Friday, November 24, 2006

Memories In the Air [CCR]

Snow is falling outside and it seems winter has decided to make itself known even before its official day of entry over a month away. After we first moved to Ohio the boys were excited about the opportunity to see a lot of snow. That excitement faded away after their second round of shoveling the driveway. As a child I would have been excited at this point because we probably wouldn’t have school tomorrow. But here the snow plows insure the children will not miss out on school.

During cold weather my mind turns to the warm days back home in Alabama. Tonight I remember my Grandmother Smith’s yards. Grandmother Smith always had flowers growing in the spring. Their driveway split just before the house with one lane leading to the front yard and one lane leading through the shade of the trees to the back yard. Each year a large group of colorful tulips grew along that lane. Those tulips marked the beginning of spring for me. And it also often held a secure position for Easter eggs.

Spring also meant the shade trees on the North side of Grandmother’s house began to grow their leaves to provide shade for the summer. Granddaddy had two large rocks in the shape of benches. These rocks, mounted on smaller rocks, made a wonderful shady resting place after an afternoon of play or work. The house is on a hill meaning you always felt any breeze blowing through the area as the wind herald its presence in the leaves overhead.

On the South side of the house Grandmother had her clothes line. The clothes hanging on the line flapped in the wind and filled the air with the scent of fresh washed sheets. I can still remember Grandmother’s wringer washer churning the clothes clean. Then she carried the clothes out to the line and hung them in the fresh breeze. Today we throw a scented sheet in the dryer hoping for that same fresh smell. You can go down to the local store and buy candles that try to emulate that smell but can’t really match it. (My apologies to the candle makers out there.)

The back yard had its own set of shade trees that surrounded the old wooden sheds holding Granddaddy’s tools. To the side of the shed Granddaddy parked his old Ford tractor he had for many years. And in front of the shed was the old well house. An old electric line hung overhead between the well house and the main house to power the pump.

Of course my memories run across many years. In later years both the wringer washer and the tractor had left. But the shade trees and the breeze on the hill remained even to this day. I remember Granddaddy and me sitting beneath the pear tree just in front of the garden. Granddaddy was pealing a pear as he talked to me about my life, what I was doing, or what girl I might be seeing. I am sure he was using the moment to remember his own childhood and his own pleasant memories. Each of us use those pleasant moments in the past to warm our souls.

The wind is now blowing cold outside and the snow glitters across our yard. I knew I should have finished raking the leaves last weekend. Maybe my children will remember the days when we wrapped up in large overcoats and trudged through the snow to clear the driveway. Hopefully those memories will cool a hot Southern summer day for them as they enjoy the pleasures of my home in Alabama.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fireplace Memories [CCR]

Cold weather has definitely struck Ohio. The folks in Alabama would swear it was the middle of February here, but alas it is still only November. The fireplaces have started their curl of smoke up to the sky from many Ohio homes. I just haven’t figured how a fireplace could heat a home in the worst weather up here.

As a boy growing up in Alabama I became very accustomed to fireplaces and the weekly experience of cutting wood. It was always a challenge to get close enough to the fire at Granddaddy Daily’s house to feel the full warmth without getting popped by a hot ember. I guess I did rather good because I don’t remember getting burned by an ember, but I do remember the watching Granddaddy stoke the fire and the flames rise anew.

Dad grew up in the home of a woodsman and mastered all the talents of woodworking that I wish I had gained. As a result Dad personally molded the house along the years, transitioning it into the home we see today. Along the way Dad hired Mr. Eckles from town to build us a fireplace. Mr. Eckles and his crew were fine masonry men and it wasn’t long before we had our own fireplace. Dad made the various metal components for the fireplace including a rack to hold a pot.

While Dad usually came to my rescue on the larger logs, it become my job to keep the wood box full and the ashes emptied. Dad and Mr. Eckles had built an ash dump mechanism which save much time. But the smell of a fresh fire that had been the attraction at my Granddaddy’s house was now ours. Dad and I spent many Saturdays cutting wood. He always kept the wood ready for the next season so we had a stack of dry wood and a stack of green wood. A true combination made a better fire.

Mom began to take advantage of the fireplace too. She would fix a big cast iron pot of beans that had a home cooked taste you pay extra for today. She would bake a pan of cornbread that, crumbled into those hot beans, made the whole effort of keeping the fire going worth the time. Southern cornbread can’t be matched. Folks up here seem to think sugar goes in cornbread. They just don’t understand.

As the years went by the configuration of our fireplace changed. Dad used a soft fire brick to close the front of the fireplace and add a wood heater which provided more efficient heat. Later, at Mom’s bequest, Dad built a flue on the wall next to the fireplace for the heater and reopened the fireplace for the smells and beauty of a roaring fire on a cold day. But the chores of the wood box remained for my years at home.

Today the wood box is missing. So is the wood heater, which took up a new home in Dad’s workshop. Dad has grown older and my years at home are past, so we miss the times together cutting wood. The fireplace and wood heater have been replaced with the more efficient gas logs. I must admit they provide the heat needed to keep the house cheerfully warm. But when I drive along the country roads of Ohio and pass a home with that curl of smoke, the smell takes me back to the days of cornbread and beans. And you know, I actually miss keeping that old wood box.

