Life-it’s rarely a smooth walk down the trail. We all get a few burs stuck to our pants legs or some stickers in our feet along the way. We step on some pebbles here and there. Maybe bruise our heels or get some sand in our shoes (If we’re wearing any.) We’ve all faced rejections and heartache. Except for “Dear Abby”. I heard once that the lady who wrote the ‘Dear Abby’ column told someone she could not write a letter about rejection because she had never been rejected. Not even once.
But I digress. Rejection is not what this article is about. It’s about strength to deal with the stickers. It’s about how you handle ’em when they come. It’s about avoiding the stickers in the first place. It’s about memory and family and the spirit of strength which lies in the heart of my ancestors.
It is a small part of my story!
Before they had hardly begun my family’s adventurous journey across the sea to Scotland and Norway were over! So, I said goodbye to my Scottish friend, Fiona of the Highlands, to the North Sea outside my Living room window, and to my treasured lava lamp. The job was done, and Daddy was ready to return to the states so we could be closer to family. As is often the case in oil field work, Daddy continued to be away much of the time.
We lived in a single wide trailer in the middle of an old field down a dirt road, not far from Aunt Money and Uncle Clyde. Melly and I would sometimes walk up the road to their house and sit on the porch with them while they chewed their tobacco and visited with whatever neighbor had chosen to drop by. A spittoon sat at one corner of the porch, so I would sit on the other corner hoping not to get hit by the brown tobacco juice meant for the spittoon. As Aunt Money swung back and forth on her old porch swing, I’d swing my legs back and forth listening to the chain squeak against the metal eye bolt while the wood groaned beneath the weight it’d carried for years.
Mostly though, I spent my time over at Maw’s house. Maw White, Mama’s grandmother, lived just across the field from us in a little trailer with a roomy screened in front porch. I loved going to her house. Maw always had snacks. My favorite was dinner rolls filled with homemade jelly.
We’d wash down the jelly filled bread with sweet tea. If you’ve never had sweet tea served in aluminum tumblers from a matching pitcher you are missing out! The tea was so cold beads of condensation formed outside the golden colored tumbler and ran down the sides. Maw had beautiful tea stirrers with frilly golden leaves on the end. These were meant to be used as a sugar spoon, but I used the hollow stem as a straw.
I’ve never tasted iced tea that magnificent before or since and never has a jelly filled roll provided as much satisfaction.
In the summertime Maw used big box fans sat to move the air and allay the summer heat. Melly and I would take turns lying behind the fans to sing silly songs Nunu taught us. Our voices were distorted and vibrating. So, silly songs were the best for this game of fun! We sang songs like:
“When I was just a little bitty girl the streets were made of glass And every time I took a step I’d fall right on my Honky tonkey, billy goat ronkey.”
“Does your chewin’ gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight? When your mama says don’t chew it do you swallow it in spite? Do you put it on your tonsils and heave it left then right? Does your chewin’ gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?”
We’d giggle until our sides ached and Maw would laugh right along with us.
Maw lived a meager life in a small farming town, but it was not a poor one. Her little home lacked much in regard to financial value but in my mind that little trailer was, and remains, one of the richest places I have ever known.
Maw couldn’t have been very old then, perhaps late 60s. At the time, however, I thought her ancient. She was my Great-Grandmother, after all. Perhaps her injury caused her to appear older. She contended with a bad hip that produced in her a hunched and bent over walk. She’d been this way for as long as I had known her. She’d fallen off a porch as a young woman, suffered a broken hip and never fully recovered. At least, that’s the story I remember being told. She didn’t let a little thing like a bad hip slow her down one bit though.
Those who did not know her may have seen her as broken-a poor disabled woman whose husband had shot himself leaving her without means, resources, or support. Others said he meant to take her with him but was outwitted by his grown children who kept her safe and away from him in his despondency.
Those who did know Bertha were convinced she was far from broken and poor. We never saw her as disabled and she refused to live as though she were. She kept a garden, weeded, hoed, planted, and reaped all while wearing her oversized straw sun hats, gardening gloves, and flowered day dresses. I never saw her in a pair of slacks, not even once, not even on the hardest of days.
She could conjure an entire meal out of thin air. It always tasted delicious. She taught me, and I am certain others as well, how to make homemade jelly and jam, and how to appreciate a simple butter and sugar or mayonnaise tomato sandwich when that was all one had. The all one had was always more than enough!
She taught me how to crochet-which I hated. She taught me cheeky little tongue twisters and made me practice over and over again.
I’m a sheet slittler. I slit sheets. I’m the best sheet slitter that ever slit sheets.”
We laughed together and then laughed some more.
But most importantly-she taught me how to love.
She was, in truth, despite outward appearances, one of the most whole women I have ever known. In fact, the men in our family speak of her as though she were an absolute saint. I can’t recall her ever saying a disparaging word to me or to others. The only negative words I’ve heard about her is that she once complained when someone at church sat in what she deemed to be “her spot” and that in her later years she produced an inordinate amount of perspiration.
Memories of Maw assail my mind and I am there again playing under the heavy boughs of the weeping willow tree beside her little house or creating beautiful designs with my colored pens and Spirograph while sitting on the porch at the picnic table covered by a decorative yet functional vinyl table cloth. or searching for bugs to kill with the giant “Hot Shot” pump sprayer.
Being at Maw’s house was an adventure. Getting there was the beginning of that great adventure. Our home sat across the field which was perhaps at one time a cotton field. The distance between the two houses seemed interminable for a small child but I often traversed this path without any compunctions.
For Melly my method of travel was-well, in her opinion-idiocy. You see, although I love shoes and see some as works of art, I detest wearing them. There is nothing like being barefoot! Wriggling your toes in complete freedom, feeling the cool grass just beneath your feet, running your toes through the sand, or even digging them into the mud is nothing short of pure contentment.
My detest for wearing shoes was stronger than the obstacles between our little house and Maw’s-Ground Stickers!
My solution to this problem was to run as fast as I possibly could and then sit on the front steps while I picked the stickers from the bottom of my feet. Once across I would yell at Melly, who stood on the steps of the other house wondering how to get across without her shoes.
“Run fast!” I yelled, “The faster you run the less stickers you’ll get.” Most of the time she turned around, went inside and put on her shoes.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this-Keep going despite the obstacles and when little things try to attach themselves to you pick them out and go again. Or sometimes, you may just have to rise above them and protect yourself from getting stuck in the first place.
I believe that is exactly what Bertha Elizabeth Young White, my Maw, did. When obstacles presented themselves, she kept right on going. When the stickers of life tried to attach themselves to her she would pick them out. Sometimes, she was smart enough or protected enough not to let them stick to her in the first place. Perhaps this is what made her the woman she was. And maybe, just maybe, that is why her legacy continues within the lives of those she left behind.