This time of year always floods my mind with memories of my youth. As summer ends it is traditionally when kids start getting ready to go back to school. The days start to get shorter and the temperatures slowly become more mild. It is during this time that I feel both less older than I am and reminded of just how long ago my youth was, to say it can be emotional is an understatement. Oftentimes we romanticize our youthful memories into being different than they actually were, But still, summertime memories always seem sweet and full of emotion. During southern summers, we were all equal. No one was odd, weird, or a dweeb. We were part of a larger group mind.
I have said it many times in other posts that we grew up poor, so my fondest memories was how my sister and I occupied our summers with the little that we had. When we were young we stayed with our great aunt Lizzie, we called her Grandma, during the days. We would get up at sunrise or so to get dressed so our mom would take us to stay with her. We would have to have the toys and things we wanted to take ready also. We would sleepily pile into the car and make the short drive to her house. When we arrived, Grandma would have breakfast ready for us and it was always home cooked. She made some of the best biscuits that I can remember and to this day my mouth waters over them. After we ate our breakfast, we would lay back down for a few hours.
Our days were spent outside as much as possible. She had a big yard with a large chicken coup that would always have our attention. Her garden was almost five acres, and we would spend time stealing tommy toes from the tomato patch. We often would huddle together with our cousin about building a fort or clubhouse. More often than not you would find us at the old stump in the yard. Here we would spend our days digging in it, playing with Matchbox cars or various action figures we brought with us. That stump ate it’s fair share of our toys as well. Every summer we worked on digging that stumped and made pacts about how this would be the year we dug it up. When company came to visit, Grandma or us would take people to see the progress we made. It was always known as our thing and if any kids came, they were automatically enlisted in our endeavor.
Sure this all sounds like we had a grand all time but it wasn’t always stealing tomatoes and digging at that old ornery stump. Grandma was no fool, she knew that she had access to free labor and throughout the summer we were enlisted to be a part of the production line that dealt with the vegetables from the garden. She was smart in how she did it and often used the line if we wanted to eat lunch, we would help her with some of the work. Our little hands were put to the task of shucking and desilking corn. She even gave us little brushes that were used specifically for removing the hair we couldn’t always pull. She would sit us down with bowls full of peas or beans beneath one of the many old and large trees in the yard and told to “hull them.” If you aren’t familiar with the term, it meant the process of removing the peas or beans from their shells.
Of course, this only happened if they were ones that needed to be hulled. There are many varieties of both peas and beans. Some were hulled, while others we had to “string and break.” This was the process of removing the string or stem of the bean/pea and then broken into small pieces that would cook easily. There were times that while my sister was doing this that Grandma would brush and braid her hair while our cousin and I laughed, joked, and conspired on how to get out of this forced labor. Grandaddy would have us help with the fish he caught. We learned to gut and scale fish, as well. This didn’t happen as often as we were young and not trusted to handle a knife.
We had many adventures growing up at Grandma’s house, there are some that stand out more than others. One summer the three of us, my sister, cousin, and myself, decided we wanted a club house and there was a small shed on the back of Grandma’s house that we had out sights on. She conceded to let us have it if we cleaned it out and made it look nice. We quickly agreed. We plotted how once we were done we would have our own special lunch there. We each talked about the food we wanted and we all agreed that Grandma’s chocolate gravy would have to be part of it. So we set to work cleaning out this little shed.
It was full of miscellaneous debris and bottles. We stacked all the bottles together into a pile and had the great idea that we could return them for their deposits to help fund our lunch party. We piled them all up in a wheelbarrow and somehow convinced Grandma that we were going to take them to the store out the way to return them. How we did so is a little fuzzy to me. We figured we would be on our way and be back before the day was over, because the store was pretty close or so our minds made it seem. And we set out on our journey.
Leaving our Grandma’s house consisted of pushing a wheelbarrow full of pop bottles up a hill and not just a little hill. All three of us got behind that thing to push it up the hill and it took a better part of thirty minutes (who knows, maybe longer or shorter) to get to the top. We thought the rest would be easy and down the road we went. Laughing, joking, and having a merry old time. Before I go any further, I should explain that the store was at least five miles one way, for our child minds that only seemed down the road. We finally make it to the store and exchange the bottles. We took some of the money and bought a drink and some Chupa Chup suckers. If you aren’t familiar, they came in a variety of flavors and were on plastic sticks instead of the cardboard ones like Tootsie pops or other suckers. We are standing around drinking our pop and having a sucker and decide we need to get home. Honestly we had no idea how long we had been gone.
As we start back up the road and notice a car coming towards us, we move the wheelbarrow and us to the side of the road to be safe. The car starts to slow down and our cousin says that he thinks it is his mom. Sure enough it was and she was red faced mad. She tells us that we had been gone for hours and that Grandma was worried sick about where we had gotten off to. We try to tell her that we told her we were leaving and going to the store, she had been on the phone at the time and shook her head without really listening to us but we took it as a positive answer. She got us back to Grandma’s while fussing at us and then Grandma had her turn. When mom came to pick us up, she met her at the car before we were finished getting ready and told her about our little adventure. That was a long ride home, let me tell you.
We did get to have our lunch party for cleaning out the shed, but it took awhile for Grandma to calm down before she let us do it. Over time it became the story to tell and always ended up in her laughing that we were able to get her to agree to letting us go when she had no real idea what she had agreed to. We had also managed one summer when we stayed the week with her to let us walk to the river and float down it on our inflatables. That ended as well, if not worse, than our trip to the store. Keep in mind that myself or my sister could not swim and this river was known for whirlpools and rapids. At the time it sounded like fun.
What I remember most about those summer days at her house was how we always had a full belly and surrounded by love. Those memories still live with me to this day. It was a time when we didn’t understand the weight of the world and our cares only went as far as how we would dig that ole stump up. The memories of Grandma and Grandaddy live on in my mind along with those summertime memories. These are the treasures that I can never replace.