Friday, February 29, 2008

Stormy Weather [CCR]

This week I found myself caught in the middle of an ice storm in Indiana. One would think I had enough memory of the cold without having to revisit it so soon after relocating to Tennessee, but work beckoned and I answered the call. My coworker and I sat in the hotel lobby looking outside at the winter wonderland and I regained an appreciation for home. As I write I am overjoyed that we are about to begin our journey home.

Storms have always fascinated me. Not that I particularly appreciate the more difficult ones, but we must remember most storms deliver our much needed water. As a child I always remember looking to the west when watching storms approach. I am not sure I understood the prevailing winds at the time, but when the weatherman called for stormy weather I looked towards Granddaddy’s old barn and watched the sky.

As I have moved around the country I quickly obtained my bearings in my new locations and I always seemed to memorize directions by relating to home. North was always related to the direction of the fertilizer plant and the sound of the steam whistle at shift change. East brought the picturesque view of Mr. Harris’s pasture and the engine sounds of the various barge tugs pushing their goods up the Tennessee River. South brought the sounds of the mainline Southern railroad. West was the direction from which the clouds usually approached. Southwest always seemed to indicate the more severe of the storms. My method usually kept me straight on directions no matter where I moved. If I found one direction I could simply use my mental images of childhood to help orientate myself.

Whenever we heard of bad weather in Tupelo we knew it was time to batten down the hatches. Storms always found their way from Tupelo to Cherokee. Over the years those fancy weather folks on the television and radio always seemed to find ways to claim they were a little better than the rest on keeping you informed. Well, if you lived in Cherokee all you really had to do was listen for the news from Tupelo. It was much more reliable.

The rule of checking Tupelo didn’t always apply for snow or ice. Those sorts of storms seemed to be a random event that occurred when nobody predicted. Ice was much worse than snow and seemed to occur more often. My job was to keep wood piled in the box between the fireplace and the heater. After the cold blustery wind battered my face I would stand over the wood stove to thaw my hands and face. I made sure I brought enough wood to keep these trips to a minimum. At least, in the South, most of these problems didn’t last long.

This morning we slowly made our way down a small two lane road that winds along the Ohio River. The water lay choppy in the cold wind and didn’t really look to head in any direction. Trees displayed their new shiny coats of ice and the roads were covered with a salty slush. Folks here may be prepared for winter’s onslaught, but the mere view of all this winter weather makes me long for home. Many miles south along the endless asphalt we will find our warmer weather and my family waiting to welcome me back home.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shopping [CCR]

Shopping now means regular trips to those big box stores. Even if I wanted to visit the local grocer there isn’t many left in my area, and I live in the rural area of my county. So I make my regular trips to the city to get our groceries, which is more often than I desire since I have two teenage boys in the house. My last trip to the overgrown grocery store provided a rather peculiar site. The front area of the store was cordoned off with yellow tape as if some crime were committed. I grabbed by grocery cart and continued about my business while I pondered the potential crime scene out front.

Grocery carts haven’t changed much over the years other than a transition to mostly plastic parts. It shouldn’t shock us to see the plastic as our cars have made the same transition. They still fold out and provide a fancy seat for youngsters or you can flip up a cover over the leg holes. But now the cover is drenched in advertisements.

I wheel my cart around the grocery store sporting the usual squeaky wheel or maybe the often felt “bump, bump, bump.” You push the cart around and fill it with your needs and then proceed to the front of the store while they tally your goods. I did notice the cost of that basket of groceries has increased over the years while the size of the basket hasn’t really changed.

Gone are the days when you pulled up to the Davis’s store out at Mountain Springs and were greeted by name. I don’t remember that little store having those grocery carts. You simply asked for slices of cheese and they gladly helped you find whatever you needed. You didn’t spend time hunting through the store for some person in a colored vest who may need to speak on a radio and help you wade through the aisles of goods. I really don’t remember needing all those many aisles of goods thirty years ago.

At the checkout today the clerk usually has some kind words and that may be your first exchange of friendship since you entered the store. That little machine in front of the clerk asks if the clerk greeted you. I usually ignore it as I don’t need a machine teaching me manners. Unless you filled that cart to the top the clerk is expected to handle all your needs while they sling your goods into plastic bags rather than the big grocery sacks of yesteryear. At least she has those fancy bar codes to help speed the process along. I can never remember the correct price displayed on the shelf. If you don’t have a quick eye you can never be sure what that computer is saying you owe.

