Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

Travels with Teddy

When my daughter Amber lived at home, she took care of my animals when I traveled. Once she said Teddy missed me so much he wouldn’t eat when I was gone. It turned out she was feeding him twice as much as I did! He ate like a cat, nibbling his food throughout the day, not gulping it down all at once like some dogs. He’d leave what he didn’t eat.

When Amber was not available, a neighbor tended my animals. One summer, I came home to find Teddy wearing a pink flea collar. No one knew where he got it. Of course, he managed to scratch it off and lose it. One day Teddy and I took a walk on the dirt road. A neighbor I didn’t know well said, “Hello, Teddy.” I stopped to inquire how he knew Teddy and learned that while I was traveling, instead of staying home to keep the varmints out of the yard, my faithful dog was nearly living at their house! That’s where he got the flea collar.

After this, I took him with me. Teddy loved to travel. If I went somewhere in my van and didn’t take him, he’d pout. On the road, he was well- behaved and even tolerated a leash once I explained that city dogs had to wear them. He accompanied me as far north as West Virginia and as far west as Arkansas. On hot days, I couldn’t leave him in the van and tour a museum or antebellum house, but we stopped at parks and walked the trails. Here are Teddy and Tristan, both dog tired after a long walk through a North Carolina swamp:

2011 pics 391

One summer we spent several days on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every cabin and walking every trail that wasn’t too steep for him to climb. I’d go sightseeing and Teddy’d go smell-sniffing. He delighted in new and unusual smells. Here he is checking out something that looks disgusting to a human:

Copy of 10-15 131

He seemed to understand that the van was our home away from home. If a park ranger stopped by our campsite, Teddy would bark until I told him it was ok. One year we went to Arkansas. From there my mother and I flew to Washington to visit my sister Sue. I left Teddy and my van at Mom’s house, under the care of my nephew. Teddy made himself at home and didn’t leave the farm as long as my van was there.

But things were different in the city. One summer when we visited Amber in Virginia Beach, I tied Teddy in the back yard at night and slept in the house. The next morning he was gone. I hiked all over the neighborhood but no one had seen him. We called the pound but he wasn’t there. I was afraid I’d lost him forever.

That afternoon, Amber’s father-in-law returned home and said, “Get your damn dog out of my car.” He’d found Teddy! On a whim, he’d decided to take a different route home, spotted an Animal Control truck, and Teddy being led toward it. Randy convinced the officer he knew whose dog it was, and Teddy was released without bail. Apparently, Teddy had gone as far as a house on a lake and hung out in the backyard all day. When the owners got home from work, they called the pound. After this, I slept out in the hot van with Teddy so he wouldn’t escape again.

Teddy got along with most dogs but my sister Bonnie’s dog is jealously territorial. He wouldn’t let Teddy out of my van. Brutus sees me only once or twice a year but always greets me with wagging tail, even if no one’s home. He doesn’t even object when I use their hidden key to get into the house. Some watchdog! Bonnie said he senses I belong there. But Teddy was not welcome. Brutus had to be distracted so Teddy could get out to relieve himself. Then Brutus got curious about my van and wanted to check it out, but that was Teddy’s territory. He wouldn’t let Brutus near.

As he aged, Teddy had trouble climbing into the van. He could get his front paws in, but I’d have to pick up his hind quarters and shove. Sadly, his traveling days were over. I always felt safe when he was with me, and I missed his company when he wasn’t.

Next time I’ll tell you how Teddy became known as my Million Dollar Dog.

.

 

 

Read Full Post »

In the spring of 1999, Amber and my niece Arianne found a puppy on the side of the road. They brought him in the house wrapped in a towel and all I could see was a friendly little brown head. Then she took the towel off—there was not a hair on the rest of his body. He was covered with mange. The girls promised to find a home for him.

Teddy

They named him Teddy and took him to the vet. He responded well to treatment and before long, he was covered with a beautiful brindle coat. But before they found another home, I had grown attached. Teddy was a big a name for such a little puppy, so I called him Pup, and later Pup Dog. For the remainder of his life, he was known to the rest of the world as Teddy, but to me he was Pup Dog. If I called him Teddy, he knew I was mad at him.

At first I kept him on the front porch and cleaned up behind him, but I didn’t mind. What I did mind was when he ate the potted plants on the porch. If they were in plastic pots, he ate the pots, too. He even ate a bag of potting soil! I’d never seen a dog go through a worse puppy-chewing stage. Of course he’d also eat any shoes or other objects within reach.

I don’t think he ate anyone’s homework, but he did eat my beeper. One night when I was on-call, coming home late and tired, I must have dropped it in the driveway. I found it the next day, too badly chewed to function. I had a good excuse for work—my dog ate my beeper! He never got sick, so the diet must have agreed with him. In fact, he thrived. He grew to full size within a year.

