Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Warmth [CCR]

Thanksgiving was a little colder this year in Alabama than in the last few years. Saturday the Smith family gathered at Tishomingo State Park. By the time we turned off the Natchez Trace the mist had thickened. The leaves squished instead of crunched and the dampness allowed the cold to penetrate to the bone. Inside the lodge Uncle Doug was sitting by a glowing warm fire. We were coming home to celebrate our family in our annual tradition.

The next day I sat with Mom and Dad to reminisce after seeing all the relatives. Dad told of a colder holiday season. Christmas 1957 Mom and Dad had returned from Chicago and were celebrating their first holidays together. Their car plowed through the snow making its way to Granddaddy Daily’s house. Having not quite reached their destination, the car could no longer overcome its icy path. Dad would have to find a way to get the car to the house. The next day Uncle Ezell and Dad removed the starter from the old car and placed it near the fireplace to thaw. It had frozen beyond use overnight. The return trip to Tuscumbia proved almost as difficult and included a tire repair.

Listening to their struggle made me think I would have been ready to give up. But in their eyes you can still see the glow of a couple in love. I’m not sure if their life had seasoned them for the experience or if time has allowed them to resolve the struggle. The story was much more than a story for me. It is a lesson that no matter what life throws our way we will continue. In their fifty years it seems they found the secret to taking the difficult wool and spinning a web of good thread.

Mom continued the story of their early holidays and one of their first Christmas trees. She had walked down to Elmore’s Five and Dime to purchase a small collection of Christmas ornaments to adorn their small tree. As Mom mentioned they used those ornaments over many years I remembered them hanging from the tree when I was a child. There is something special about older Christmas ornaments. They have an offset sparkle, dimmed but not tarnished. It gives the ornament a warm, sentimental glow. If you look in the big box discount stores many new ornaments try to copy this look. The more expensive stores attempt the look and try to sell them as future heirlooms. Nobody can duplicate the love built into a sacrifice purchased for a first holiday memory.

As a child our annual Christmas tree was topped with a bearded Santa with a light inserted to make his cheeks glow cheerfully. As each year passed Santa lost of little of his beard, but he still looked special to me. He was an emblem of Christmas magic. But alas the year came that Santa was replaced with a Christmas angel. The angel had the new fangled miniature lights. The angel heralded our way through my teen years, but that tin and plastic Santa still holds my heart from childhood.

This year we exchanged tree ornaments at the annual gathering again. Many of the family now include items that aren’t necessarily ornaments, but are desirable for Christmas decorations. Aunt Donna brought a tree ornament painted with an image of Granddaddy Smith’s house in a winter scene. I look into the ornament and can see Granddaddy waving from the porch as we all arrive for Christmas. Luckily, and probably to the envy of other family members, we were the recipients of the ornament. I’m sure anybody else would have treasured the ornament. I am not sure if it could reach nearly as deep into their soul as it does mine. That ornament will be in my treasure case as another way of keeping Granddaddy and Grandmother with me all year long. If you drop by the house, take a moment and gaze into the ball and there will be Granddaddy smiling, ready to welcome you home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hunting Season [CCR]

The beautiful colors of the leaves finally revealed their fashion statement this past week, revealing their most vivid colors. Mother Nature’s show was modishly late this year but the display struck deep chords within my being as always. No matter where I have lived I have a common memory of looking out the window at the trees. Trees have a way of becoming landmarks in my memory forming a common thread between each place we move. I only hope we found the end of the thread as I am not sure my grandfather clock wants to be crated again.

The twist of a falling leaf in the wind and a breeze in my face takes me back to the many years of hunting in the woods around Mountain Springs. We often gathered at my Granddaddy Daily’s house where we planned the hunt for the day or even the next day if we planned on camping. Many times each family member brought a contribution and we prepared a chicken stew the night before the hunt if we were camping. The stew was a necessity to warm your soul in the fall’s cool night air.

The next day we rose before daylight and consumed any breakfast we may want before heading out. Dad would make sure we reached our assigned post before the sun peaked. Some might think we cheated, using dogs to run the deer through the hollow. But hunting for us was more than a sport. The meat would definitely offset some grocery costs.

For some reason it seems Uncle Ezell was always elected to be in charge of the dogs and making the run. He began the trek at the upper end of the hollow while we all waited along the ridge for the opportunity that would soon come our way. After a short wait we could hear the dogs strike a scent and it wouldn’t be long before they came down the neck of the ridge, hopefully with a large buck in the lead. We didn’t have fancy radios to tell us what others saw. We didn’t carry large guns with scopes. A simple shotgun and a sure sight were our tools.

I reckon we traveled home many times without the prize we expected, but if luck were with us someone landed the trophy. We carried our catch either to Granddaddy’s house or sometimes an uncle’s house to clean and divide the spoils. Of course we took the obligatory picture like the one I have with Uncle Ezell, Uncle Buford, Dad, and Granddaddy.

