Bud and others

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger ever near me
And the sacred past unfolds.

Precious Father, loving Mother
Fly across the lonely years,
And the home scenes of my childhood
In fond memory appear.

 —JBF Wright, 1925

In 1961, when I was twelve, a preacher took some of us kids to sing this hymn and others to a hundred-year-old lady named Stewart who lived in the country with her two “old maid” daughters and her bachelor son. Like my family and many others when I was growing up in rural Mississippi, their house was small and unpainted inside and out; their light came from kerosene lamps; their heat from a wood-burning cookstove and fireplace; and their refrigerator was cooled with ice that was delivered by the iceman. The boards on the outside of the house were weathered a soft gray, but the ones on the floors, walls, and ceilings, had been darkened by the smoke of wood and kerosene until they were a dark and depressing brown. The house smelled of wood smoke, and the only decorations were a Cardui calendar* and ancient photographs of grim-looking ancestors.

I knew and loved the Stewarts and as I sang I wondered what it must be like to be feeble, blind, a hundred years old, and sit in a rocker all day everyday with nothing to do but think about but the past.

Bud in 1989, a few months before he died
In the Stewart’s backyard was a well that they drew water from with a bucket, and on their back porch was a shelf that held a dipper, a bucket of water, and a washbasin, all of which were made of white, porcelain-coated metal. There was also a bar of homemade lye soap. They farmed with a mule and brushed their teeth with salt and baking soda. I would sit in the shade while Bud plowed during the day, and he would tell me ghost stories in the evening. One evening, his cows didn’t come home on time, so he and I went looking for them. When he asked me if I heard anything, I didn’t know that he meant cowbells, so I said I heard birds, frogs, and crickets, and he laughed about that every time I saw him for the rest of his life. Bud died in 1989, and I still miss him. The worst thing I can say about my life is that I didn’t adequately appreciate much of what I had until it was gone, although I spent a lot of time pursuing things that were worse than a waste.

As I travel on life
s pathway,
I know not what the years may hold.
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul.

As I was buying my groceries this week, an old and feeble man was buying his when another old man approached him, and the first apologized for taking so long. I assumed that the second man had driven the first to the store, and I’ve felt badly ever since that I didn’t offer to drive him sometimes. I miss having elders.

Peggy’s father is 85, and she worries daily about him dying. I know how she feels because I dreaded losing my parents. In one way, it was a relief when they died because it meant that I had escaped a lot of the problems that elderly parents can pose, but it was also an unhealing grief, although I didn’t anticipate this at the time. The fact is that I still need to feel loved and protected by people who are older and wiser than I, but more than that, I need to know that they care about me more than anything else
and that they would do anything for me. I lost my mother when I was 39 and my father when I was 45. These losses bothered me like a stabbing pain when they occurred, but they’re more like a bruise now. 

From the time of my childhood, I heard that life would look better in the rearview mirror, but I didn’t believe it. Now, I can never get used to the fact that people who remained in my life for years and years without the least effort on my part are gone forever, and there’s nothing that all the powers on earth can do to bring them back for even a moment.

Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Oh, how those precious memories;
They flood my soul.

*Cardui Tonic produced calendars from 1890 until 2012.