I could not keep a collar on him. I bought a nice collar with his name on it, only to find its mangled remains in the bushes months later. Afterwards, I kept his dog tags with his vet records.

Teddy was an outside dog most of his life. He did a good job keeping varmints out of the yard. He’d sleep all day and patrol at night. I could hear him on one side of the house, then another, barking a brief warning to any intruders that infringed on his turf. His barking was never a problem. If someone drove into the yard, he’d bark once to let me know they were there. I never had any unfriendly visitors, but if I did, I believe Teddy would have kept them at bay.

Some people have problems with deer or rabbits eating their gardens. I never had such a problem when Teddy was in his prime. He also kept coyotes away. The only creatures he cowed to were wild hogs. A herd of them lived in the woods behind me and would come to my yard to eat acorns and earthworms. Teddy knew they were bigger and meaner, so he stayed out of their way. The only time he stood up to them was to protect Amber. One evening, she walked to the neighbor’s and when she came home, the hogs were in the yard. Teddy drove them off.

Then there was the cottonmouth. For a day or two, Teddy had fits, barking frantically at something in the yard. When we discovered the cottonmouth, Amber decided to kill it with a hoe. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring Teddy inside out of harm’s way. Amber chopped at the snake with the hoe and missed. She squealed and jumped back. Teddy thought the snake bit her. He immediately went after the snake, and the snake bit him. I took the hoe and finished off the cottonmouth, then took Teddy to the vet. Dogs often survive such snakebites because the snake is frightened and doesn’t always inject a full dose of venom, but I took no chances. What else could I do when the dog was willing to lay down his life for my child’s?

Teddy was good company. He’d follow me around the yard. He was so curious he’d get between me and whatever I was doing, which could be aggravating. When I went for walks, he always accompanied me. That is, until a rabbit or deer crossed his path. Then off he’d go, paying me no mind. Hours later, he’d trot home. I never worried about him getting lost. Sometimes he’d go off on his own excursions and bring home a dead animal. Farmers disposed of dead livestock in the woods. Teddy would find them and drag home part of a cow or some other unidentifiable beast. Cow skulls and bones littered my yard, and of course, Teddy would smell just as bad as the rotting carcasses.

I’d bathe him before taking him to the vet, and even then he’d manage to get smelly before we left the house. His veterinarian appreciated that he was a free-range country dog and said, “He sure leads a dog’s life.”

Next week I will write about my travels with Teddy.

Read Full Post »

Dogs I Have Known

This summer, after sixteen years of companionship, I laid my good dog Teddy to rest. In saying goodbye, I thought back to other dogs I’ve known through the years.

When I was a child and we lived with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers, two dogs lived in the house with us, Grandma’s beagle Tinker and Aunt Hazel’s cocker spaniel Curly. In my memory they were big dogs, but at the time I was small. Curly had curly black hair. Tinker’s dog tags would tinkle whenever he moved, so I always associated his name with the sound. I remember them scurrying through the house, always together, it seemed, often underfoot. Grandma would call them to go out, or come in, “Curly and Tinker!” or “Tinker and Curly!” as though they were a single entity.

I recall one other dog on the farm, a German shepherd named Lady, who was kept chained up in the cellar. I felt sorry for her. We didn’t play with her like we did Tinker and Curly, but I don’t remember her being anything but docile. German shepherds were popular at the time and for awhile Grandma raised them. Lady had a litter of pups but we didn’t keep any. Mom said she disliked the breed because one of Grandma’s was mean and attacked her. Grandma probably kept Lady chained out of caution for her grandchildren.

I developed a dislike for German shepherds when I was older and we lived across the road from my grandparents. Our next door neighbor had a mean one he kept in a pen. Sometimes the dog would get out and come over to our yard. We were scared of him and would run inside if he got loose. Once when Mom was hanging out clothes, he chased her into the house. I never understood why my father didn’t shoot that dog.

Grandpa Masters had a hunting dog named Skeeter. He was a nice dog but had to be kept tied so he wouldn’t chase game out of season. His leash was attached to a clothesline so he could run back and forth. He lived in a cozy doghouse summer and winter.

My first dog was a small hound I named Poochie. I don’t remember where I got her, but I loved her very much. Unfortunately, she learned the bad habit of chasing cars from other dogs in the neighborhood. One day she chased the school bus. She ran into the wheel and died instantly. The bus driver was distressed, but it wasn’t his fault. I was inconsolable. Dad handled my grief by grumbling that I wouldn’t cry so much for him if he died. How unfair—I was thirteen and had probably told Dad many times that I hated him, but he knew better. I buried Poochie in my flower garden “with her tail to the North and her head to the South” as I wrote in a poem about her. After this, I tried not to let myself get so attached to a dog.

