Then and now

It’s funny how many of my memories are of inconsequential things, things I never expected to remember. For instance, I’m a teenager and have gone with my father to see about a job at a bachelor’s tiny house. It’s early winter, and the man is obviously proud of his big garden of turnips, collards, and mustard greens. I picture him alone each night, eating greens, beans, salt-pork, cornbread, buttermilk, and sorghum molasses, and I think he must be the happiest man alive.

In another memory, I’m eleven, and my mother and I are sitting in her overstuffed chair watching Have Gun Will Travel. We admire Paladin because he’s tough, caring, cultured, and mysterious. I think she admires him even more than I do, but I don’t know why.

I’m eighteen, and my father and I are roofing a big house next to a playground. A girl who looks to be sixteen is overseeing the children. She is pretty and kind. I want to talk to her but am too shy.

I’m seven, and when I get off the school bus one day, I run across a ditch where a guinea hen has her nest. She flies atop my head and scratches my scalp. I scream, and my granny comes running out the screen door with a broom in her hands. I’m so surprised to see my granny run that I almost forget about the guinea hen.

I’m twelve and have traveled 450 miles alone, on a Greyhound Bus, to visit cousins in Trenton, Georgia. As the bus passes through northern Alabama, dawn breaks, and I see Sand Mountain on my left and Lookout Mountain on my right. I think they must be the tallest mountains in the world. An old man lives with my cousins. He and I sit on the porch, and talk happily about life on the road. Lookout Mountain towers before us. Im called home early because my granny is dying. My cousin Carrie calls and says the old man is accusing her of putting broken glass in his eyes. He scratches the sockets raw.
I’m a small child and screaming with the pain of an earache. My mother and granny (that’s granny and me in the photo) look afraid, and it scares me. They heat castor oil and pour it into my ear. I feel better.

I’m nine and my mother has just turned the car onto US Hwy 84 on our way to town. I can’t imagine a time when I was not, so I conclude that I have always been and always will be. Then, I can’t imagine anything existing if I’m not there to see it, so I conclude that I create the world as I pass and it disappears when I’m gone. These realizations have come to me within the space of a quarter mile, and I am certain they are true.

I’m five, and my family and I are leaving the cemetery where my uncle has just been buried. I ask my father where Uncle Byrd is, and my father says he’s on his way to heaven. I immediately look out the back window so I can see him rising like a balloon.
I’m 63 and am taking dishes from the drainer and putting them into the cabinet when I have the thought that even this little chore feels like exercise. My body is hurting, my blind dog is slamming into things, and Peggy is wretchedly sick with a new cold. Outside, the air and everything it touches is cold and gray. The passing years have left me weary of counting my blessings.

Except for this morning’s memory, such fragments stand out from everything that went before and everything that came after, for months if not for years. Why? What do they mean? I’ve lived in this house for 23 years. That doesn’t seem like long, but it’s longer than I have left to live. I think that, once our bodies start to fail, most of us are simply biding time until we die. I want more, but I don’t know what more looks like, and most days I’m too tired to wonder.


CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

"I think that, once our bodies start to fail, most of us are simply biding time until we die. I want more, but I don’t know what more looks like, and most days I’m too tired to wonder."

Oh my...I'm afraid to admit, I'm already there...

Stephen Hayes said...

Quite an enjoyable post. You and I are about the same age and I confess to having similar thoughts about life and the purpose of it all. Sometimes I worry that if I sit down I won't ever get up again. I watch my mother who has given up on life and now she sits and does nothing except bitch about the government. That Peggy Lee song keeps breezing through my mind, "Is That All There Is?"

PhilipH said...

Engrossing memories Snowy. I know how you reflect on those happenings even though I don not know HOW or WHY we tend to dredge these recollections from the depth of our little grey memory cells.
I was living in a rickety old top floor flat in Parsons Mead, Croydon, and was about four years old, not yet at school. The access to our meagre home was via a wooden set of steps at the back of this three storey old house.
I clearly remember my Dad finding me sitting on the top landing area as I sat there in the 1939/40 winter night. He carried me back into the bedroom. He asked WHY was I sitting in the freezing cold in my night-clothes. I told him I was waiting so see Jack Frost!
I'd heard him say to Mum that Jack Frost would be coming to the garden tonight.
We then did a 'moonlight flit' to another place in the Spring. I still remember sitting alone in the tiny backyard and thinking that there were only children and grown-ups. I had no idea that I would actually grow up and no longer be one of the children.
Remembering Mum's sadness; her eyes streaming with tears on many occasions - because (usually) my Dad had been boozing and arguing.
Some things are ingrained, tattooed indelibly in one's mind and now and then we read those memories so easily.
Better stop. You've only yourself to blame for these ramblings.

yoborobo said...

I love the way you write, Snow. I'm betting you have always been a writer. You kept those memories and told them in a simple straightforward way, with few words, but I can see exactly what happened. Or maybe I felt it. As for declining, I see myself becoming an old goat, or perhaps Jabba the Hutt. I'm hoping to have a cane to shake at anyone I feel like. And I have decided I will do two things: write and slap paint onto canvases. No one will care about either thing except me, but I enjoy the process of both. I hope you keep writing.
(The picture of my mom was when she was younger. She was 83 when she died. And you would have liked her, I think.)

rhymeswithplague said...