Finally, after getting my cart full of groceries I realize why the yellow tape is wrapped around the front of the store. The store has an awning where they like to display flowers. This awning, with a concrete walk, provides perfect cover to load your groceries in the rain. We are forbidden from using that awning to protect us from the elements. Now I seem to remember each grocery cart once had its own “license plate,” a number with a removable tag sporting the same number. You carried the tag with you to the car. In the car you pull up to the awning and a clerk matches your tag to the cart waiting with your groceries and they helped you fill your vehicle with your groceries.

Today I sloshed past the yellow tape through the rain and loaded my minivan with the wet plastic bags praying one doesn’t spill my goods on the ground. It is interesting that we were willing to take such deep discounts just to forego that extra level of service. It is a shame I just don’t really realize those discounts when I swipe my fancy little card and the computer magically drains my bank account. I really miss that little store in Mountain Springs that simply had all I needed and nothing more.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Evening Ritual [CCR]

The aged man sat gently in his old wooden rocking chair using both his canes to balance himself. The pillows barely cushioned his arched back as he positioned himself for an evening ritual. His grandchildren lay on the floor by the fireplace careful to distance themselves from the popping embers that intermittently project themselves to gently glow and dim on the hearth.

The elderly man reaches beside him for the book with tattered pages and a soft bind displaying its years of service. He thumbs through the pages looking for the right place that satisfies the yearnings of his soul. Alas his fingers, crumpled with age and the pain of arthritis, reach the words that express his feelings. He adjusts his bifocals carefully such that the shapes show clearly in the dim lamplight.

The children adjust themselves so they may listen in amazement as their grandfather finds the sounds of the notes before him. He sings the notes in rhythm, “Doe fa ray ray me fa doe.” The children stare closely as the old man studies the page and rubs the gray whiskers from the evening shadow that has fell on his wrinkled face. Once he has sung a verse of notes and discerned the tune he quietly adds the words. It seems he can almost close his eyes and sing the song as if he had sung them many times over, which he has. The gentle gospel melody almost lulls the children to sleep.

After a couple of songs and maybe a moment of reading from the worn Bible laying upon the mantle the elder looks to the little eyes watching in amazement. They woke from their gentle hypnosis as if anticipating something new. He thinks for a moment and then the smile upon his thin lips seems to reflect his joy in sharing. And he begins.

Most of his stories told by the glowing fire would be hard for a young mind to envision if it weren’t for the enthusiasm. He told of the time he walked all the way from Mountain Springs to Tuscumbia to take a month’s earnings and purchase something special for his family back home. Now the story may seem bland to some at first. But then he begins telling of the walk home after dark. Envision a day when there was little light and who knows who you might meet on the seldom traveled wagon path. Other stories told of his childhood adventures with names some easily recognize today, such as Denton, Hester, McCullough, and many others.

As the story is told sleepiness finds its way back to the young adventurers who lay near the fireplace. The story ends and the children wander back to their bed snuggling deep under the pile of homemade quilts to dream about the stories they heard. The old man reaches for his two canes to help pull him up. His back has stiffened slightly in the chair, but the smile on the little ones’ faces made it worth his time. He too must crawl beneath the covers. Tomorrow a house full of grandchildren will fulfill his day and rekindle his childhood memories when he too lay by the fire to hear stories from years gone by.

Of course the stories were told by my own Granddaddy Daily and those sleepyheads by the fireplace were my sister and me. People of his generation didn’t depend on electronic gadgetry to bring entertainment to their evenings. The stories told by the crackling fire nurtured vivid imaginations and brought much excitement to those who listened. Today this tradition lives only in story telling clubs or contests and is no longer celebrated by the fireplace. Such is a loss to our own children.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Road Not Taken [CCR]

After growing up in rural Colbert County it is only reasonable to assume I would tend to locate in rural areas. With my career it is not always easy to live in a rural area and through the years I have made exceptions. Not this time. I actually live just at the edge of the Nashville Metropolitan Area on what one may consider a small farm. Each morning I make my way up US Highway 231 to work. But I usually deviate from the beaten path to wind along a back road and find the edge of what many consider civilization.

