The Olden Days

Georgia road

I‘ll soon chalk up another in a long, growing line of birthdays, and I marvel at how the world has changed in nearly seven decades and how I can recall another time and place.

My family visited my maternal grandparents often in the 1950s, far more than we saw my father’s folks who lived twice as far from our Florida home.

My mother was an only child, and attached to her parents. My father was not so fond of his parents who were a staunch Baptist and Methodist who listened to gospel music every morning on the radio in North Georgia.

Yes, they attended separate churches. Isn’t that odd?

My father wasn’t like that. He was not religious, plus he was a boozer, a fact that was hidden from his parents, or at least he thought so.

We actually lived with the maternal grandparents in the late 1940s for six years before moving to Florida. My father wrote short stories and raised chickens on the farm while chasing a literary fame that never came.

It finally arrived late in life in the small universe of haiku poetry.

My grandmother would twist the necks of hens, killing them, and later those chickens would be dinner after being fried. Those same grandparents had a big meat freezer in a place in downtown Sylvester (like the cat) that rented such spaces, much as businesses rent storage lockers today.

herefordThere was a big freezer on the back porch too, but when you kill an entire cow and cut her up and package her bloody pieces, perhaps along with a fat hog, it won’t all fit into a standard freezer.

I don’t remember ever seeing a cow butchered, but I recall the death of pigs and what happened to them after, stuff that was done in the pasture in a big cauldron of boiling water, things that were fodder for kiddie nightmares, which perhaps I had. I don’t remember any nightmares.

A murdered hog makes a terrible sound.

Granny often had up to 25 cats living in the back yard. I doubt it was intentional. There were simply cats doing what cats do, which is to multiply like bunnies. We also had bunnies, which got sold and/or eaten.

And there were cows and a bull. You don’t need more than one bull, and since there were maybe 30 cows, he was a satisfied bull, one supposes.

They were Herefords, which are meat cows, different than dairy cows such as Guernseys. We were not dairy people. We were beef people.

We didn’t mess with pigs much.

And before we moved away, the chickens were sold. Grandfather wasn’t interested in thousands of chickens. However, the two huge chicken houses, almost as large as football fields, sat abandoned for years after.

There were sprawling fields almost literally as far as the eye could see of peanuts and cotton. The tractors — I recall at least two — were those gray Fords whose look never changed year after year after year.

There were two black servants, Willy the housekeeper and Cap the handyman, who lived half a mile down the red clay road in a dreadfully rundown shack owned by my grandparents.

The unpainted shack, which looked like a stiff breeze would upset it, was ancient. There was a porch, a big room with a fireplace, and an adjoining kitchen. The entire, leaning shebang sat atop brick pilings.

Willie washed clothes in a cast-iron pot over an outside fire, and Cap got drunk on weekends, sometimes during the week too, which did not very set well with my grandmother. Sometimes he had to be bailed out of jail.

Willie always seemed happy. Cap always seemed sullen. They were a permanent fixture of my childhood, and they died in the 1960s. Now they’re buried somewhere in the woods in what once was a black cemetery.

That graveyard is long abandoned and overgrown, and it’s as if they never existed, though they live on in my mind.

The summers were hot, and starry nights were filled with fireflies that flitted though the field that sloped down from the house, across the dirt road.

The winters were cold, and there were fireplaces in every room, save the two bathrooms, one large and one very small.

Along the way, father died and mother died and all the grandparents before them, buried in their graves, and I stepped into their slots as the decades vaulted over Louisiana and Texas, aiming at Mexico.

* * * *

THE FUTURE

orioleThere is no future now.

The present has expanded from one horizon to the other, and all is now here where I have moved far, far away.

The present is filled with hummingbirds and black-vented orioles that sit on maguey spines, and the night sky shines again with stars, and summertime sometimes brings fireflies just like before.

The Olden Days are gone, and I awake to mornings that are always cool in bed with a beautiful woman under warm blankets, and this present is better than the past, and the lack of a future just doesn’t matter.

* * * *

(The same story can be told a thousand ways.)

25 thoughts on “The Olden Days”

  1. May I wish you an early birthday greeting from Gringolandia, my friend!

    I wonder, dear sir, do you eat pork, or puerco as it were? I just went to the local county fair with my lovely. We visited all the penned animals, horses, cows, llamas, sheep and, finally, pigs. I noticed that pigs were the most interactive with people, much more curious than the other animals.

    Made me feel for ’em a bit. Thinking of swearing off pork actually. I noticed you used the term “murdered” referring to the old days.

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    1. Marco: Pigs are one of the most intelligent of the animals we eat. Kind of like the dolphins of farms. They are not naturally squalid either. That reputation comes from how people keep them.

      Yes, I love bacon and poke chops.I rarely eat bacon, however, due to the health issue.

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  2. As always, I look forward to your eloquent and colorful stories. Stick them all together and publish them on the Kindle. You might even make a few shekels.
    This one was one of many masters.

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  3. Every now and then we need a nostalgic reminder of our mortality and to appreciate the present. What a pleasant reminder!

