Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gone Fishing [CCR]

The carbide light is a true miracle. Most record books credit it for its contribution to mining and spelunking. But few people give the carbide light credit for its contribution to coon hunting and fishing trips. Dad’s carbide light accompanied us on many fishing trips to the various fishing holes located around Colbert County. That light gave off a low but constant glow that provided all the light one needed while hiding under a bridge in a light rainfall. Most people know catfish bite best when a light rain sets in after a long hot day.

After Dad got home from work we went to the green house to get our cane poles and a shovel to dig bait. Now you may be wondering why we would keep fishing items in our green house. Note that I wrote “green house” and not “greenhouse”. After Mom and Dad built our house they built a rather large shed behind the house. They painted the shed green and thus it inherited the infamous logo. Today it is painted barn red, but it is still the green house.

We took the shovel down to the lower pasture to find the perfect place to dig. Cool and damp dirt meant finding the perfect worms for the trip. We could run around the pasture to catch grasshoppers or turn over logs for grub worms, but our earth worms were best. And if we didn’t have enough cane poles Dad always knew a spot along the creek or along our way to the fishing hole where we could find the best cane.

After catching our bait Dad would grab his tackle box and we climbed into the old 1951 Chevy that took us on many adventures in my childhood. Mom would bring some sandwiches out with a jug of tea for our supper. If were lucky we had Vienna sausages or potted meat and crackers. And we might even find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

By the time we reached the fishing hole it might be just around dusk. We often parked near a bridge. It might be Rock Creek, Mulberry Creek, Bear Creek, or Buzzard Roost, but Dad always had a hole spied for our evening’s adventure. After parking Dad would pull out the carbide light, start the water drip, and strike the flame so we could see our way down to the creek. We made our way around the side of the bridge and down to the bank where Dad would often warn us of getting too close. I don’t ever remember the bank caving in on us, but Dad told us stories that made us know to keep our distance.

Down at the bank of the creek we anxiously waited for Dad to help us get our hooks ready. While Dad unraveled the line on our poles we dug through the bucket to find the choice worm for our catch. Once the hooks were baited we sat holding the pole waiting for the float to jiggle. Dad knew our short patience so he always put a float on our line. Eventually we pried the pole in the mud to hold it. Some time after the sun set the rain would start.

We hid under the bridge and watched our floats dance in the light of the carbide lantern while traffic intermittently clattered across the bridge above. Once the rain started the poles would begin dancing. And as we admired our catch, Dad would place the fish on the stringer. Sometimes as a young child our attention span grew short and we might not be alert to the job. That didn’t stop Dad. He would run from pole to pole as he gathered our catch.

As the night’s adventure came to a close we gathered the poles and rolled up the lines. Dad gave me the stringer of fish and we trotted up the hill to the truck. Along the trip home we reminisced of the fun we had and anticipated the fish dinner to come. After getting home Dad headed out to the green house and patiently cleaned the fish while I either helped or, most often, watched. The cats found a feast from where Dad threw the leftovers into the pasture and we headed into the house, readied for bed, and dreamed of the tomorrow’s anticipated fish fry.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Telephone

It seems we always hear “back in the old days” from anybody who has any age advantage on the listener. Well, I think the saying actually has a lot of meaning. For example, back when I was a teenager or even in college it was rare that a girl pursued a guy in some aggressive sense. Trust me, the world has changed.

For my younger years use of the telephone was not really a consideration since we were on a party line. Most of our younger adults have never dealt with a party line. In fact most young adults do not know a world without compact discs or mobile telephones. But many of you also remember when there were only a handful of telephones in town or even none at all. If my count was right we had as many as eight households on our party line. You pick up and hear a conversation so you hang up and wait. There was no “busy light” other than the senses of your ear. Fortunately somewhere back in my preteens the telephone system in Cherokee took a change and private lines became reality.

I do remember getting one telephone call that was real interesting. The person calling did not understand my tolerance to the risk he imposed was low. My Dad was sound asleep when the telephone rang. The person politely asked for Dad and I politely told them Dad was asleep. They told me that I should wake my Dad since he was needed at work. My best judgment concluded it was not possible for their need to be greater than the risk I would undertake so I denied their request. While I am not sure what really would have happened had I woke Dad, I must have chosen correctly because my backside didn’t suffer. But I remember the other person wasn’t happy. So most of my youthful telephone experiences could be labeled boring at best.

Last night the telephone rang after nine in the evening. A girl was looking for my youngest son. Now it seems to me the telephone rang all day with girls looking for my two boys. When did the roles get reversed? I thought I had fixed the telephone problem. Not long ago I installed a fancy computer network in the house. My telephone service comes from the Internet and I have an Atlanta telephone number. I do not have an Ohio telephone number and hoped long distance calls would help deter the problem. Nope. The telephone still rings quite regularly.

