[Image Art by: Niklas Weiss – Unsplash.com]
©A Memory Mix
by BR Chitwood
From my archives comes this post written after my return to ‘The Cumberland Plateau’ in Tennessee after living a few years on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
You can imagine, the view looking out across a wooded canyon to the ridge across from a new home in Tennessee is as spectacular on one level as was the cobalt sea I left behind in Mexico was on another. The memories forged there on the sea, the sound of surf lapping the sandy shell-rich coastline where Julie Anne and I lived with ‘George’, our cat, the shrimp boats on the horizon as we went to bed with lights from our fishing village and the coastal resorts dappling the sea with magical brilliance…another life in another latitude where each day the sun was as constant as anywere on planet earth.
It is not so important to anyone, but I wanted to try and capture some of the memory mix that holds captive my brain from all the years…some bad, some good – mostly shared soul-searching, not epic by any stretch, but the only barometer I have to glean some truths from all of my earth’s orbits. Perhaps, someone who writes with some constancy as a supplement to a maverick and nomadic life, perhaps it is a sharing with the readers who have read on and between the lines of his narratives, his many mistakes, his many loves, and his anguish, disappointments, and sorrow along with moments of pure enjoyment in his living.
There was the family fighting, the uncertainty of youth, the times, and the emotions difficult if not impossible to catalogue or figure out. It is likely many of us have experienced a family disconnect and have had the confusion that comes into the young brain.
I mention it here because it is my feeling that a big part of who I turned out to be came from this environment and this time. No doubt, the heredity sides had a lot to do with my youth and with my adulthood…perhaps in some enigmatic but important ways, this heritage fusion kept me more or less sane through the years — of course, a definition of sanity can turn many corners in the mind.
The good? The happy times in the hills of Tennessee came from both sides of my family tree.
On the paternal side, I lived for a while with my grandparents – Mama and Papa. With kids of their own (my aunts and uncles) they seemed to take no extra burden from me and treated me with much love and kindness. What the memory mostly serves up during this time are little things that meant a lot…
I remember Mama sitting on my little cot of a bed smiling down at me with her beautiful but weathered and wrinkled face, her grayish red hair in a bun, her long flowery workday dress soiled from her labors of the day, reading to me of people and things that made me stay awake long after the lights went out, lost in the thoughts of what I might one day bravely, heroically accomplish.
I remember Mama doing her washing outside the clapboard house at a big black vat, a fire underneath keeping the sudsy clothes hot while Mama stirred them with a broom handle stick.
I remember Mama wringing a rooster’s neck until its blood and body went zipping through the air, her right hand still holding its head. After retrieving the still moving rooster and it finally stopped its death throes, Mama soaked the rooster in a pot of hot water, until she could more easily pluck the feathers. I did not much think so at those moments but that chicken sure was tasty when Mama served it up for dinner, fried golden brown, with mashed potatoes, country gravy, creamed corn, and home-made biscuits.
I remember Mama churning her butter in the screened room off the kitchen, her long dress and apron tucked between her legs with the long churn-bowl, as she looked off toward the rolling hills at some place in her thoughts.
I remember Mama at evening time sitting in her big stuffed chair, slowly tapping her fingers on the chair arm, lost in thought, occasionally reaching for her snuff spittle can on the floor. More than anything I remember a stoic, a warm and wise woman full of love.
I remember Papa leaving for his railroad engine early in the morning with his metal lunch pail full of Mama’s goodies. He hummed as he walked down the old country road and tooted the engine’s whistle as he started around the mountain for another load of lumber for the hamlet’s sawmill.
I remember watching for Papa to come walking down that old country road in the late afternoon, after I had rounded up old Bessie for milking – that old cow could wander far on some days. Papa would grab me as I rushed up the road to greet him, laugh at me and try to whisker me until I begged him stop.
I remember an irritated Papa going to the front door of the old clapboard house late at night to let his sons in, followed by the sheriff… They had been drinking corn liquor and had been in a fight, their faces smeared in blood.
In the fall, Papa would send me into the hills to gather leaves in gunny sacks for the hogs to wallow in. In the spring Papa would have me hoeing corn, row after endless row – I did not like that too much and never lasted too long.
Papa would let me ride Fred, the old mule – once or twice he would whack old Fred on the backside and make him bolt. Papa had the tether line, so Fred did not take me too far, but I do remember being frightened – and Papa laughing.
I remember Papa whittling in the evening the pieces of wood for starting the pot belly stove on a wintry morning, and, in the mornings feeling the warmth spread through the old house, getting up and joining Papa in the small living room when he turned on the old floor radio for the news.
Well, you see what I mean by a memory mix… Writing this post, looking out through the trees, so very much comes back to me. When my Dad came and gave me the choice of a pony if I stayed with my Mama and Papa or going to live with my Mom, I chose my Mom. I loved Mama and Papa but I wanted to be with my Mom…
Now, I could tell you about all the good family weekends of aunts and uncles, of watermelons and home-made vanilla ice cream at my maternal grandparents railroad station master house, how much I loved being with my Saintly grandfather, my grandmother, my Uncle Stanley, my Aunt Bessie (yep, same name as the cow on the paternal side), but I’ll save that for another time. Suffice it, my maternal grandparents were wonderful and full of love for me — my sister lived with them during the time I lived with Mama and Papa… It was the economic times of those days that made for the family disconnect.
So here I sit, back in the state of my youth, feeling mostly good about my return to these lovely hills. As I have said on other occasions, perhaps I will find some pieces of me that will help solve my own life’s puzzle.
For those of you who would be interested I have written a couple of memoirs that pretty much tell my story – with ‘warts and all’ – “The Cracked Mirror – Reflections of an Appalachian Son,” AND, “What Happens Next? A Life’s True Story.” Plus, there are many more books of mystery, suspense, romance, plus a six-book ‘Bailey Crane Mystery Series, each standing alone yet connected, and most of which were inspired by true criminal cases.
Well, some of the memory mix came out, and with my output of books, you can get the rest of the ‘mix’…at least, most of it.
BR Chitwood – From the archives – May 14, 2020
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