She lived just up the hill from us. At the top of the hill, actually. Maybe 150 yards away. It was the house my mother (Rebecca June) grew up in. Her name was Lena Bell Meherg. To me, she was Grammaw. My only living grandparent.
Our road was dirt (red clay) and gravel. Every few months a big yellow road grader would roll up and down our lane ruining the well worn ruts, filling in the mud holes, re-widening things by scraping up the encroaching Johnson grass, and (for a few days) making it almost impossible to ride a bicycle on the road.
The short strip of road between her house and ours was lined on each side with aging barbed wire fences that kept the soybeans in. Grammaw (or "Mamma-Herg" as my older siblings and cousins called her) often walked that sloping lane to come borrow a cup of sugar or to just sit at the kitchen table to talk with my mom. They were like 2 twins sitting there, separated by years, but by little else.
I used to make $10 a pop push-mowing her yard for her. From the barn on the other side of the hill, up between the garden spots to the edge of the field between her little white house and our larger brick house. Then back around Uncle John's single-wide house trailer, but not all the way to the chicken houses in the very back. And, I was often sent to retrieve the Sunday paper from Grammaw so Mamma could have the sales papers for Warehouse Discount Grocery, and so the rest of us could read the colored "funny paper."
When I went into Grammaw's little house, she was almost always sitting in her living room with her quilting frame lowered so she could hand-stitch another quilt while watching "The Guiding Light" or "As The World Turns" on her fuzzy little TV. I can still feel myself ducking my head to enter her back door, and in my mind I can still see and smell her propane heater with it's strange little blue and orange flames.
But sometimes things were different there. My earliest memories of Thanksgiving are at Grammaw's house. All of the uncles, aunts, and cousins would meet there. When the meal was ready, it was a standing room only event. Then the men would watch football while the women talked and laughed loudly in the dinning room. The youngest cousins would run off to the old chicken house to climb on the round hay bales. Some of the older cousins would stand around outside smoking.
Thanksgiving Day meals were awesome. Everything was good. The turkey, the various cornbread dressings (baked dry or moist, and green with too much sage), actual cornbread (not sweetened, and with butter melted in the middle), canned cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato and pecan casserole, pecan pie, and a variety of cokes (which we didn't often have at home).
There was no hurry. We weren't there to pacify anyone. We were there because we wanted to be there. It was special. It was precious. It was fun. It was mysterious and completely comfortable and exciting and familiar all at the same time. There was always that aunt who couldn't tell her own nephews apart. There were uncles teasing us about cutting our ears off or commenting on how much we had grown since July, or since Christmas. Because, of course, that was the last time they had seen us.
Those were good days. I'm not saying those days were better than these days. Solomon warns against such patterns of thought. But, those days were good. They were different, for sure. Seems now like life was simpler then. Sitting on Grammaw's gray front porch or picking up pecans or eating her grapes right off the vine or talking about her persimmon tree - it was all so common and irrelevant at the time. Now, if I could, I would pay thousands of dollars to go back and do it again.
This is not a lamentation. This is a celebration. My childhood was blessed. No relative abused me. I wasn't poor or hungry or hated (not that I know of). I wasn't ignored. I wasn't afraid. Life was safe and predictable. Every year I knew that my cousin Edward would use his big red tractor to plow and plant soybeans in the field around Grammaw's 2 ponds. I knew that Everett Golden (at least that's the name I thought I was hearing) would use his bigger green tractor to do the same in the bigger field across the road from our house and Grammaw's.
As a little guy I would ride my tricycle up and down and all around our concrete carport pretending to bush-hog, turn, disk, plant, till, spray, and harvest soybeans (had to keep that in order too). I got too close to the pond, rode my bike through the mud puddles (and into the road), went too deep in the woods, played with fire behind the house, and many other forbidden things that got me countless spankings. I climbed the mimosa trees and the big pine tree, played in the gully, tried to dam the water in the spillway to the "lake" on the north side of our house on Donnie Heit's land (spelling?). With sticks for guns, we played cowboys and Indians. We fished for catfish and brim. We hopelessly shot our BB guns at blackbirds sitting on the power lines.
These are fond memories. I could go on for days describing the life we had on Earwood Road (as it is now called) there in the Bethel-Gum Pond community. But you get the point, don't you? I'm grateful. I'm thankful. I appreciate the life God has given to me. Not just my eternal life, but my physical life. All good gifts come down from above, from the Father of lights (who never changes). My story is wonderful to me, I guess because it's mine. I hope yours is wonderful to you too. No story is perfect. There were bee stings and bike wrecks. There were skinned knees and sunburns. There were dog graves and potato bugs. But, mixed in and prominent in my mind are the innumerable blessings that God poured out on me for 20 years there at the end of the electric supply on the county line.
And so, in this season I offer this simple prayer: "Dear God, thank you for your ever-present care and blessing. I'm a slow learner. Like many others, I'm sure, I often don't know what I've got until it's gone. But in any case, though it's coming late; thank you! Please be patient with me. Help me to see how you are still involved in my life today. And use me to give as many wonderful experiences and memories to the little ones around me."
Maybe we should have turkey and dressing every day of the year, because for sure, every day should be a day of thanksgiving.
*Happy Thanksgiving! There will be no blog published during the week of Thanksgiving. See you again in December.