My heart gave a little leap of gladness when I saw you had put up a new post. I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to you.

Dear God (substitute exclamation of choice), your house in Mississippi could have been my house in Texas except that my house in Texas didn't have a granny sitting in front of it. Many people say, "We were poor, but I didn't know it." Well, I always knew it and my guess would be that you did too.

I enjoyed this post immensely until it became a little depressing near the end. One difference between you and me is that I think there definitely is more.

Myrna R. said...

Enjoyed reading your memories. Sorry, you'e feeling like life is almost over. It's difficult when we're in pain and the ones around us are ill. But more than likely, you still have many days left. Hope they are happy.

All Consuming said...

I love this post, even though its tinged with a sadness at the end. Your writing captures these wee moments in time, shunting back and forth perfectly. I can 'see' these happenings co clearly. Sometimes we're all just biding that time I think. But for me, your prescence and vivacious, interesting personality, handed to me in writing on here so regularly, helps make it all worth-while. X

lotta joy said...

It has always amazed me to think of all the minuscule brain cells that do nothing but hold random thoughts and memories. If we could harness our brains, (and if the world continues long enough, I've no doubt it WILL be done) I bet we could tend to most any illness or pain on our own. The brain is SUCH a wonder of nature.

I am lately, also amazed at one other thing that my old brain is giving me: I'm more of a coward than I ever was. I've withstood pain that few can imagine, but the older I get, the more ill-prepared and unwilling I am to tolerate pain as I once did. In other words, I've suddenly become a wimp!

Are we experiencing MORE pain than before, or are we just becoming less able to handle it?

Helen said...

There are times when something from my past - all the way back to childhood - comes flooding to the surface. I just 'go with it' the good and the bad ... I don't know what it means other than I have my memory ~~ watching my mother lose all of hers was gut-wrenching. A few of yours made me laugh out loud.

Someone asked me recently if I thought about dying .. I had to think a bit about my answer, the truth is I do. At 71 I have a few years on you, my friend.

Give Peggy a hug ...

The Elephant's Child said...

I loved this kaleidoscope of memories Snow. Some good, some painful. Such is life I think. Yes, this post did finish on a melancholy note, but I am hoping that better days for you and Peggy are just round the corner. Even when you are only posting irregularly, your irascible, informative style adds immeasurably to my life.

Lorraina said...

I loved reading your memories Snow and that little boy, well i wanted to grab him and kiss his fat little cheeks and tell him everything will be ok, and it will, i think he has a long way to go yet. You know, i've never thought i might die anytime soon. I'm now 10 yrs older than what my mom was,20 yrs older than my older sister and have now lost my little sister. Family and friends all dying off like flies around me and yet don't feel it's going to happen to me anytime soon. When i see all my peeps in heaven i'll be an old lady and they'll all still be spring chicks! I hope you keep writing for a long time, and stockpile some to keep us entertained in case your number gets called will you.

Charles Gramlich said...

The picture looks like it could have been of me or some member of my family. Looks like had some similar environments growing up. I too have some of these kinds of memories, but mostly I think they are good. At least until I got to be a teenager.

Deb said...

Your memories "on paper" felt like I was reading such an amazing book.

I had to laugh about the guinea hen and your grandmother running and how you forgot about your problems once you saw your granny running ---- I always thought in recent years that my mom was fragiile and getting weak, as she is becoming... it was then I took her shopping last Thanksgiving and saw her dive into a bin of 20 lb turkeys, lift one up and flung it in her cart as if it were nothing. Just last night I had dinner with her and she said, "I'm making a fire," so I said, "OK, when I get there let me grab the wood from outside." I come inside and she's piling all the wood into this huge wood burning stove saying, "I GOT IT!" ---I literally just stood there watching her strength in amazement.

Before my father passed away, he told one of the hospice social workers something I'll never forget. He was explaining how life slips right by. He said, "It was only yesterday when I had my own excavation company and fish market working every single day of my life, and now, I'm sitting here all day, all night in the same bed. What happens? It's like all for nothing!" And the social worker told him, "Charlie, look at what you've done! It's still blossoming. Families are now enjoying their homes creating more families because of your work, and so many people have enjoyed a wonderful meal because of you." She gave him a sense of worth. Almost like a 'pay it forward' type of thing. You bless people with all of your experiences, whether you know it or not.

You say you may not live more than 23 years. A 20 year old may not have 1 year - 1 day, perhaps 1 hour. Every single day should be appreciated (as much as we love to grumble about it.) Every single day is a new opportunity to make your life a legend.

Strayer said...

You want more, like what? I want more too, but I don't know what. I want to keep doing what I've been doing, but it isn't going to happen and I fear the months ahead, the boredom, the uselessness, the lonliness. There is franticness to my quest to find something to do with the rest of my life. Because there isn't much left of the rest of my life, even if I'm lucky.

Robin said...

