Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"The Detour"


Recently I've been traveling down memory lane and believe me its a long way back to my childhood. I attended my Aunt Helen's funeral a couple of months ago in Opelika, Alabama. While there, I visited the old home place which triggered many childhood memories, leaving me longing for simpler times.

My friend, Douglas(Rebecca) must have experienced the same thing as she wrote this story. I would like to share it with you and I'm sure Douglas would love for you to leave a comment.

Grandmother's house with porch swing


Recently, I was forced take a detour. An accident was blocking the underpass on the street I was traveling. I could have turned around and returned from whence I came – taking the main road. Instead I chose to turn onto a side street. The road less traveled. And like the traveler in Robert Frost’s poem that made all the difference.

The road was narrow with no curb or gutter on a good part of it. Shaded by majestic oaks older than I am, the coolness enveloped me as I passed from sunlight into shade. As I began to pass by the houses my mind wandered.

Almost with out exception each house had a “sittin’ porch”. Now, if you’ve never experienced the pleasure of a “sittin’ porch” on a Sunday afternoon, any evening from May to September, or perhaps longer, depending on your whereabouts in the South, you have not lived!

My paternal grandmother had such a porch. It was wide enough to sit on in the rain, if it wasn’t a blowing rain and not get wet. It wasn’t decorated with designer cushions or do- dads. It was functional porch. On one end was a wonderful swing built by my grandfather. On the other end was a metal glider and in the middle sat two matching chairs that sort of bounced when you sat in them. I still have the chairs and swing, sadly I somehow let the glider get away; I wish I had that glider.

Sunday afternoons were a time for visiting with neighbors. On my grandma’s street everybody knew everybody and most everybody’s business, which wasn’t always a good thing. Seven –Up and Cheese Tid Bits were always the afternoon snack. My grandma and her sister would chat about who was at church, who wasn’t at church, and of course if we had roast preacher for dinner. Sometimes I played with grandchildren next door if they were visiting their grandparents; mostly I watched and listened as the adults talked. Little did they or I know what wealth they were adding to my language and social development.

My grandma and her sister read the Bible everyday. Sometimes they would bring the Bibles or the devotional books on the porch and read. I still have my grandma’s Bible; it is a wonderful leather bound King James Version from the 1940’s with all of Jesus’ words in red letters. It was a gift to her from the men’s Bible class at the church - a thank you for helping with the suppers at the church.

I know my grandma was a woman of great faith. Her mother died when she was still a girl and she and her sister Polly went to live with their oldest sister Frances, known as Mother Frances to them, who was grown and married. This would be where Aunt Polly stole the baby. Frances raised them as if her own. Polly married at fourteen my grandma married a little later.

My grandparents were married six years before my father was born in 1918 just as WWI was ending. He was a much-wanted child, but when he was two he contracted Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever one after the other. They feared for his life and he was given up for dead more than once. The length and severity of the illnesses caused him to have to learn to walk again.

My grandfather was a fireman and later became Firechief. His responsibilities meant that my grandma carried the load of childrearing and house hold running on her own a great deal of the time .She had a cow, chickens and a garden. She washed clothes by hand on Monday ,ironed on Tuesday, beat the rugs Wednesday, dusted on Thursday and scrubbed down the back steps every Saturday night with the dishwater. Everyday she swept the kitchen, ran the dust mop over the floors, swept the front porch the sidewalk and the gutter in front of the house and cooked a big dinner which was the noonday meal. If some one on the street was sick or had a sick child she was called in to help. If there was a death she cooked a meal and sat with the family and she never ever missed Sunday School and church on Sunday.

An infection killed my grandfather when he was 48. Now, such an infection is not fatal, but in 1937 the only drug to fight it was not available in Rome,GA and had to be flown in, it arrived too late to save his life. At 45 Sarah Douglas White Taylor became a widow; her only child, a son, was 18.

WWII darkened the horizon in 1941 and America began the draft. My mother worked for the draft Board. She and my father became sweethearts when she was 14 and he was 18. Now in 1942 he was about to be sent overseas, so like many young couples they hurriedly married. My grandma sent her only child, who had once been snatched from the hands of death, into a war from which he might never return. I can only imagine what faith and courage that took. She only had letters from him for the next three years .I am blessed to have some of those letters.

I spent the night at grandma’s house sometimes and then because it was usually in the summer we sat out on the porch until long after dark. Saturday nights were the night of choice, so I was there for the afternoon too. I could play out while my grandma and her sister, Aunt Polly got Sunday dinner ready because my grandma didn’t work on Sundays not even to make Sunday dinner. She would, however, wash the dishes from said dinner. I can still recall the sounds of push lawn mowers and rakes in the neighborhood and the snip -snip of manual hedge clippers as neighbors did weekly yard chores.

Those were comforting noises from a time when the pace was less frantic. We knew our neighbors, we cared for them, helped them out and they helped us. Things were a little safer then and I could bet if I misbehaved out in public my parents or grandparents would know about it before I got home. Parents did not take kindly to being informed of misbehaving children nor did grandparents. There was no telling to the informant “I know my child would never do that.” as we do in the world today. No ma’am I was guilty as charged, being mostly punished with the ever feared talking to - which was the worst of all. I just never knew who might be watching me, so it was in my best interest to walk the straight and narrow as I was just as recognized in my grandma’s neighborhood as I was in my own.

I was Sally’s granddaughter and woe be unto me to besmirch the family name, so I played most respectfully while the grownups did the work of the day lest I lose my welcome. The afternoon drew to a close a light supper would be eaten and then we would adjourn to the porch. There was no TV at grandma’s house only a large Philco radio used as a piece of furniture-I still have that too.

There was no Daylight Savings Time so dark came at an earlier hour than it does now. The nighttime was a magical time to watch lightening bugs rise from the grass, to hear the night bugs calling and the frogs singing. Aunt Polly was a storyteller. She could spin an enchanting tale about the woodland creatures and the secret lives they lived out of our sight. I believed everything she told me. My grandma had different stories to tell. In the sweet darkness of a cool summer night she would tell stories of my daddy when he was a toddler, then a boy, then a young man married and going to war. She told stories of her childhood and how Aunt Polly had stolen a baby when she was a little girl because she thought it was cute and the sharecropper on the land had lots of children so she didn’t think they would miss one.

She told of my grandfather, the Firechief, who died before I was born and how much she loved him. It helps to know the people who came before you. My grandma’s stories gave me a sense of the strength my ancestors possessed. They endured terrible things; not the least of which was the great Depression. My great grandparents endured the Civil War, the death of infants, fires, loss of property and income and untimely deaths of loved ones. They persevered and left me a great legacy of strength and grace to do the same.

I was forced to take a detour recently. I’m sorry for the accident. I hope the injuries were not too serious. I am thankful to have taken the road less traveled, for my detour made all the difference in my day.

Grandmother and Aunt Polly

1 comment:

  1. Douglas,
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It touched my heart and brought back my own memories.
    Deborah M.