This is a story I wrote in 1992. I found it recently in an unfinished writing box stuffed away in my closet. I figured it was worth sharing.
I tested the waters of a relationship today. Found them cold. Might warm up, might freeze over. That’s something over which I have no control, but I hope they warm up. My mind compared it to a small lake. It’s a great place to swim, drift, enjoy the changes in current and often the quiet pools, still and peaceful. I like it especially when the sun is shining, warming the waters. Stepping back, I looked at the surface, now beginning to glaze over with ice. I thought of the reflections I’ve seen in the water’s surface and shuddered, thinking the chill might remain. My thoughts drifted to other friendships I hold dear.
My grandfather had many friends. He was “Pop” to me. I often rode with him through the backroads of the county we lived in. We’d stop and talk, visiting people on their front porches—people who rarely made it to town. Sometimes we walked or drove through a pasture looking at a herd of cows. My grandfather bought and sold cows, so his interest was always appreciated by a proud owner.
At times we would stop and pick muscadines or plums we found growing wild beside the road. At other times we talked beneath a pecan tree, cracking one pecan against another and picking out the meat of the pecan. I always made an effort to pick the meat out whole.
My grandfather taught me a lot about enjoying life. I have so many memories of my times with him. One stands out in particular because I don’t know how he knew what we would find. Behind the church is a cemetery. Behind that, in the woods, is an old slave cemetery with simple stone monuments, cracked and scarred from age and neglect. You have to pull away honeysuckle vines and Johnson grass to find many of them. You have to cross a fence to get there. There’s no gate. My grandfather took me one day, behind the main cemetery, through the slave cemetery, into the woods. He led me through the trees where we eased up quietly to the edge of a clearing. There, in the side of a clay bank, was the opening of a small cave. Sitting in its doorway was a mother fox. Five or six fox kittens played in the sand in front of the cave under their mother’s watchful eyes.
He bought me a horse when I was six. Said a boy shouldn’t be without a horse. My older cousins already had their horses. Pop died the year I graduated from high school. Just a year earlier we had ridden horses together, a day long ride with my cousins. We carved our initials on the branch of a sweet gum tree on the bank of Burney Branch, just beyond the cotton field in the branch bottom. The date was October 19, 1965. Many times since I’ve looked for that tree, but I’ve not been able to find it.
We rambled a lot, driving all over the county in Pop’s Plymouth. In the early days my grandmother was invited to go with us. A few times she did. She was a wonderful lady, but when she went with us the roads were always too rough. I’d never noticed before. She was certain the car was going to break down leaving us stranded on the back side of nowhere. Her eyes were always on the sky. If it was cloudy, we were going to get rain, which she declared we surely didn’t need. If the sky was clear and blue, we were in for a long dry spell that was sure to ruin the crops. She never wanted to stop and visit. A waste of time. She needed to be home getting dinner. If we drove the car in a pasture, as we often did, she was sure we would run over a stump in the grass and bust an oil pan or something. I now understand why Pop stopped inviting her.
We were buddies, Pop and me. He’s been gone many years and I still miss him. I decided when he died, I would know the back roads as he did. I got a county map at the courthouse and started marking off roads as I explored them. First, I rode my motorcycle, then, later, the Ford pickup I had rebuilt from the ground up. By the time I left home to join the Army only half the roads were marked.
Pop took me to visit a widow woman who had two grown sons, twins in their fifties. They took us out back of the house to an old chicken barn. Inside were maybe a dozen of the most beautiful automobiles I have ever seen, all built in the 20s or 30s, all immaculately restored. It took me twenty years to find that place again and when I did the barn was gone. Some of the cars had burned, others had been given to a museum.
Pop instilled in me a dream. A quiet, well-maintained homestead in the country. A tree-lined driveway. A porch. Shade trees. An anvil on a stump under a shade tree. A barn. A shed for a truck and tractor. Enough animals that no matter how rough times got, you could always eat. A garden with enough vegetables to share. His pastures were always mowed and the brush trimmed away from the fences. The ponds were always stocked so the children could fish. The woods were full of game, the land posted against trespassers. Family had free access for hunting and fishing.
Saturdays were always special. During the week we worked hard, often from dawn to dusk. When it rained, we rested. Come Saturday, all work stopped around noon. The afternoon was spent cleaning up and resting. If you needed something from town, you got it on Saturday afternoon. The town square was the place to meet friends from other parts of the county and catch up on news. Saturday nights we had a cookout, usually two or more families together. Sometimes it was fish caught from the pond, other times it was hot dogs and hamburgers. The kids played, while the adults sat and visited, often over cards or scrabble. It seems we only watched TV on rainy days, Sunday nights and the rest of the week while waiting for supper to be served.
Sunday mornings we all went to church. We wore our Sunday best, watched our language and did our best to make our parents proud of us. Sunday afternoons were filled with horseback rides, baseball games, a swim in the creek or a ramble in the woods.
Without friends none of this stuff makes much difference. With friends, you take the time to enjoy the quiet moments of life. Those same friends stand by you when life is not so quiet.
I have heard it said much of life is making memories. I once caught a seven-and-a-half-pound bass. I was by myself. It doesn’t mean nearly as much as the six-pounder I caught when I was with a friend. I have few solitary memories. Whenever I see or experience something that causes me pleasure, supports my dream or causes me to grow, my first thought is to share it with a friend. Stay tuned for more on friends.