I’m not sure how many of you fine folks have met my daughter, but my wife and I got exactly what we prayed for in our little girl. An independent who is willing to stand up for herself. I didn’t have to answer the telephone for that call last night. My daughter ran to the telephone, picked it up, and provided some entertaining dialogue. “I’m sorry, he is not able to come to the phone right now. You shouldn’t be calling at this hour. You have gotten us all in trouble.” Here is where I look up from my computer with interest since I wasn’t involved yet. “Look, you should never call at this time of the night and don’t call back.” Then, without waiting for a reply, my daughter disconnects the call.

Now comes the part that really proves my theory. My daughter takes the telephone, which happens to be cordless, to her bedroom and quietly shuts the door. In a moment I notice the flashing lights on the concoction of equipment that connects my home telephone system to the Internet. I quietly set my laptop computer to the side, walk over to my equipment, and pull a wire. The lights stop blinking. I simply wait a moment and my daughter appears from her bedroom with a confused look. Things are never what they seem but it is comforting to know that when the world does change, it changes consistently. There is a very happy ending. I am now officially initiated into the “old fashioned club” with honor.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Treasure Lost [CCR]

Someone told me something yesterday that has me really worried. They told me I had lost something that is very special to me. I have kept it with me since I was a young boy and it has been my constant reminder of home. It has been with me from the Boston Harbor to the San Diego coastline. It even traveled with me overseas. So now I am checking to make sure I haven’t actually lost it. It was the one definitive possession of my Alabama heritage.

Most people I meet find that I am proud to be from Colbert County. I take my portable disk drive of pictures with me wherever I go. I share photos from home and talk about the many adventures I had growing up. I have scanned many of my pictures and I am now seeking the best method for scanning my slides so I have a digital copy of my other vast collection of home.

As I show the pictures the discussion turns to the many fishing trips on the Tennessee or Bear Creek. People are amazed to see the pictures I have taken on the Riverton Rose Trail of the river and creek banks. Most cannot believe what they see. I show them pictures of Wilson Dam, the locks, and boats that slowly but surely push their cargo up and down the big river. We then turn to history and talk about the importance of the river and our area in almost every phase of our country’s development. In my travels I meet Civil War buffs who do know our area and enjoy hearing what I have learned from my Mother’s book research. For example, almost every political leader throughout history knew whoever controls the Tennessee controls the South.

A lot of people are really interested in our musical heritage and many know the important roll Muscle Shoals plays in the history of modern music. They walk into my office to hear me playing Sweet Home Alabama and see my computer wallpaper of Wilson Dam. Then I must spend time discussing our musical legacy and explaining our best kept secret, the Swampers. I then pull out the pictures of the old city limit signs declaring Muscle Shoals the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.” I tell them how we celebrate W. C. Handy and others who put us in the middle of entertainment history.

Others often hear where I am from and we talk about Helen Keller and how she brought the world’s attention to one girl who overcame disabilities to change the world. They know of the play, but now they want to see and touch the history. So I pull out the pictures and show how my home has kept her story alive.

But more important to me are the people. The people from my home are proud. We enjoy the hot summer sun and a cold glass of “sweetened” tea. Picking blackberries or hunting ginseng are traditions few people understand. And most people just don’t seem to realize that when we are fixin’ to get something done we are ready to start our assignment.

Now you see I am proud of my heritage and I do love my home. So to say I have lost the one piece of home I have carried with me everywhere over all the years I have traveled deeply disturbs me. My treasure was passed to me by my family and I have tried to hone it and keep it sharp for the moment. And now that I still haven’t found my way to move back home I must find my treasure if it is truly lost. I understand that living up here near the Great Lakes may make it difficult to find but I think they are mistaken. I think it is still there. And if it is truly missing I will find it again for I am going back home some day. This person said I had lost part of my true North Alabama pure bred home grown Southern accent. I truly pray they are wrong.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Summer Hardware [CCR]

Spring may have reached Alabama, but it is barely peaking over the horizon here in Ohio. While we enjoyed a rather warm day, tonight’s forecast includes the possibility of snow. So with the long cold spells up here my thoughts often turn to my Alabama summers to bring warmth to the soul.

Good weather here means work around the house which includes trips to that big box hardware store over in town. I walk through those stores and they have just about everything that a person might need and a whole lot of stuff you hope you never need. Folks here won’t believe me, but we had that convenience growing up in Cherokee. And it included a personal touch that just can’t be duplicated in large volume.

Most people born prior to my entrance into this great world might remember Mr. Harris’s cotton gin. It was located just north of town on Main Street. But, by the time I came along it had become the location for just about anything a person would need around the house. In fact, the very heart of the house I grew up in came from that place. Ralph Guthrie and Homajean Grisham bought the gin and it had become Grisham and Guthrie Building Supply, or at least that is how I remember the name. We just called it Grisham and Guthrie.