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  4. My first year in Mexico, my neighbor the baker took me for a Sunday drive and we stopped to visit his brother who was working at a slaughter yard. I watched them butcher about 40 cows in a most efficient manner. Nothing went to waste.

    Since that fateful day my appetite for beef has plummeted. My neighbor succeeded in grossing out the gringo. I am perfectly happy sticking with fish, chicken and beans to get my protein.

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    1. Andres: Grossing out the Gringo. I like that.

      And nothing much ever goes to waste in this country.

      I share your proclivity for fish, chicken and beans. We rarely eat beef and not too much pork either. Done for health reasons, not because the beasts die.

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  5. 1. Happy birthday — when that day arrives. Of course,for this one, you deserve to have the celebratory boundaries of Chanukah.

    2. Nice piece. Nostalgia juxtaposed with an almost-Buddhist acceptance of the now. And well-crafted. Your Wolfean style fits perfectly with your theme. Tom, that is, not Thomas.

    3. It’s as if they never existed, though they live on in my mind. Can we ask for anything more?

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    1. Steve:

      1. I’ll be 69, not 70, on this month’s penultimate day.

      2. Thanks, even though I far prefer Thomas to Tom. I tried to read something by Tom just recently, the first time ever, and I made scant headway.

      3. No, I suppose not.

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  6. (The same story can be told a thousand ways.)

    In Ecuador I grew up eating fresh eggs and holding newly hatched chicks. I loved picking the eggs with my mother. They were still warm. We would wrap our hands so the we wouldn’t get pecked. My memory.

    Till this day one of my siblings cannot eat chicken because of the vivid memories they had of the twisting of their necks.

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    1. Andean: I too, of course, due to being surrounded in that time by thousands of chickens, literally, have held fresh eggs and newborn chicks. Few people in the United States these days have that experience, I imagine. Everything comes from Kroger.

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  7. I love your stories. I share some of the culture but I am just a few years younger than you. My parents also had a cow in a freezer at times at Mr. Peggy’s Butcher Shop. He was a big, beefy man. His hands looked like the sausages he made. My mama made sausage too and I helped. Never fooled with chickens but mama did. Wishing you all things good for the next year and many more to come. Have you ever heard of Bailey White. She writes about life in short stories growing up near the Florida border in Georgia. Her first book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, is a classic. Her other books were subpar. You would like her stories, I think.

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    1. Laurie: You are far more than “just a few years younger” than I am. You are almost a generation younger. Be glad for that.

      I did not mention making sausage here, but I remember that too, and I remember that I was going to mention it in the post, but I up and forgot!

      They did it in the kitchen, and it was quite fun. Made a bunch of it, using that hand-turn thingy, a grinder that pushed it into the casing.

      Yes, I know of Bailey White, but I have never read anything by her. I think she also used to speak on NPR.

      Thanks for the nice words.

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      1. I remember the sausage grinder in the kitchen, too. I remember sharing a deep freezer for part of a calf that we shared with my uncle’s familiy and God-knows-who else. The freezer was at his house, and my mom and I used to hunt for packs of meat in there wrapped in white butcher paper. Buy her book for your Kindle. You may laugh out loud. I did, and still do, when I re-read her short stories.

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  8. Yes, happy birthday. I’ll be the same age as you in Oct. but really I sort of forget exactly how old I am until I do the math 🙂

    Here’s something that has absolutely nothing to do with this topic but I thought, in order for you to see it, I’d post it here.

    An apology letter to Mr. Obama
    Posted on August 13, 2013 by The Matt Walsh Blog
    Dear President Obama,

    I’m reaching out to you as a friend. I know you must be deeply hurting after what happened at the Missouri State Fair. Sure, you probably try to avoid watching the news while you’re on vacation, but I’m sure the pilot who airlifted your dog to your rental mansion in Martha’s Vineyard probably caught you up to speed (that guy is such a chatterbox). Your jaw must have hit the floor when you heard the news: A rodeo clown in Missouri poked fun at you. Yeah, I know, almost impossible to believe. The gall! The gumption! The racism! Don’t worry, the entire country erupted in outrage, Democrats and Republicans issued statements of condemnation, and now the offending clown has been banned for life from the Missouri State Fair. There will likely be “action taken” against the Missouri Rodeo Clown Association, and I do hope justice is visited upon them swiftly. I think we’re all a little sick of the Missouri Rodeo Clown Association causing trouble. It’s something new every week with those freakin’ guys.

    But all of this is of no consolation. The fact is, a rodeo clown in Missouri made fun of you. Nothing can ever ease the pain he has caused. This sort of crass lampooning of public officials has never happened at a rodeo until now, and I know that because a bunch of people who have never been within 150 miles of a rodeo said so. And then — worse still — the crowd erupted in applause at the spectacle of a guy in an Obama mask being chased by a rampaging bull. Racists, the lot of ‘em! I mean, Bush never got this sort of treatment. Nobody ever mocked or satirized him. No crude jokes were told about him. Nobody ever wished violence or death upon him. Ever. You know why? Because he’s white. White presidents always get treated nicely, especially white Republicans. Just ask Lincoln. The whole country agreed for over two centuries that we don’t ever insult presidents, then you get into office and all of a sudden every day is Pick on the President Day. Outrageous!