Before we moved to Florida, we had a nice little Scotch collie named Topsy. Since we couldn’t take her with us, we left her with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers. They grew to like her and kept her the rest of her life.

Next week I will write about dogs I knew in Florida, including Dad’s He had one who climbed trees and rode behind him on his motorcycle.

For another story about dogs, read:

https://marieqrogers.com/?s=Joe+and+Sally

Read Full Post »

I’ve been reminded of my mortality. My cousin Michael died recently. I hadn’t seen him in years, yet it saddens me. Mike was only two years older than I, too young to die. I’m told he drank himself to death.

Mike hardly lead a charmed life—his mother died in childbirth. Uncle Buck remarried to a widow from Alabama who had two daughters. Aunt Ora Mae was no southern belle, but a scrappy gal who gave him two additional sons.

Mike grew up believing Aunt Ora Mae was his biological mother, until some “well-meaning” relative told him otherwise. Although given the same love and attention as the other children, Mike seemed to feel out of place. He was the only child in the home who’d been born to a different mother. I remember a conversation between him and his brother when they were very young. Uncle Buck, frustrated as parents sometimes get, had threatened to put the boys in a juvenile home. Paul, too young to know better at the time, bragged that his mother could get him out of the home but not Mike because he wasn’t hers. Ouch.

He was actually my father’s first cousin. Dad was born to Grandad’s oldest son and Mike to his youngest. With only a few years’ difference between them, my dad and Uncle Buck were buddies. Both served in World War II, came home, married, and started families. When I was born, Mike was only two and couldn’t pronounce my name. He called me “Tishie” which stuck as a nickname until I was a teenager. Then I decided I no longer wanted to be called that, but by my real name. Somehow I bent most of my relatives to my will and was able to change my appellation.

When I started school, Mike was put in charge of my safety, to walk me to our one-room schoolhouse each morning. He and I were among the last students to attend that school. After it was closed we rode the bus together to the city schools, but following Mike through the academic ranks was not easy. I was a well-behaved scholar and he was not. In junior high, one teacher asked if I was related to Mike Rogers. When I said yes, that I was his cousin, the teacher said only, “Oh.” That one word spoke volumes.

I had an English teacher who never seemed to like me. I got along well with most teachers because I was a good student. I was a favorite of English teachers, especially, because I enjoyed reading. I couldn’t figure out why this teacher never warmed up to me. Later, I learned that Mike had previously been in her class. He told me he got in trouble when she found girlie books in his desk. How unfair! After nine months of school, you’d think this teacher could have figured out that I was quite different from my cousin.

Mike’s family lived in an apartment upstairs in Grandad’s house, just up the hill from us. He and his brothers, and my brothers and I, were childhood playmates. In winter, we would ice skate on his grandfather’s pond and during summer we played baseball in my grandparents’ field.

Then time and distance separated us. My family moved to Florida and I saw Mike only a few times when we returned to visit. I did not know him as an adult. He married and moved to California, and I did not see him for a lifetime. I never met his wife or children.

I had led a rather sheltered childhood. The only people I knew who died were old people who had lived out their years. Even during the Viet Nam Era, most of those around me avoided the draft and I lost no one I knew well. At my 40th high school reunion I was shocked to learn that some of our classmates’ lives had been snuffed out, at least one by suicide. Mike’s death was similarly unexpected.

When my grandparents were still with us, I made a point of visiting them often. I didn’t want to regret not spending enough time with them while they were alive. After I became interested in genealogy and family history, I found holes in my knowledge and often wish I could ask my elders about this or that person or event. Despite my efforts, I have regrets.

In the summer of 2009, Mike accompanied Uncle Buck to our family reunion. I had not seen him in over forty years and would not have recognized him on the street. He’d turned into an old codger with a grizzled beard. With over a hundred other relatives in attendance, I didn’t have much time to visit with Mike. I didn’t know I would never see him again. He was not supposed to die so soon.

And so I regret not having made more effort to know my cousin Michael. I also wish I had collected his stories. Living in close proximity to Grandad, what family history did Mike know that died with him? And with two more years at Barnum Hill School, what memories did he have that I lack? Must we always regret such missed opportunities?

Read Full Post »

Last week I saw an Edsel. It’s uncanny how one thought runs into another, and almost spooky when one of those random thoughts materializes.

It began in my writer’s group. One member was struggling to reword an awkward phrase about surnames from different languages. My mind meandered to my eighth grade social studies class. At the beginning of the school year, when the teacher called the roll, going down the list of Polish and Russian and Slavic names, he came to “Rogers”. He asked me, “What are you doing in Johnson City?”

Indeed, what was I doing there? My English-sounding last name seemed out of place. Most of my classmates were descended from Eastern Europeans who escaped persecution in their homelands and were attracted to well-paying jobs in the shoe factories. The Rogers had come here by a different route.