For me a country road is preferable to any wide multilane slab of pavement. A true country road has trees that extend their reach across the road forming a tunneling shady lane. My primary back road to work leads across a small one way bridge formed from a single slab of concrete. While not the luxurious memory of the wooden one lane bridges from my childhood, it does maintain the serenity of the drive. If I must wait for an oncoming vehicle taking its turn at the crossing I can quietly enjoy the view extending up and down the creek. I can only wonder at the number of fish who may be returning that stare and my mind momentarily drifts away from the upcoming day’s work.

An alternate route takes me along a path even more reminiscent of my younger days. This route sports a gravel road that beckons for some attention after years of traffic. It slowly slopes downward towards the fast flowing creek to a bed of rock where no bridge lies in my path. I slowly ford the creek as my Jeep sloshes along through the water. To the north is a rather large rock and earthen dam that may have once supplied the local grist mill, although no verifiable remnant is seen. As I climb the opposite slope I watch a flock of turkeys meander across the road and see several horses grazing beyond the trees in the nearby pasture.

As a child in rural Colbert County I remember many similar roads, some more traveled than others. In my younger days it seems we always anticipated an upgrade, when asphalt would overtake the yellow gravel and dirt combinations. Time progressed and soon the entire road to Mountain Springs sported a wide, paved right of way. Not long after that change you could no longer find a gravel path around the Riverton Rose Trail. Transportation advanced as older homes faded into history and new, modern housing took their place along these routes. I understand the advantages to advancement for our economy, but I sometimes mourn the loss as well.

Gone are the days when you traveled a little slower as to not stir the dust or sling the gravel. The gentle drive gave time to recognize the passing neighbor and you may even stop a moment for conversation, a Southern tradition. On the quite back roads to my office these golden nuggets of memory have bypassed the constructive wheels of modernization. One day they may fall victim to asphalt and urbanization, but for now they grant me solitude and a moment of peace before the rush of another workday.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Anticipation [CCR]

As we approach February we prepare ourselves for winter’s last stand and we begin our search on the horizon for the first signs of spring. Mom always said to never wish your life away, but I reckon there is nothing wrong with anticipation. I spent an entire day this past weekend honing that anticipation by working on the fence again. I am determined to have the lower pasture ready for occupation by the time spring breaks through the damp winter soil.

Some of my most pleasant memories of spring’s approach are Grandmother Smith’s tulips. Their driveway split as you approached the house. One drive entered the front yard while the other circled to the back of the house. Right past that split in the road was the habitat of one of the most memorable ensemble of tulips. The colors varied from light pastels to bright vivid colors that capture your attention. I’m not sure how much time Grandmother spent cultivating these forecasters of warmer weather, but they returned faithfully each year.

The tulips seemed to remain in bloom for us until the passage of Easter. The color variations always made a wonderful location to hide the Easter eggs. It didn’t take long for me to figure out to make my first hunting pass by the tulips where a pastel or brightly colored egg lay in the camouflage of the tulip’s blooms. It would almost seem that Easter eggs adopted their own colorful tradition from the colorful variations of the tulips. The theory might hold true if it weren’t for some of the color combinations I created by dipping the eggs in various pools of brilliant liquid.

In my picture albums I find some of the grandchildren standing near the tulips. I suppose the tulips subconsciously made a great photographic background for I never remember anyone requesting somebody stand in front of the tulips. But nonetheless they are documented in my picture collection.

Mom and Dad plan a trip to Holland to see the tulips growing in their native environment. I have seen pictures of the beautiful flower groves lying beneath the lazy turning windmills. They will have a wonderful trip seeing the annual tradition revive itself again in Nature’s cycle. Somehow I don’t believe the experience could replace the memory of Grandmother’s tulips.

Spring passed and the tulips became dormant again waiting for another year. The flowers of summer then reigned supreme. The spot where Grandmother’s tulips grew became the lawn mower’s dominion until another years passed. The smell of fresh cut grass, hydrangeas, and honeysuckle replaced the sweet smell of the tulip. But another consecutive year of the tulip has made an indelible impression in my memories of home.