The end of an era.

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In 1966 my grandfather built a house on some property that my grandmother inherited. My mother had already married and moved away, but my siblings and I spent most Christmases and weeks every summer there.  We explored the woods, climbed on limestone bluffs full of fossils, picked blackberries, helped plant the vegetable garden, harvested the produce, learned to paint with my grandmother, rode in the back of grandpa’s pick up to feed the cattle, gathered eggs, fished in the river, roasted marshmallows in the fireplace… so many of our favorite, formative memories and experiences were created there.

On the eve of the property being sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder, I thought I’d put down a few of my favorite memories…

My grandmother was an artist. She took lessons from one of the leading tole-paint artists in the 1970s and sold her beautiful items at craft fairs throughout the Ozarks for years.  She had a room in the house dedicated to her painting. It was a delightful room full of paint, brushes, bookshelves full of books, and had a large bay window. I loved to watch grandma paint, and have a few things that she let me paint alongside her. One day she invited my brother and I to gather flat river rocks from the gravel driveway and let us paint little faces on them. I was impressed and a little jealous that my brother’s rock faces had better eyes than mine did. No wonder he went on to be a brilliant illustrator.

Walking through the woods in the spring looking for fern fiddleheads and wild violets.

During the summers before central air was installed it was seriously warm at night upstairs where the bedrooms were located. A box fan was placed at each end of the hallway outside the bedroom doors and the windows were opened to allow air to circulate through the house. The fans created a hum that harmonized perfectly with the raucous noise of the cicadas that started up at sundown each evening.  I will always enjoy the sound of tree frogs and cicadas at night – it’s not just a memory but a sensory feeling of peace and security that settles within me when I hear those noises. It’s a sign, to me, that all is right with the world.

Christmases at the farm, when we were there before the 25th, involved scouting out the perfect tree. Very often, grandpa had already located a contender and we would trek with him through the woods or ride in the back of his pick up to the bottom pastures to offer our approval and beg him to let us help with the sawing (the answer was always – appropriately – no). Cedar trees often grow along fence lines on farms in the south, and the aroma of fresh-cut cedar will always be a favorite of mine.

Fresh tomatoes, still warm from the vine, sprinkled with sugar. Mmmmmm….

Another scent that stays with me is a combination: fresh sawdust and cigarette smoke. My grandpa was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II. Along with all the other GIs, he was provided with free cigarettes on a regular basis. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that was, but the result was that he started smoking. I don’t actually remember seeing him smoking often, but I know he did while worked in his woodworking shop on the farm. When I went to see him in the shop there was always a specific smell that permeated the air. It was also in his shirt when I hugged him goodnight. It doesn’t sound like a smell that would be pleasant, but I love it.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

My grandmother made fantastic home-cooked meals that included a huge selection of vegetables from the garden, canned tomatoes, and beef that was probably raised on the farm. Whenever she made pie crust she cut the scraps of pastry into little strips and sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon. The pies were wonderful, but the little strips of baked pasty were perfect.

Grandma used to put on rubber boots at dusk and beat the bushes around the patio with a hoe to chase out the copperhead snakes so she could mangle them.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

It’s ironic, I think, that on the day that the property will leave our family the trees are bright green from the recent rain, the iris are blooming and the woods smell fresh and musky. It’s one of my favorite times of year there, and every spring I’ll wish I could go back.

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2 responses »

  1. I guess in the back of my head I hoped that it would just sit there until one or all of us could buy it at a loss and just hold the property until some day. Any idea what the auction will bring?

    Damn.

  2. Laurie, you have beautifully captured the feeling, taste, smells, indeed the aura of “the era”. I had no idea you wrote quite THIS well.

    The romance of this era begins for me before THE HOUSE was built; only a cabin was on the site, and you were not, yet.

    After we moved away to Hammond, La, back to Little Rock, then to Fort Smith, and to Little Rock again, it was this place to which I longed to go as well. Your grandpa Everett was my other Dad, the one with whom I fished, went coon hunting, learned my carpenter skills ( I still have, and use, the used 7 1/4 inch Skill saw he gave me the year your Mom and I were married 47 yrs ago), and was the inspiration as a Scoutmaster and Auxiliary Fayetteville Police Officer that led me into those same vocations and avocations after college.

    Some of my fondest images of the mind are in the woods with your grandad Everette, (uncles) Jim and David, your Mom’s Uncle Dean and Uncle Clive with the dogs, or the overnight campouts in the pasture, where I would later help build the barn, with his BoyScout troop, also including Jim and David.

    It is pleasing for me to note the depth of soul to which these experiences drilled for you and your brothers. Other than the three of you, these experiences, almost totally vacant for me after your Mom chose to go in a new direction, are what I missed the most in not being a total family anymore.

    I chersh the fact that Everett and Bernelle were gracious to allow PA and me to occaisionally visit and be part of the landscape once again. One or two of the favorite Christmases were those “at the farm”.

    I sometimes regret that I did not insist on vacay and holiday times more often being spent in Hot Springs, but…then…your other grandparents weren’t those around whom these kinds of memories would be built. Thank you for illuminating these images again.

    The one thing brought to mind that I see missing is…

    Love, your Dad

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