Although he lived in Pennsylvania, my ancestor William enlisted in the Union Army in Elmira, NY. After the war, he went to Albany to marry Nancy Turk. He and Nancy must have met before the war, probably in Upstate New York.

The Rogers are such wanderers. William took his bride to Wisconsin where he taught school. Later they homesteaded in Kansas. He returned to the East when he inherited his brother’s farm in Pennsylvania, then settled in West Virginia with some of his sons. For reasons I am unaware of, Nancy returned to the Johnson City area where her relatives lived. Most of her sons eventually followed her, including my great-grandfather John Thomas, whom I called Granddad.

For the better part of the Twentieth Century, there were quite a few Rogers in that part of the country. Granddad had four sons. Uncle Jim had no wife or children, but he made his mark by building houses, including my grandparents’, before he moved to California. Uncle Floyd and Uncle Buck had three sons apiece. My grandparents had only one who survived to adulthood, but he made up for it with three sons and six daughters before we moved to Florida. Notice I keep saying sons. I was the first girl born in the Rogers family in a century.

So at one time there were quite a few of us in Johnson City and surrounding communities. Now I’m not sure if any remain. We are such wanderers. Uncle Buck and Aunt Ora Mae migrated to her home state, Alabama. Their sons now live in Alabama and the Carolinas. Uncle Floyd’s have similarly dispersed. My family is spread around the globe.

One thought drifting to another brought me to the Edsel. In that same social studies class, one day we held a debate. A boy posing as Henry Ford defended his position, whatever it was, by saying he hadn’t sold an Edsel in over three years. Unprepared with facts to the contrary, I countered with, “You must have. I’ve seen dozens on the road.” After the debate, the teacher set the record straight, “The Edsel went out of production in 1960.”

That was so long ago. I couldn’t tell you when I had last seen an Edsel or even thought about one. The Edsel had been a mechanical and marketing flop in its day. Now, the few that remain must be worth a fortune. The word is so obsolete my spell-check did not list it. But that’s where my thoughts wandered that day in my writing group.

On the way home, I saw an old car coming down the road toward me. As it drew closer, I noticed the distinctive grill. It was an Edsel! What on Earth was it doing on that back road? And, more significantly, why in Heaven’s name was it driving through my thoughts?

You might ask, what do these two topics have to do with one another? Nothing, except they converged in memories of my eighth grade social studies class. Interesting, how the mind works.

If you knew what an Edsel was before you googled it, congratulations. You win the Geezer Award.

 

Read Full Post »

Almost all my life I have been fortunate to live in the country where wild trees are available for Christmas. The area I lived in as a child used to be dairy country. Once there must have been a dozen small dairy farms within a mile of our house. Through the years, one by one, they went out of business. Today, I doubt any remain in operation.

Back in the day when houses were heated with firewood, farmers maintained wood lots to ensure a steady source. My grandparents had more trees on their farm than many – havens for climbing grandchildren and shady places for the cows in summer. Most farmers seemed to begrudge the few square feet under trees where grass and crops would not grow and kept their pastures and hay fields cleared. Hence the importance of wood lots. When my father was a boy, he planted a corner of the farm in trees as a 4-H project. By the time I was old enough to play in the woods, his trees had attained some size, but young trees, just right for Christmas, grew from seeds they dropped.

There was no thought of buying a Christmas tree. We went to the woodlot and cut one of suitable size. A variety were available: pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock. As my brothers and I grew big enough, we would harvest the tree without adult assistance.

One year sticks out in my mind. I must have been twelve or thirteen. Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived over the hill in Finch Hollow. Grandpa hunted in the woods behind their house. That year he spotted several perfect trees on their property and offered us one. We had hiked cross-lots to their place in summer and thought it would be no problem to haul a tree over the hill on a sled.

But this was winter and snow was knee deep. We got over the hill OK and up to Grandpa’s woods where we selected our tree, cut it, and tied it on the sled. We warmed up in Grandma’s kitchen, sipping hot cocoa, before we pulled the sled down through the hollow and tackled the big hill. Wading through grass and brush in summer is one thing. Struggling through snow tangled in grass and brush is another. Cold as we were, asking for help was out of the question as we could not lose face. Besides, we were a good distance from any road and no one had snowmobiles. We made it over the hill and through the fields to our house, tree and all,  frozen to the bone, but proud. And happy once we warmed up and put on dry clothes.

Our first Christmas in Florida, we lived in the Ocala National Forest where sand pines grow. Not as nice as fir or spruce, nevertheless, with their short needles and dense growth, the young ones make suitable Christmas trees.

Then I grew up and moved on. Today I live in pine flatwoods, too wet for sand pines but host to other varieties: long leaf, loblolly, and slash pine. While these grow into beautiful adult trees, they have long needles and their branch whorls are at least a foot apart. The saplings look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, but when dressed in lights, ornaments, and tinsel, they are as pretty as any store-bought.

