her cancer. Later on Gerald died from pneumonia, and few years later Edna's cancer returned and she died. Beside Annie and Papa's house is mom and dad's house. They were actually my biological grandparents. Dad died about five years ago of multiple complications and mom died of cancer about a year ago. Between our houses is a barn. I have no idea who built the old small part but I remember helping Gerald, dad, and some guys build the bigger part in 1971. I remember me and Keith (Jim), BB's brother who lived with us for a while. BB and Keith are still alive but we all have other things going I guess. Down here though only me and Mark of the original crew. To just write about it in short form is easy, to remember spoon feeding Edna or Annie, watching them relearn walking and talking, or go from blind to sight. Dad wanting to come home, which never happened. Mom wanting to die at home like Edna and Annie, and Papa did... we made that happen. I promised her I would get her walking again. I failed at that, mom would never again set up let alone walk.

  Then I thought a strange thought. A sense of a life well filled and satisfied and joy came about me. A tear in my eye slowly left and a smile replaced it. I have these wonderful memories, and a lot more. I chased a dream, a false dream, of having a lot materially. Now, middle aged, thin hair and thick belly, my health is gone. I have never been rich or wealthy, but I was comfortable. UPS paid us well. I had bought toys upon toys, but sitting there, they mean nothing. To sit there and look out, even though the land has changed some, and have those memories... that is what life is about. We look for miracles and yet we fail to see the miracles that happen every single day. No walking through flames or moving mountains, but living with people you love and who love you. Did me and dad need to build all this stuff, did Gerald? It wasn't the having that is of immense value but the experience and sharing of time and teaching talents. God could have given those moments to anybody, yet He allowed me to have them. When one day we leave this place, that is what we get to take with us, the love, joy, and all the good things that can never be bought or sold, held or touched. I had to become an old man to see this.

  So take some advice not from me but from those of old. Never let the sun go down on you mad. Make peace rather that look for it. Anybody can take, so learn to give. Lead and teach and if necessary, use words. Be what you want to see. Be thankful for the smaller things, for a mountain is made from many small mounds, a beach from many grains of sand. Never see a person go hungry. Don't depend on treasures here, make treasures for after here. Strong hands do not point to the fallen, they reach out to help the fallen get back up.             

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