Friday, December 28, 2007

Fireplace Warmth [CCR]

Winter’s chill is upon us and has reached down to Tennessee and Alabama to give us a taste. As I stepped out the back door this morning I could see a glimmer of ice just to remind me of what could be happening. The newspaper tells me my home of last year in Ohio is plummeted in snow. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t actually invest in that mechanized snow blower.

Today many people enjoy the warmth of their fireplace as they look out the window and watch the winter wind cast its chill on anyone who dare confront it. They reach to an electronic gadget and push a few buttons. Soon the heat is blasting again. The unlucky few who do so may be missing out on more than they think. Yes, they avoid the chores of hauling the wood to the fireplace or even emptying the soot. But why do you think some of those fancy restaurants still burn wood?

When I step outside I can still catch a whiff of the lucky few who have placed a hickory log upon the fire. The fluffy smoke billows from the chimney and spreads its cheerful fragrance upon the neighborhood. Maybe you consider that smell an annoyance. For me it symbolizes warmth in a season of frost.

Dad and I spent much of the summer and most of the fall weekends gathering wood for the winter. As a boy it seemed more of a chore than a pleasure. We loaded the wood high upon the old truck and carried it home where it some would dry for the future season while the larger green logs might become the main stabilizer for an overnight flame.

Many times Mom would push a pot of beans over the blazing fire on the rack Dad had made to hold the iron pot. A few chunks of ham might give the beans some flavor which added with the wood smell to memorialize a scent of home. Mom would place an iron skillet of cornbread in the oven after the beans had simmered most of the day. It might even be after Dad and I returned with a load of wood that we sat down at the dinner table to a large plate of beans, cornbread, and Southern sweet tea.

The years bring change and today even Mom and Dad’s fireplace no longer sports the smell of hickory. The glowing embers have been replaced with the high efficiency of propane gas. I never knew I would miss those trips to the woods with Dad. But tonight Cindy prepared a large pot of beans with chunks of ham. She brought a large skillet of cornbread to the table. The doctor has forbid caffeine so water must substitute for the luxury of tea. I just can’t stand the thought of any substitute for true Southern sweet tea. But nobody can stop the memories.

So I sit to a plate of beans and cornbread, watching the cold wind blow its icy best upon our yard. The dogs have found their warm place in the barn while the cat snuggles in some unseen corner. In the distance I can see an old farmhouse where the smoke gently curls up and disappears into the evening sky. It is nice to be home.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Cheer [CCR]

The holidays are upon us and with it comes a time of giving. Most of us with children or grandchildren are almost more excited than the children themselves. Many may think the holidays have become too commercialized, and I must agree in some manner. But giving the matter some thought reminds me that while the holidays give something to everyone, the greatest gift to us are the children. Just as one small child represented the entire future of Christianity, children represent our future and in that respect we celebrate.

Every year it was almost impossible to wait to open gifts, whether at home or at one of my grandparents’ homes. We were always eager to see what might be wrapped and couldn’t wait to shred the paper and discover its secret. For most children it didn’t matter if the secret were big or small, the whole idea of receiving something sufficed.

At Grandmother Smith’s house we often drew numbers or names to exchange gifts among the grandchildren. And my grandparents often placed their own gift under the sparkling magical tree. I guess we didn’t realize the parents were watching us more than looking for their own gifts. It would be years later before I understood what they saw in those celebrations.

On one magical Christmas Grandmother and Granddaddy Smith gave us cameras. But these were not ordinary cameras. They were Micky Mouse cameras. The nose was the lens and the ear was the trigger. I haven’t seen a camera with as much charisma since then. I doubt, with today’s electronics craze, I ever will. It bore so deep into my memory that my cousin Pam and I discuss our cameras at every family gathering with the Thanksgiving gathering this year being no exception.

Each year we gathered the family grew a little more and so did the celebration. By the time I reached my teen years the grandchildren were numerous and the older grandchildren brought guests. I guess the interest in the opposite sex began the initial downfall to the childhood magic. But it brought the second celebration of Christmas, the fellowship of family.

By the time we reached adulthood we realized the need to celebrate another year together. In these times we look at the past and remember the struggles and victories together while anticipating the future. Stories are swapped while the younger children eagerly anticipate the moment to rip open the gifts.

Today we have children of our own and we now watch them fervently open their prizes while we cherish those memories being made. It reminds each of us of the three Magi in the traditional Christmas story, who bring their own gifts to celebrate their future. They looked upon a small child and saw a great future that will be celebrated for all future generations.

It is my wish that each of you have a wonderful holiday season while celebrating your gift of life by bringing light to the winter solstice. No matter how you celebrate look at the true magic of the future in your children. Give them the best gift you can, memories that will carry them through many seasons into our own future and for generations to come.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rocking Chairs and Southern Porches

We dropped by the big box building supplies store last week to pick up provisions for some work at Dad’s house. On the way out we paused a moment to examine some rocking chairs fastened firmly to the building with a steel cable. I sat a moment and rocked in the chair while we debated their worth for our new front porch. Right now we have our porch furniture we purchased in North Carolina before moving to Ohio. As good as those chairs are, they don’t match up to a good old fashioned rocking chair on a Southern porch.