A few years when I had the money, I bought fragrant fir trees from a lot at a friend’s church. After they went out of the Christmas trees business, I resumed cutting trees from my woods or a neighbor’s. Occasionally we had cedar trees. They are very pretty with dense foliage to rival any spruce, but the branches are prickly. You almost need gloves to decorate them or your hands end up looking like you’ve been picking blackberries.

This year, my son Joel and his family spent Christmas with me. Did the children want me to buy a tree? No. The Spirit of Christmas Trees Past spoke to them. They remembered previous Christmas times when they accompanied me to find a tree. It was fun. It was tradition. That was what they wanted.

I was so busy with holiday preparations, Joel took the children out to the abandoned pasture behind my house. They were gone a long time, tromping through marsh and blackberry brambles, but fortunately no snow. They brought back the perfect tree. Almost perfect. One side had few branches, so we set it against the wall. The children helped me trim it, and I believe it is the prettiest Christmas tree I’ve ever had.

Is it the commercialization of Christmas that drives us back to old practices that have little place in modern life? What practical purpose does a Christmas tree serve? Besides the time and expense, I’m required to rearrange furniture to make room for a place to pile gifts. A table would do as well. Boxes of ornaments are hauled from the attic and hung on the tree. Not to mention the mess, tinsel and pine needles all over the floor. After Christmas, everything must be undone and put away. And why cut a living tree? A tree-hugger like myself should shun the practice, but I have never been drawn to artificial trees.

If only a fresh tree will do, I can afford to buy a pretty, well shaped fir which was grown for this purpose and whose scent is unequaled. But like my grandchildren, I am drawn to the woods this time of year, to bear the cold and brambles, to harvest a tree and bring it into my home. It has meaning beyond the large decoration crowding my living room. It is a connection with the Earth, with my roots. It keeps me centered and gives life a meaning that cannot be expressed in words.

Read Full Post »

When I was a child, Grandma Rogers ran a little dairy with about half dozen milchers. She and my father milked the cows twice a day, morning and evening. When my brothers were old enough, they helped. After each milking, they carried the pails into her creamery where the milk was strained and poured into the separator. This contraption was about four feet tall with a large bowl on top to receive milk. Grandma would wind it up by turning a large crank on its side, and the milk would spiral through the machine, centrifugal force separating the lighter cream from the heavier milk. The liquids would exit through separate spouts to be collected in containers. Grandma always reserved some of the rich whole milk for the family. The skim milk was mostly fed to calves.

Her creamery was located in the cellar of the house, a short walk from the barn. That corner of the cellar was always clean and cool, even in summer. During winter, the furnace put out enough heat to temper the cold. Buckets and separator parts were washed in a double stone sink, and her large chest freezer doubled as a work bench. She had a collection of crocks imbued, I’m sure, with just the right microorganisms to ferment the cream.

When it was ready, Grandma took the cream upstairs to the kitchen. Instead of an upright dash churn such as you see in pictures, hers resembled a section of a barrel turned on its side. I’m sure her barrel churn was more efficient than the upright model. A crank on its side turned a paddle inside the barrel, beating the particles of butterfat together until they coalesced into a golden mass floating in buttermilk.

I used to watch her knead the butter and add salt, unless a customer wanted “sweet” butter for health reasons. She’d take about a pound of butter, form it into a block and weigh it with a spring scale which hung on a hook above the doorway. The scale supported a shallow pan for the butter. If the block was too heavy, she’d remove a little, if too light, add some. Once it was exactly one pound, she’d pat it into shape and wrap it in wax paper. I seldom saw her use a wooden butter mold such as you see in antique stores.

Butter route day fell on Thursdays. Since Grandma didn’t drive, her sister, Aunt Hazel, would take her. She always drove a Plymouth. When her car got too old, Aunt Hazel would get a new one, always a Plymouth. Unless we were in school, my siblings and I took turns accompanying them on the butter route.

Aunt Hazel would take us into Binghamton. Most of the butter customers were elderly ladies from the “Old Country”, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Armenia. The farm fresh butter may have cost more than store bought, but it reminded them of home. They were accustomed to cultured butter such as they had in the Old Country and found commercial butter a disappointment. I could not find Armenia on the map. I was too young to realize it had been swallowed up by the Soviet Union. Sometimes I wondered if all Armenians lived in Binghamton.

One day a customer’s daughter answered the door and hollered, “The butter lady is here!” I thought that was rather rude. My grandmother had a name. Her customers called her Mrs. Rogers. When I mentioned this to Grandma, she dismissed it, saying the young lady just didn’t know better.

These ladies baked delicious food with exotic names, and sometimes they’d offer us some. One was a Czechoslovakian fruit-filled pastry with a name that sounded like “ka-lach-key”.