    Besides, you are due some respect. You’ve earned it. You’ve done nothing but serve these people and make their lives better, and this is how they treat you? Ungrateful brats. You should drone bomb these haters. Just kidding. But seriously, you should. You’re the first president in history to actually order the assassination of American citizens, and I say why stop with some Muslim propagandist and his completely innocent son who never committed any crime at all?

    I’m especially sick of these punks in the middle class who won’t stop complaining about you. What’s their issue? OK, you haven’t done anything about the unemployment rate your whole time in office, median household incomes have dropped, fewer businesses are opening, the number of people in poverty has increased while the number of high paying jobs has decreased, all of this while taxes go up and Obamacare looms, threatening to strangle small business owners and put thousands more out of work, but so what? I’ve got two words: Food stamps. Or is it foodstamps? I don’t know, I can’t spell it, I can just use it to get my Lucky Charms and Dr. Pepper. You’ve made all of this “work” crap obsolete by increasing the entitlement state more than any president ever in history! You’re adding more than 11 thousand Americans a day to SNAP. You’ve got millions relying on the government for rent, cable, phone, even birth control. I guess this horrible economy stuff would be kind of a bummer if not for all the delicious welfare. Who needs an economy anymore? We’ve got you, baby.

    So how could anyone be upset at you? How could they delight at the degradation and mockery of Barack Obama? What’s wrong with these right wing rednecks? Are they still sore about the whole thing where you sent the IRS after your political opponents to harass and hinder them during an election cycle? Or the stuff about spying on the phone records of every American? What about all this business about you arming and funding Islamic Militants overseas and then orchestrating a coverup when a bunch of them murdered your ambassador? Are folks STILL mad that you funneled weapons to drug cartels and then threatened whistleblowers into silence? Or is it all this fuss over your Justice Department spying on and attempting to prosecute journalists? Is it the wildly unpopular two thousand page health care law? The regulation mandating that religious employers provide abortifacients to their employees? The millions of tax dollars you’ve given to the abortion industry and the blessings you wished upon a group of wealthy abortionists? The bailouts? The green energy scams? The massive expansion of government? The out of control deficit spending? The lies? The broken promises? The betrayals? The corruption? The attacks on our fundamental liberties?

    I can’t imagine why anyone would get too worked about any of that. Like you said, that stuff didn’t happen. Or it did, but it’s not a big deal. Or it’s not a big deal because it didn’t. I can’t remember, I just know that you treat anyone who raises any of these concerns with utter contempt and disregard, which clearly proves that they are wrong.

    Mr. Obama, IF you WERE actually guilty of being a deceitful despot who murders, conspires, and steals, then obviously all true Americans would have no choice but to giggle with glee at the sight of your likeness being gouged by an angry bull. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, which is why I’d like to apologize for the state of Missouri, for everyone who has ever attended a state fair, and for everyone in the rodeo clown community.

    You are special, Mr. President, and I still love you.

    Yours eternally,

    Matt Walsh

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    1. Carole: You are right that it has nothing at all to do with the post, but no matter. For me, bashing Obama is delightful anywhere. I just hope following comments don’t veer off on this tangent.

      Obama is without a doubt the worst president in American history. No one has even come close to him. It would be blatantly obvious to far more people were he not faux black. That little details blinds so many.

      Now, having said that, let us not go off into politics, please. If we do, I will have to zap the previous comment, and this one of mine too.

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  9. The story of the kunta cow. My friend ran a small herd of beef cows, ten females and one bull. We called the bull the “kunta cow.” He was one-fourth American buffalo. He threw off some fine calves. He got pretty big over the years, to the point where he was breaking down the females when he mounted them for breeding. The beast was more pet than anything, an animal that could kill with one butt of its massive head. Yet all he wanted was a little scratching behind the ear. Licking one to death was more his style. He went to the slaughterhouse nonetheless.

    I and some others bought beef from my friend. We would pay for a quarter and go to the slaughterhouse for the wrapped meat. Over time, it seemed that the meat we were buying was getting leaner and tougher. We thought maybe the butcher was keeping our prime to sell as prime and giving us an old milk cow’s meat. We complained to our friend but the butcher was clever enough not to change out the grower’s freezer meat. My friend just wrote us off as complainers.

    The “kunta cow’s” meat got changed out. I had my friend over for a steak fry and asked him what he thought. I asked him,”Do these steaks look like your steaks?”

    The butcher’s custom cut business took a hit for a long time after that revelation.

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  10. Felipe: You hit a home run today!

    He who seizes the moment is the right man.
    Goethe

    Do not hark back to things that passed,
    And for the future cherish no fond hopes:
    The past was left behind by thee,
    The future state has not yet come.

    But who with vision clear can see
    The present which is here and now
    Such wise one should aspire to win
    What never can be lost nor shaken.
    Buddha

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