As I arrive home from the office and open the door I find a house full of electronic gadgetry blaring and food cooking on the electric stove. Yes, it is nice to have all the conveniences of today and to be comfortable. But there is something missing in my mind, something about hickory smoked beans, fresh baked cornbread, and Southern sweet tea. Even in my house in Ohio I look over to the corner of the room and miss that box full of wood and the crackle of embers as the glow fills the room.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Southern Boy Gets A New Brief Case [CCR]

It seems I never can get quite accustomed to the airlines and flying around the country. The first twenty years of my life went by without ever needing to step foot on an airplane and now it seems I can’t get away from them. My most recent trip to Baltimore proved to bring back the challenges I haven’t seen in a few years. In short, the airline lost my luggage. My plane left Columbus an hour late and then we were delayed an additional hour and a half in Cincinnati. Nonetheless the thought of the airline losing my luggage crossed my mind. I don’t know what caused the premonition in Baltimore, but it didn’t take me long to check the airline luggage office and discover my bags were sitting in Cincinnati. With all my travels I haven’t waited on bags for several years now.

Right after leaving Cherokee almost twenty years ago I went to work for Mobil Chemical’s Machine Development Group. Our group developed the equipment for manufacturing the Hefty garbage bags. I was the electrical engineer and Clyde was my technician. Together we traveled the country supervising the installation of our equipment and training the operators. That work meant a lot of time in the air and it also meant we saw interesting events. We always had luggage to check since we carried a lot of computer equipment and training materials.

One of my best memories was a trip to Austin, Texas from St. Louis, Missouri. The airlines had damaged one of my brief cases on a previous trip and I used their reimbursement along with some extra funds to buy a new case. Clyde and I were based in Illinois and he always took every opportunity to say something about my Southern heritage, of which I was quite proud. Clyde just couldn’t understand how I ended up with a new case so he devised a plan. Unfortunately he divulged that plan while we stood in line at the airport.

What happened next has puzzled me for the last twenty years. How did the airline know Clyde’s plan? I think Clyde wasn’t really serious. But, the plan was laid out whether it would actually happen or not. Someone had to hear. Clyde decided that once we got to Austin he would declare damage to his brief case, which he checked. He told me that he too could get enough from his case to buy a new one.

We arrived in Austin and waited patiently for our bags. My large bag arrived along with my nice new brief case. Clyde’s large bag arrived. Now we waited for Clyde’s brief case. The conveyor stopped and we were ready to go declare the case lost when the terrible truth revealed itself. The conveyor sounded an alert and through the window came a large cardboard box. In that box were the contents of Clyde’s brief case in a shamble. A second box contained what looked like the remains of a brief case that had been demolished by the landing gear of a Boeing 747. I looked at Clyde and said nothing. The big Southern grin on my face said it all.

Thank goodness my trip to Baltimore didn’t see such tragedy. But I did live out of a big box discount store for three days while my luggage slowly found its way from Cincinnati to my hotel in Seaford, Delaware. Through the years my luggage has had many interesting trips to places I have yet to see. But I learned on a trip to Texas that discussing the fate of one’s luggage while waiting in line at the airport is not a good idea.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The World Of Jackson Creek [CCR]

Recently I completed a business trip to Delaware. I was surprised at seeing that Delaware was actually much more rural than I ever imagined. As I traveled through the small towns on my journey I looked at the older buildings and could only imagine what these people were doing through the years prior to my visit. I guess I never really gave much consideration to the world outside of Northwest Alabama, at least until I traveled to college. Our family did take vacations and I knew the world was much larger than our area. But our little corner of the world, the hills and rural areas around Colbert County, provided everything I needed.

Behind Granddaddy Daily’s house runs Jackson Creek, a small stream of water that feeds into the beginnings of Buzzard Roost Creek which slowly runs through the hills down to Bear Creek near the Riverton Rose Trail. My cousins and I spent many hours running down the hill behind Granddaddy’s house and playing in the cool spring fed water. It was fun to start at the top of a small hill along the creek and slide down slowly through the water, our own home version of a water slide. But you had to watch along the way as the creek had several deeper holes. None you could actually swim in, but big enough you could catch minnows, or more importantly crawdads. City folk may correct me with the term "crayfish", but we knew these miniature lobster looking critters as crawdads or maybe someone called them crawfish. Either way, they had many uses for us.

Grandmother made fresh homemade biscuits every morning. Us grandkids often coaxed her into saving some of the dough. Biscuit dough was excellent, in our opinion, for catching crawdads. Grandmother would provide us some thread and straight pins or maybe a regular pin. We had the perfect setup for hooks, line, and bait. We often waited for a crawdad to grab the hook, but when impatience overtook the wait we reached into the water and grabbed one. Unless you were the one involved, it was often quite funny to watch the poor fisherman who received the pinch of the unhappy crawdad. A more experienced fisherman watched what end they were grabbing.

I don’t exactly remember what we did with the crawdads. I suspect if Dad or one of my uncles were planning on fishing we might save some. But more often I believe we dropped them on the rocks and watched them crawl backwards into the hole of water from whence they came. Of course the ones lucky enough to grab enough flesh of the right person might be rewarded with freedom quicker than his comrades.

The creek still slowly mingles through the woods behind Granddaddy’s old house. I suspect it misses us children just about as much as we miss it. The path from the top of the hill is probably overtaken with weeds and well populated with wildlife not as friendly to children. But nature hasn’t had time to wash away that solid rock bottom and those two holes of water that became a large part of our childhood. Jackson Creek is waiting quietly until another generation discovers the fun that can be found in a small spring fed stream rolling quietly along a solid rock bed, bubbling and gurgling its calls for playtime.