The years have made me slightly citified and it seems most of my hunting days are past. Today the robots and machine constantly beg my attention so most of my hunting trips mean rambling through the freezer at the oversized grocery store. It doesn’t compare to the local market butcher helping select the best slab of beef and slicing it for you, but that is a story for another day. Today I watch the colorful leaves flutter into the yard awaiting my rake and I draw a breath of cool Southern air. Driving to work isn’t quite like driving out the ridge for our hunting trip, but the memories will comfort me during the hustle and bustle of the office.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sun Dried Linen [CCR]

Last week I attended a conference in Minneapolis. During the introductions one of the speakers asked, as an icebreaker, how many of us attendees hung our clothes on a clothesline. I was actually embarrassed not to raise my hand. Back home in Cherokee we actually kept a load of clothes on the line from dawn till dusk most days with exception to bad weather. For the family we were saving the costs of electricity, and unknowingly being environmentally conscious.

The smell of fresh sun dried towels lingers in my senses. After a shower you held the towel to your face and took a breath before drying yourself. Newly dried bed sheets that recently flapped in the summer breeze naturally odorized the room with the quality aroma often purchased by city folks in the fragrance departments of fancy stores. Just recently I noticed you could buy a candle labeled “sun dried linen.” For a mere twenty dollars you too can fill your house with that memorable fragrance.

It was always a challenge for me to figure out how to hang the various garments and laundry items on the line. Everyone had an opinion on the proper way to hang a shirt and it seems a shirt hung differently from a blouse. Sheets were my favorite to hang since you simply lay them across two lines and applied the pins, not very difficult. On a good summer day I don’t believe it took any longer for clothes to dry on the line than it does in a modern dryer today. Maybe the memory has distorted my internal clock.

Mom would send us out to gather the clothes soon after they were deemed dry in fear of a frequent Southern summer shower. As I gathered the clothes into the basket I would spread the clothes pins out to have them ready for the next round. It wasn’t fun to try and hold a garment while reaching down the line to find a clothes pin.

Today Mom continues to use her clothes line no different than my early days in Cherokee. I am willing to bet Mom’s clothes dryer doesn’t spin a half dozen times each year. Those of you who seem appalled at exposing your clothing on a line today probably haven’t really experienced the pleasure of sun dried linen.

Back at the conference I glanced around the room to see who would raise their hand in an auditorium full of engineering professionals. Two people raised their hands to the snicker of others in the room. Later that day we discussed the benefits of solar energy and how we can implement cost savings. If only they realized we already discussed one of the best uses of solar energy that began long before we even discovered the oil that fuels most of our vehicles.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Setting Lofty Goals [CCR]

The relationship of siblings is a very unique relationship. The children share experiences, both good and bad, that can form a lifetime supportive bond. My children get this speech every time I find them in a traditional sibling squabble, especially my two boys. I remind them that, if groomed properly, sibling relationships can develop a support system that will not fail. To me it is a more powerful message than any punishment I delve out, especially getting to listen to my sermon again.

Susan and I somehow formed one of those bonds growing up in Cherokee. We had our usual disagreements, but I don’t remember ever getting angry. If nothing else, we shared enough secrets and devilment to prevent a wedge from forming. Personally I would rather think we can attribute our interactions to trust rather than fear of being ratted out, but either method must have worked.

As the younger sibling I always looked up to Susan. She kept setting lofty goals for me to reach and it took all I had to hang on. I can remember Susan sitting up at night reading books by any light she could find while I avoided reading, something that I do not recommend to any growing young mind. The work of some very good teachers and Mom didn’t let my aversion to reading stymie my ability to become educated.

It all started when Susan left for school while I remained at home. It is hard to imagine that my memories carry me back that far. Somehow I knew when the bus would bring Susan home with stories of school and all the friends she met there. I can remember one lucky day I got to travel to school with my sister and sit in her classroom. I am not sure why the teacher agreed, but I remember each of Susan’s friends wanting to be the one to watch out for the young visitor.

Her influences carried way beyond the foundations of my education. She brought a new realm of music into my life. Many people find the decision of what instrument to play in band difficult. Mine was simple. Susan decided the band needed a Sousaphone and her brother could fill the need. With her coaxing, I marched out onto the field as a sixth grader toting that oversized instrument. Dad fashioned a pad that lay on my shoulder and cushioned the weight of the instrument.

The day she left for college probably gave more excitement to me than anyone else in the entourage traveling to Birmingham. During her days at school I would often travel to visit. Sometimes she carried me down to the college where she studied and I would carry my own homework. Her college days brought me my first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Chick-Fil-A, and two-story malls.

Today I called Susan, as I do many mornings. She was preparing for another day at the office while I was driving to work admiring the morning sunrise. I knew she would succeed in life, it was unquestionable. I just didn’t realize she would be a doctor who would still influence the lives of many children. This particular day may bring anywhere from thirty to fifty or more patients. It would seem she still presents lofty goals. But I do know that, no matter what I need, she is only a phone call away.