Just about any project around the house meant a trip out to Grisham and Guthrie. I always enjoyed wandering through the various nooks and crannies of storage finding what we needed. And most of those warm summer days Dad would buy me a Coke out of the machine that sat just outside the office door. Usually Dad would explain what he needed and Mr. Singleton or Mr. Long would take us around until we had either gathered or listed everything we needed. If it didn’t fit on our old 1951 Chevy truck then Mr. Long would gladly bring it out to the house on one of their trucks.

My Granddaddy Daily had made a living as a woodsman and was an accomplished carpenter. Dad learned many of those great carpenter skills from him and it seemed almost magical how Dad figured up what we needed for our projects. I guess watching his ease of figuring lumber is one reason I became fascinated with math and ended up with an engineering degree. But once we had the list then Dad and one of the guys at the store would carefully cull through the piles of lumber picking the best pieces in the pile. It just seemed natural.

Now if lumber wasn’t what you needed you didn’t have to worry. As a small boy it seemed half the buildings in Cherokee were at that place. And those buildings were filled with plumbing supplies, electrical wire, and even appliance parts. Our water heater had a gift for attracting lightning and we bought quite a few heating elements there.

Once the order was ready we proceeded to the office where Mr. Grisham or Mr. Guthrie always seemed to have a smile and story to tell while you rested in the air conditioning. It always seemed especially nice in there after loading lumber on a truck and wandering around that maze of supplies. And so the conversation continued as we figured up the bill on a paper invoice, personally written and ciphered without the use of a laser that would burn your eye out if you look too close. Once the paper work was done two copies came from the pad, the cash drawer rang, we paid our bill, and we were on our way to complete another project.

I imagine if I were able to live back home most people might know me in those big stores in town. But, here you have to run your stash across the register by yourself while a machine tells you how to pay the bill in a conveniently impersonal fashion. If you’re willing to pay the price and are lucky you can wander down to the grocery and may still find cola in a glass bottle. Take it home, chill it in the fridge, and sit with a friend in the warm sun. It’ll cool your body and warm your soul. But don’t forget to add the peanuts.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Green Kool-Aid [CCR]

Someone who had not lived in western Colbert County when I was growing up might claim there wasn’t much for a teenager to do around Cherokee. You couldn’t find the fun only if you didn’t look. In my case I was heavily involved in our youth activities at our church. And I understand that even today quite a few churches around home have some great activities for the youth.

We were very fortunate to have Doug and Mary Hester teaching our Training Union class. Now for those of you not familiar with the Baptist church, Training Union was our Sunday night youth group before the evening sermon. Mr. and Mrs. Hester were very appropriate teachers for our class because they had special energy and the desire to work with a group of overzealous teens. But the most fun came after the evening sermon. The Hesters would allow us all to gather in the church van and we would head to Muscle Shoals for pizza. Now folks contrary to what my sister, the doctor, would say, to this day I know for a fact that pizza is a necessity on the list of growth foods for teens. We used those evenings to cast away a little stress, bond with our friends, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming school week. I don’t know how the Hesters managed, but I never remember coming home disappointed or too late for being out on a night before school.

But with the bonds in that group also came many other great times that would build our characters and provide the adhesive for our ability to get through the years. We often had group outings, lock-ins, volley ball, and even some trips out of town. Mr. Windsor was brave enough to carry us to Birmingham for a group trip and I will never forget staying at the Holiday Inn, gathering at Samford University, or the window falling out of the van on the way home. It was a fun trip. But most people would find my most enjoyable memory strange at best.

Our parents were always kind to provide food and munchies for our gatherings. And at one fateful event Mrs. Wallace brought green Kool-Aid. Now folks, it is hard today to find green Kool-Aid. In fact I believe it was actually off the market for a short while. And I don’t think they provide it in any of those presweetened or diet concoctions. I’m not sure if the flavor was actually lime but it was good. And for some reason thereafter I always asked Mrs. Wallace if she was bringing green Kool-Aid. It actually became a running joke just between us for a long time.

Eventually I left for college, left the group, and moved away. But I still haven’t forgot the green Kool-Aid. I made a trip to our local grocery store the other day. I stumbled across the shelf with all the drink mixes. And there it was, packets of green Kool-Aid. It was a flashback moment. Not a bad moment. A good moment. Trips to Pizza Hut. Summers in Vacation Bible School. Singing in the youth choir. Learning what it was like to care for one another. And in the end we developed life long memories. Memories that I hope have helped carry many of my old friends through the bumps in life.

During those years I happened to have a camera that I carried with me. My daughter now uses it for her college photography class and is proud of her “manual” camera. But I love that camera and I took quite a few pictures of our gatherings. Many of those pictures are slides that are stored away in my basement. Its Friday and I’m about to head home. I think I will pull out the slide projector, wipe off the dust, pull out the slides, and show my teens what having a good time was all about in our little town of Cherokee. I might even order pizza and mix up a pitcher of green Kool-Aid.