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.
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 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.)