Occasionally a butter customer would give me a nickel or a dime. After we completed the route, we’d shop at the A&P for groceries. Unless I decided to save my money for something else, I could spend it at the store. Nickels and dimes went a long way then. Back at Grandma’s house, she’d warm up canned soup for lunch. That was always a treat, a change from home cooked meals.

A lifetime later, I went to Texas for a niece’s wedding. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a donut shop advertizing “Kolaches, $1 or $11 a dozen”. How had these Old Country treats traveled from an eastern city to a cattle town half a continent away? Had people from Eastern Europe settled here, too? The girl behind the counter was Asian and she pronounced them “Ka-lat-keys”. I bought a dozen. This version was new to me. Instead of a fruit-filled pastry, it was a sausage wrapped in sweet dough. Texans like their meat. It was still delicious and reminded me of my “old country.”

I forgot to ask how Kolaches came to Texas. Maybe I need to go back and find out.

Read Full Post »

The pavement ends. Potholes and asphalt yield to stony dirt, intersected by little gullies dug by rain on its way to the river. You’ve not merely crossed from Oklahoma to Arkansas, from Road to Trail. You have entered another place and time, where cell phones receive no signal and the internet and social media do not intrude.

Peace settles over you as the dust settles to the roadbed. Stop a moment and gaze at the bucolic scene, a scattering of houses among fields of hay and cattle. And forests. On your left Walker Mountain slopes up into the trees. On every quarter section sits a house with a front porch. Porch swings and rocking chairs invite you to visit. Gaze across the valley and the Black Fork River to the mountain brooding beyond. An occasional gash of gray from a rock slide interrupts the medley of greens and browns of the forest. Long ago people abandoned the mountain to wild things and memories. Not so much as a radio tower tarnishes the wilderness.

Once this valley buzzed with activity. Cotton was King. Black Fork, valley and mountain, boasted of stores and schools, homesteads and share croppers. Then came the Boll Weevil. Only sketchy tales linger of the many who left to seek fortunes elsewhere. The remains of their homes, reduced to debris, mingle with arrowheads cast aside by earlier denizens of the valley.

A small clapboard building perches on the bank of the road in front of an abandoned stone house. The old post office was small enough to move up and down the valley as the duty of postmaster shifted from neighbor to neighbor. Black Fork once had its own Zip Code, but the post office closed some forty years ago. Today, a rural carrier brings mail from Mena, on the other side of the mountain, over in Polk County.

One day when I visited my mother, the mail lady drove into the yard with a package too large for the box. No yellow slip of paper giving notice of something on a shelf miles away. When Mom asked about her recent trip, the carrier grabbed her photos and joined us in the kitchen. So, the neighbors’ mail would be a few minutes late today.

Two church buildings remain in the valley. Friendship Baptist Church still holds services for a handful, but most folks go to their chosen denominations in nearby towns. A few miles east, Piney Church once competed for the souls of the valley and doubled as a one room schoolhouse, but the building is now a social hall for a dwindling number of quilters. On the front porch is a pile of firewood for the pot-bellied stove. The door is unlocked. No one minds if you visit. The building is wired for electricity but has no running water. Out front is an old well and an outhouse in the back. A large quilt frame takes up much of the room. Look closely at the stitching – all hand crafted.

On the walls a few black and white group photographs attest that this was once a school. An eighth grade education was required for teachers. The scholars who remain in the valley are now grandparents. Their descendents are bussed to Acorn, a good 45 minutes away. Many children in the valley are home schooled.

Black Fork is 45 minutes from everywhere. Haw Creek, over in Oklahoma, has a thriving church and a mom-and-pop gas station which periodically goes out of business. Better gas up before you venture here. However, should your truck or farm equipment need repairs, Black Fork Garage is the one thriving business in the valley.

Most small communities lose population as the young people move elsewhere for jobs and the old move to cemeteries, but Black Fork is different. Retired people are moving into the valley and building homes and some of the young choose to stay. They have to commute to jobs or dabble in small local endeavors. Why do they live here? Because life is good.

This is no utopia. Lives have been lost in flash floods. Logging and farming can be hazardous, and Black Fork is not immune to illegal drugs and crime. By nature or nurture, some people have light fingers, so if something comes up missing, you can bet the owner has an idea who took it. If the suspect is innocent by reason of being in jail, well, it must have been his brother.

One hot August, some convicts escaped from a prison over in Oklahoma and one found his way to Black Fork. He hid in the woods and raided vacant kitchens for sustenance. Having lost his shoes, he stole a pair, but they were too big and left him with blisters. Because he was afraid of bears, he slept in trees, unaware that bears can climb. When the authorities caught up with him, dirty, scratched, plagued with ticks and chiggers, he was happy to go home to his cell.