Granddaddy Daily’s porch had an assortment of rocking chairs and swings. The porch on the Southern country home was as long as the house itself. After all, the porch was the primary gathering point after the evening meal and before bedtime. At the end of the porch was a long swing suspended by chains. The grandchildren, including me, seemed to take pride in finding how high we could take the swing up in the air. But little did I know it was the rocking chairs that would mean more to me in later years. Some of those chairs were handed down through generations and carry much sentimental value today.

Granddaddy Smith’s porch was a little different, but the furniture was just as exciting for grandchildren. Granddaddy Smith had a metal glider that moved as you sat in the summer breeze watching the vehicles pass on the road across the cotton patch. In the middle of the front yard was a tree with many limbs, perfect for climbing. As young children we crawled all over that tree. In late fall, with the trees bare of leaves, you could look across Mr. Harris’s pasture from the porch and see the mighty Tennessee River.

Mom and Dad have extended their porch since I was a child. Dad went a step further and placed a swing at both ends of the porch. The chairs provide cool comfort in the hot summers and a nice place to watch the kids play in the yard. But they haven’t placed the rocking chairs on the porch. My children will build their own special memories of “Granddaddy’s porch.”

We paused a moment as I sat in the chair at the mega store. It rocked on rather smooth rockers, but the slats of the seat and back just didn’t have the same homemade feel of those at Granddaddy Daily’s house. Maybe a cushion would help. I really want to add some memory to my porch. I didn’t see a metal glider for sale anywhere and, now that I think about it, I don’t know when I’ve seen one since Granddaddy Smith’s glider sat on his porch.

A purchase was not on my agenda for today. Maybe the North Carolina green metal framed chairs on flexible steel would make a satisfactory memory for my children and grandchildren. It isn’t a good time to make such a selfish purchase so near Christmas. I must look further for the perfect match to my porch. I tried to conjure every excuse I could muster. Truth be told, the memory has become so perfected in my mind I am not sure the chairs I remember can be replicated.

Tomorrow morning I will wander out to the front porch and lace my shoes as I watch the boys catch the bus for school. The sun will be start to blaze over the tree tops and gleam in my face as the neighborhood animals will be greeting the morning. Hopefully these events will bring the same satisfaction and comfort to my family as those porch breezes of rural Alabama brought me years ago.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Turkeys In The Road [CCR]

Yesterday an entire flock of turkeys brought traffic to a halt on the road by our house. I was driving along minding my own business when we first saw the cluster of about twenty turkeys lined up beside the road. As I slowed four of the giant birds entered the road. Twenty years ago I would have had dinner on my mind, but today dinner is the last thing I think about. Today a simple fender bender can easily mean a total loss of your vehicle so I could not take any chances. If I only had that 1951 Chevrolet truck or even the 1966 Jeep we once owned. In those days it would be foolish for any turkey to spend any time in front of my bumper.

Driving home from Granddaddy Daily’s house after dark in the old truck meant keeping a watchful eye on the road. Rattlesnakes were our prime target. Our old truck meant certain death for a rattlesnake warming itself on the retentive heat of the pavement in the cool night air. I can only imagine a turkey would be an even better catch.

Rain didn’t help when watching through the windshield. The truck used a six volt battery system and did not have electric windshield wiper motors. As most of our older generation may recall, our wipers ran off the motor vacuum. The only way to speed up the wipers was to let off the gas and allow the motor vacuum to momentarily pull harder. It wasn’t always an option on hills such as the one at Mt. Mills. Of course not many rattlesnakes lay out on the road in the rain either.

Later, in my teen years, driving the Jeep was slightly different. We did have the electric windshield wipers, but the heater didn’t necessarily blow strong air to defog the windshield. The combination of summer heat and rain often meant humid air in the Jeep and many swipes of the windshield with a cloth to clear your vision. The Jeep, with its homemade iron bumpers, didn’t fear many objects along the road. It was built before we engineered the minimum amount of steel to keep the occupants safe without allowing for extra expense in building the vehicle. Yet no turkeys crossed my path. Maybe they understood.

While I didn’t see the incident with my own eyes, it has been said that my Uncle Ezell did hit a turkey with his truck. I don’t have the details, but I understand the turkey bounced over the sideboards used to haul cattle and landed on the bed of the truck. According to the legend he didn’t have to slow down to carry the turkey home.

The flock we saw yesterday didn’t budge from the highway. I debated on sounding the horn, but I sat in amazement that these birds didn’t fear my presence. It reminded me of the time I lived in Georgia and a turkey hen attacked me for stealing her blackberries. The gobbler waited at the edge of the trees and egged the hen on while she actually pecked at my hands.

Three cars lined up behind me before the flock decided to move on. I then continued along my way wondering if these turkeys comprehend the human fear of damaging our modern vehicles. Later we saw another flock gathered in a pasture. Maybe they gather and laugh at the over protective humans who dare not disturb their walk across the road. If only I could find that old Jeep or the old truck. I would restore honor to the human race and once again reclaim the road for my drive to work. But for now I wait patiently and use the time to recollect earlier times and other places.