I always thought you were an adorable little boy....and - voila - here's proof!

Your post is so poignant - so real.
I am envious of all your childhood memories...happy and sad. They have all shaped you to become the man you are...(pretty wonderful)....

I think that once we pass 50....thoughts of our mortality is (simply) part of our life's course. Despite all of the pain you currently have been gifted with so much...a loving wife - wonderful pets - a fabulous ability to write - and many friends around the world who love and care about you.


♥ Robin ♥

Putz said...

is that all there is?????<><>yep, although experiences are sweet and we all have them<><><>my past 15 years seems so useless<><>i wantend to walk to the sea for salt by now, but some mornings {so cold} that all i can do is eat three squasres a day walk the dog, go to the mailbox and watch a little midnight tennis from austrailia or enjoy my music like bob brauge does<><>and yet at seventy the race is now a walk to the finish and i resent the slow down

Putz said... that photo looks like me bob brauge snow brush and several others when children, and our home was also a one room affair with a grandpa{grams died in my dad's childhood}

kj said...

snow, i have to tell you this first: this is a phenomenal piece of writing. it is absolutely fantastic in every possible way. i was riveted, so lovely to read, so descriptive, so easy to identify with. you take what is yours and you make it universal.


"Then, I can’t imagine anything existing if I’m not there to see it, so I conclude that I create the world as I pass and it disappears when I’m gone. These realizations have come to me within the space of a quarter mile, and I am certain they are true."

i remember feeling exactly that, even though i never thought about it until you put words to it.

now i wil go back and read your comments.

and maybe i will have something to ponder or say about living fully in the moments and years that span ahead.


kj said...

okay, i've read your post again and read your comments. i wonder if i will at some point feel this way. i do think that i could die suddenly or soon. i don't think i will but i know it could happen.

it's helpful to me to look from a different lens now. by june i will wind up the work i've done that requires that i be somewhere and reliable, but i don't think about not working; terms to my own liking. i will always write. like pam, i will probably paint and draw. i have grandchild i want to influence, to show them some of the wonder i see and know. i have rescued a dog and will probably soon welcome another in the same way. i want sexual passion in my life more than i did ten years ago. (disclosure: not saying i have it, but i like that i know i want it and i can be inventive)

i will be 66, snow. my Mother is 97. i see her winding down considerably; she is frail in many ways. maybe i am too, i carry more weight than i should and i resist exercise stubbornly.

your memories are precious. to me they matter alot and i feel close to you reading about them. my Mother: she wakes at night and calls for her Mother. not for me, not for my Father, but for her first family.i think memories are the molecules of who we are.

you are a writer, snow. that counts for alot right there.

love again


Enjoyed this post, what with all of these memories. Loved that pic of you and Granny.
I may be somewhat younger, but I think I can relate to your feelings. When I was young, I never expected to live on to 40. Now finding myself in my 50s, with a damaged body, my spirit finds itself sometimes low, sometimes rising a bit, but never reaching the heights of my youth. Euphoria has left the building. Have I become too cynical? Wasn't I always cynical?... Maybe I let Life burden me too much and should make light of it.

But on another note, my friends and I often joke that we'll all end up in the same old folks home and raise hell. More likely, they'll all keep us heavily sedated 'till our last breath.

That's me, being cynical, right?!?

Snowbrush said...

I'm touched by all the kind and reflective comments. Some of you mentioned growing up a house that looked similar to the one I lived in. We were no poorer than our richest neighbors, and better off than many of our neighbors, particularly the black ones, so I only started feeling poor when I started school in town, and came into contact with the snobbery of the kids of the owning class.

I feel lucky in spending my first years as I did because we neither had running water nor electricity for my first several years, and when we did get electricity, it would go off pretty much every time it rained, and my part of Mississippi got 60 inches of rain a year. I remember people plowing behind mules and black families passing the house in mule-driven wagons. At least once, I rode to the gristmill with them. My family had a barn, a smokehouse, a henhouse, a corncrib, and a little house for coal. Some people still made their own soap. All this meant that I got to see the end of a very long part of America's history, a part that was characterized by rural families living similarly to how we lived. The only bad part of it was that, in my case, living in the country meant being very lonely, and I wouldn't wish that on any child. We moved into town when I was ten, and it opened up a whole new, and far happier, world for me.

Betsy Brock said...

I'm so glad you visited my blog today! I really enjoyed your post here with pictures and little memories from your life. You have a wonderful writing style...very enjoyable.

I hope Peggy feels better, too!

Zuzana said...

As always, your post makes me wonder and contemplate - and most of all feel - love when writing does that to me.:)
I recognize those glimpses of memories, that are so easily accessible, while other moments of our life fade into oblivion. Have no idea why that is.
Life is funny. If we think about it to deeply, it will leave us cynical. I guess holding onto a jovial mindset until the end is a real talent and a privilege of a few.;)
But man, you truly were cute as a button as a child.;)

A Plain Observer said...

Is this rare to remember bits and pieces of our lives? I do it all the time and like you, I wonder why. I am sure that memory carved an emotional wound in me which I carried the rest of my life, but why?