People in Black Fork make do or do without. Or mobilize the community. Emergency vehicles take 45 minutes to get here, or if a train is parked at the crossing in Page, twice as long. So the citizens organized a Volunteer Fire Department, raising funds through bake sales and raffles, government grants and support from nearby VFDs. Everyone pitched in to build a firehouse and garner necessary equipment. Volunteers went to training and several became first responders.

Last winter, an ice storm downed power lines. Members of the VFD checked on the elderly and disabled, ensuring their safety and providing them with food, water, and firewood if needed. Roads had to be cleared before electricity could be restored. The fire department cut their way through over twenty miles of fallen trees. Service was restored in half the time it would have taken the utility company alone.

Looking out for one another is a way of life. After a flood damaged many vehicles, Black Fork Garage made repairs, charging customers for parts only, not for labor. “We didn’t do anymore than anyone else would have done in our shoes. The best pay is the love and appreciation we get from our neighbors, and the satisfaction of being the Lord’s hand extended to others.”

Visiting Black Fork is like returning to a forgotten way of life. Not a perfect life, but one we rediscover when we slow down. The visitor can set aside worries for a time and hold responsibilities at arm’s length. I always leave with regret and look forward to coming back.

Read Full Post »

On a cold, rainy day, when it’s not nice enough to work outdoors, cleaning out the attic is a worthy endeavor. Every year I have good intentions to do this, but the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions. For once, this year I strayed from that road, at least in this regard. As a bonus, I uncovered a trove of treasure.

A genetic trait of the Rogers family is the propensity to save things. This goes back three generations, probably more. We are not hoarders as such. We just save anything that might be useful someday. This is a survival skill. Have you ever discarded or given away something you never use, only to need it six months later? That’s why we save things. My father used to make fun of me. He once accused me of saving old toilet paper. He was only exaggerating, of course (another family trait – have you noticed?) but he was a great one to talk. My widowed mother, who does not carry the trait, has been sorting through his stuff for over six years and there’s no end in sight.

My house has three attics, so imagine the trouble I can leave my heirs. In the little attic above my kitchen, I store holiday decorations. This winter I cleared everything out of there, including all the dirt and debris. I reorganized the Christmas stuff and stored it neatly in one area. There were a few boxes of Easter baskets and Thanksgiving decorations, plus some camping equipment and luggage. These were easily dealt with. Then I had to contend with an unbelievable pile of empty boxes, Styrofoam peanuts, and other packing material. Much of that was  recycled  or thrown away, but it’s wise to keep some in case I want to mail a package. Wise, but even wisdom needs its limits. I can’t keep ALL of it.

Last, but not the least challenging, was the large box of Halloween costumes. If you are a student of ancient history, you may remember when Curtis Mathis TVs had the longest warranty on the market. Well, I still have my TV and it still works. It came in a huge box which had sat in my attic full of Halloween things for over twenty years. I cannot recall when I last sorted through it.

I remembered many of the costumes stored there: a clown/scarecrow suit, some monster masks, square dance apparel complete with pantaloons and petticoats, and some tunics that could serve as Indian or medieval costumes. There were several half-surprises, things I had nearly forgotten: a box of grease paint (from my college days!), a variety of hats crushed by time, a battered wig, a wine skin, blouses from the hippie days, clothes from the 80s, and some men’s coveralls.

Then came the forgotten surprises. One old hat has a band made from a real rattlesnake hide. A plastic Transformers mask, perhaps Optimus Prime, had survived from the 80s. I found a straight jacket made of muslin, a hospital gown, and several almost doll-sized garments, including a little red and white cheerleader skirt. I made these for my girls when they were little. Very little. Several things may have started out as clothing later to become costumes: large full skirts, a garish pair of shorts like the surfing shorts popular in the 80s, a rather nice leather jacket “Custom Tailored in Hong Kong”, a wrap-around (and around and around) skirt, and some thrown-together pieces, costumes for fantasy characters.

It was fascinating to go through everything, trying to remember who wore them and when. But what should I do with them now? If I boxed them up, they could remain forgotten for another twenty years.

In another attic I found a solution. A clothes rack held old prom dresses, majorette outfits, and some coats and blouses. Many of those are an appropriate addition to a costume collection, so I unloaded the rack and set it up in the kitchen attic. I sorted through everything and restored the gowns and other articles to the rack. Then I hung up all the other costumes. The rack is very full. There is no room for anything else. Maybe I can find good homes for some items. Maybe my children will want some of them.

I threw out the old paper ghosts and pumpkins and even the grease paint and the old Curtis Mathis box. Everything has its life span. The few salvageable Halloween treasures now fit into a smaller box.

Today my attic looks less like a trash heap and more like those old attics you see in movies, festooned with period costumes. Everything is still dusty and could use a good laundering. After that has been accomplished, a fun thing to do on a rainy afternoon would be to introduce my granddaughters to the attic and let them go treasure hunting.

