Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Across the Cotton Patch [CCR]

Growing up around my extended family was extremely nice. It was an advantage that my children don’t have today and probably causes them to miss some valuable lessons. Each member of the entire family influences a child’s future. In my case I was extremely influenced by my grandparents. My Granddaddy Smith, who most people knew as Jack, always had time for me.

My Grandmother and Granddaddy Smith lived just a short distance across the cotton patch. Between our house and their house was a worn path that we walked regularly. Today it is just a short walk, but as a small child it seemed a great distance. About halfway along the path two huge cedar trees grew and separated the cotton patch from Granddaddy’s strawberry patch. Each year that little patch of land behind the trees grew a fairly good crop of strawberries that didn’t require much care. Mom and Dad gave me a go-kart when I was in elementary school and I wore a race track through that patch. I could stop anytime and eat my fill of berries, but that is another story for another day.

One of the great advantages of our situation was the hollering distance across that patch. The distance was just about right for Grandaddy to call me. I can still remember Granddaddy yelling, “Hey Mark!” He might have to yell a couple of times, but I would look up and see him waving. He didn’t have to say much because I often knew what he wanted. He either needed to talk, or more likely he and Grandmother were headed to town. Going to town usually meant going to Tuscumbia or Iuka. I made many trips to town with them. I never really bought anything and all I remember is always enjoying the trip.

One of my best memories of that famous yell led me to look across the pasture and not see Granddaddy anywhere in sight. I could hear his voice but I just couldn’t see where he was at. I had just stepped out into the back yard so I knew he had to notice me and should be in sight. And then I saw him. Granddaddy was straddled across the top of his chimney. It seems he had climbed a ladder to the roof of the house and then used a ladder to complete his climb to the chimney. But the second ladder fell over and now Granddaddy was perched on the chimney like a bird.

Granddaddy had spent some time up there on that chimney yelling to Grandmother for help. But I suspect her work in the kitchen or discussion on the telephone overtook his cry for help. So in a moment of luck I happened into the yard and Granddaddy caught sight of me. I ran along the path and got to the chimney quickly. Granddaddy suggested I call for help, but I climbed the first ladder and repositioned the second ladder so he could climb down. I guess that calibrated hollering distance saved the day.

Today I travel home to Mom and Dad’s house and glance up to Granddaddy’s old house. The cedar trees are gone, cut by a farmer who rents the field from my uncle. The old strawberry patch has become part of the plowed field. Granddaddy’s house still stands with a familiar look but is somewhat worn by time. I can look across that field and I can still see my Granddaddy waving his hand and giving that all too familiar yell. I want to run up the path and meet him, but Dad has replaced the gate with a closed fence.

One day I know Granddaddy and I will meet again. I will once again hear that yell of my name. I want to ask him how he was able to keep those strawberries growing without much care. And then maybe he and I will share a memory of those trips to town or even a laugh about the day the ladder fell.