Read Full Post »

Every year, the commercial Christmas season seems to distend earlier into autumn. This year, stores set out Christmas decorations before Halloween and soon broadcast Christmas music.

Bah! Humbug! Even store employees agreed.

I remember Grandma Rogers, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, saying, “I’m going to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. This seemed so out of character. She was no Scrooge, but grew up in a family of modest means and reared her children during the Great Depression. The increasing commercialization of Christmas must have grated on her. Now I understand. I find myself making the same threat.

But TODAY is the day after Thanksgiving. The Spirit of Christmas beckons. Don’t worry, you won’t find me at the mall, or even a convenience store. I may or may not glance through the stack of catalogs that have cluttered my mailbox for weeks, but I will start making lists. After almost two months of Scrooge, it is time to welcome Christmas.

This holiday embodies a magic unrelated to material things and goes beyond the joy of giving. Remember the Christmas Truce of 1914? During World War I, Allied and German soldiers in the trenches spontaneously stopped fighting, sang Christmas carols, and crossed battle lines to exchange fellowship, food, and souvenirs. Unsanctioned by their superiors, this event will long be remembered as a triumph, however brief, of love over hate.

The magic of Christmas survives adversity. In 1989, we had an ice storm.  On December 22nd, my children and I visited my parents in Scrambletown, planning to spend one night. My parents didn’t know that my sister Lorraine, a missionary in Africa, was coming home for Christmas.  She arrived with the freezing rain and snow.  Our parents were surprised and overjoyed and no one minded the bitter cold.

 But we cold not get home. The Ocala National Forest is a veritable island, surrounded on two sides by the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns River on a third. The bridges were iced and closed. The only way out was south through Lake County, but weather conditions made travel inadvisable. Our northern friends may scoff, but they do not want to share icy roads with Floridians. We are a menace.

Sunshine melted the ice and I drove home Christmas Eve. Patches of frost remained on shady areas of roadway, but we arrived safely. We came home to no electricity or heat. Water left in a jar was frozen and my houseplants were history. However, our spirits were not chilled. With a gas stove, we could cook. Somehow I procured a kerosene heater. We survived and celebrated a very happy Christmas.

 Of course, Christmas cannot overcome all misfortune. A neighbor of my parents was killed one Christmas Eve riding home on a mini-bike intended for his children. These things happen. Lesser troubles occur. When I was about eleven, some of my brothers and sisters came down with measles and my mother had to stay home with them while the rest of us visited our grandparents on Christmas. The last year of my marriage, I was heartbroken when my spouse neglected to give me a gift. But my children’s generosity buoyed my spirits.

Christmas brings anxiety. As a parent, I always worried I wasn’t doing enough for my children. Then one year, when my oldest boy was about five, he remarked that he got too many presents. I used to have a recurring dream, that it was Christmas Eve and I did not have gifts for some of my loved ones. After a few years, the dream ceased to bother me. Then one year the dream did not come! I worried that I would actually forget someone.

Most of my memories of Christmas are happy. As a child, we would wake at 3:00 am and find our stockings filled. Santa must have come by at 2:30. One Christmas we woke to a living room full of child-size wicker chairs, one for each of us. I still wonder how Santa managed that.  One season we tried to peek into what our parents had bought us. That ruined our fun and we never did it again. Before we moved to Florida, Christmas lasted all day. We ate breakfast at home and opened presents. Then we went to Grandma Rogers’ for dinner and more gifts. For supper, we went to Grandma Masters’ for aunts, uncles, cousins, and even more presents.

Maybe that’s why I still try to make Christmas last all day. My children were allowed to get their stockings when they woke up, but they were not to open presents until Mama had a cup of coffee. Even then, my preference was to limit it to one gift before breakfast, which of course drove the kids nuts.

Occasionally, we went to the Christmas Eve service at church, but I prefer to spend that night at home. Before my children grew up and moved away, we had a tradition of snacking on hors d’oeuvres and wrapping gifts until bedtime. Last year, my daughter-in-law’s gift was to take me to the Christmas Eve matinee at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville. The food was delicious and  “White Christmas” brought me to tears. Although the cast faced an evening performance, their spirits were high and some took time to chat with us afterwards and sign autographs for my granddaughter.

The magic didn’t end there. We stopped at the riverfront on the way home and enjoyed the scenery and the cool but pleasant evening. A handful of other pedestrians and bicyclists were abroad. Total strangers, we greeted one another with, “Merry Christmas!”

Today, after I post this, I will start my lists: cards, gifts, cookies, fruitcakes, and groceries. I will retrieve decorations from the attic and stick plastic poinsettias in my houseplants. That makes them happy. In a few weeks I will search the woods for a suitable tree.

Today is the day after Thanksgiving.  Scrooge has been visited by his ghosts. It is now the time to look forward to Christmas.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: