Styrofoam Memories

 

 

It’s funny how something as simple as a styrofoam cup can make your day. Yesterday I got myself an iced tea and the diner folks gave it to me in a styrofoam cup. I didn’t think much of it, at first, but as the day chugged along I found myself having all kinds of thoughts about it.

 

The first thing I noticed was how nice and cool my iced tea was, even though I kept leaving the cup in my hot car. After a couple of hours, that tea still had a chill on it and I was impressed. (Even my insulated cup can’t do that.) Suddenly an image of old-school styrofoam coolers popped into my head. And I remembered how prevalent they were when I was a kid. For a lot of folks, the mere mention of the word cooler meant the styrofoam variety. And if someone was going fishing (and someone was always going fishing), well of course they were gonna take the styrofoam cooler with them, as that was the fishing cooler, for cry-eye. Now – some fancy folks got themselves a new fishing cooler every time they went out. But not my people. They were the kind of folks who would use an old fishing cooler until it crumbled away, leaving little white or blue beads to hang around in rivers, ponds, forests and car trunks for all time. It didn’t matter that you could go get yourself a new fishing cooler at the Piggly-Wiggly for about a dollar. If the old one was still working, it would do.

 

The next image that came to mind took me to Granny Vera’s and Big Papa’s old, ramshackle house. In the dark hallway, just outside the front sitting room, there was a grand, old bureau that Big Papa had built himself. I don’t remember a single thing about what filled its overstuffed drawers, nor do I remember any of the ka-jillion tchotchkes that cluttered its flat top. But I do remember the water bucket. On the right-hand side of the bureau sat an old plastic try. It held one thing: a styrofoam ice bucket with a lid. No matter what time of year, that bucket held cool water. Hanging on a nail in the wall beside the bureau was a metal ladle. Every one of us who entered or lived in Granny’s and Papa’s house drank from that ladle. We didn’t fill cups or take more than a healthy sip. And we never worried about germs. Clearly, none of us had cold sores, as no one got The Herp or anything. It was simple. If you were thirsty, you helped yourself to a drink of water. Problem solved. And while I do remember that bucket always providing liquid sustenance, I don’t remember ever seeing who filled it. I’m assuming it was Granny Vera, as that just doesn’t seem like something Papa would have done. But I could be wrong about that. And it doesn’t matter anyway.

 

And then I came back to the iced tea in the styrofoam cup, standing between my old car’s bucket seats. I don’t see a lot of styrofoam anymore. Not good for the environment. Ah, well. We do what we’ve gotta do. This one says it’s recyclable in Los Angeles. Okay. I’ll take care of that. In the meantime, I sure did enjoy all the memories triggered by that cup. Just like I enjoyed the cool, quenching tea held within.

In Dreams

 

 

I’ve shared that I’m a fan of the home show Fixer Upper. The most recent episode found the show’s stars working on a home that had been in a chick’s family for quite a while and had been built by her “Paw-paw.” The team did an amazing job and the place was just beautiful.

 

Watching the episode got me thinking about my great-grandparents’ old, run-down house in Zebulon, Georgia. We lived there off-and-on when I was a child and when I think of my childhood home, it is their house that comes to mind. It was not only a constant in terms of refuge, it was also the only place that offered me true unconditional love. That means the world to me. Still.

 

But back to Fixer Upper. I can’t tell you how many times I dream of Granny’s and Papa’s house. I’ve imagined it as it was and I’ve tried to imagine it in a finer state. I’ve pictured what I would do to make it not only livable, but also fabulous. I’ve gone over the parts that would absolutely have to be saved (such as the door frames and wood floors) and which walls would have to be opened and scrapped. In my mind, I’ve seen it with a metal roof and new porch railing. I’ve thought about how the back porch could be so inviting. Honestly, I’ve thought of it more times than I can count.

 

And it’s all for naught. That old house was torn down decades ago to make way for a freeway. There is no sign left that people lived there, that children were loved and nurtured there, that roses were tended or that pecans were picked from the ground. There is no remnant of kids trying to out-scream a train’s whistle as it flew down the adjacent tracks. There are no reminders of the garden rows that brought forth food to fill hungry bellies of the children who, without their great-grandparents’ kindness, would have been homeless. There are no dirt driveways where mud pies were made or where doodle-bugs were watched. There is no scrappy yard where bare feet danced or dreamers lay in the dark to watch the night sky. There is no front porch where folks sat on hot Sunday afternoons, eating watermelon and spitting seeds. No, there isn’t a trace of all that went before. There is just a non-descript, emotionless highway.

 

It has long been said that you can’t go home again. And for the souls who’ve tried, that may be true. But for some of us, trying isn’t an option. We can only visit our childhood homes in dreams and in memory. But if I could… Well, at least in my dreams there is no freeway. There is only love.

Lulled

 

 

Yesterday I was home, tackling some tasks when my head suddenly drooped and I nearly fell asleep. I did not need a nap, and I wasn’t ill. The homestead had simply gotten a little warm.

 

I’m a big fan of conditioned air and greatly appreciate it. But I’m not the biggest fan of paying for it, so I leave the A/C set pretty high. It takes a heat to kick it on and a heat was what I had yesterday.

 

When I was a wee lass, living with my great-grandparents in Zebulon, GA, there was no such thing as conditioned air in their old house. If it hit 109 degrees outside, it was surely 111 inside. I seem to remember an old movable fan, and there was one in a window of the bedroom where all us kids slept with Granny, but it was next to Big Papa’s bed and he was the only beneficiary of its swirling, hot air. You’d think sleeping in such heat would lead one to toss and turn, but you’d be wrong. Even a 6-year-old knows to lie as still as possible during the wrath of summer. And when you’re sharing an old-school, full-sized bed with your two little sisters and your great-grandmother, well, you lie still as stone and try to avoid contact. Another person’s body heat is the last thing you want when you’re about to drown in a genuine southern glisten. On those nights, the vapors weren’t a threat. Actual dying was.

 

I am incredibly spoiled now, I admit. And yesterday, just when I thought I might topple over, lulled into sleep by tricky heat, the old A/C turned on and I was saved. I would prefer to live with modern conveniences than to go without, but sometimes, when my mind strolls back to that rickety house in Zebulon, I can see Granny – clear as day. She’s sitting on the front porch, cooling herself with a cardboard fan on a wooden stick, printed with the details of some long-dead person’s funeral. Her slight hand movement is the only stirring on the porch. The heat is so thick you can see it, radiating up from the parched, brown grass. Papa is there, too. It’s so hot he’s resisting the urge to fill his pipe with Prince Albert. No one says much. And time, like the heat, slows down and wraps itself around us all. It is in the moment of that memory that I would gladly leave my comfortable, temperate home – just to see Granny and Papa one more time. And, like them, I would simply sit in the silence and be still. Waiting for the sun to set and for the first lightning bugs of the evening to sashay around the yard.

Dirty Laundry

 

 

Our washing machine is on the fritz. It will be repaired – eventually – but for now we’ve got a big pile of dirty laundry. And it’s growing.

 

My great grandmother, Granny Vera, had an old-school washing machine. During most of the year, she’d operate it out on the back porch, where it resided. (On the coldest winter days, she’d roll it into the kitchen for that day’s laundry.) I seem to recall an extension cord dangling from the overhead, bare-bulbed light socket in the kitchen, snaked out to the porch for power. She’d run a garden hose from the nearest spigot over to the basin to fill it. There was no lid, so the machine’s back-and-forth would slosh water all over the rotting boards of the porch. The attached wringer was a hand-cranked model. Granny would have to maneuver the laundry from the tub up into the wringer rods, all while cranking that bad boy by hand.

 

I still remember the day my great grandfather – Big Papa – brought a brand new washing machine home for Granny Vera. She was so excited, she did a little dance. It was basically the same model as the old one, only the wringer was automatic as well. All Granny Vera had to do then was feed the laundry through. No more cranking. You wouldn’t have thought something so simple could be so important, but I swear, y’all – the woman shed grateful tears.

 

Looking back on those old days and remembering how hard Granny worked, I realize I can deal with my current pile of dirty laundry. No complaints here.

Ghost-ies

 

 

The other night I was thinking about my great grandparents, and for some reason my mind touched on their haunted house. Now, I’m not here to sway you toward believing in ghosts. That’s your call. But since I’ve had more than one run-in with ghost-ies in my life, I don’t doubt their existence. Not even a little bit.

 

By the time I was born, Granny and Papa were old. (They weren’t crazy-old, mind you. It was the south, after all.) They lived in a falling-down, ramshackle of a house, situated next to some railroad tracks. They shared the house with another old lady: Miss Brown. Y’all, if my great grandparents were old, Miss Brown was flat-out ancient. I was a wee little thing, but I don’t remember her moving around on her own. Ever. There must’ve been a walker, maybe even a wheelchair. I don’t recall. I do recollect her sitting on the front porch in the summer, but that’s it. Oh – and I was afraid of her. I never once saw that woman smile. And that freaked me out.

 

Anyhoo, Miss Brown didn’t make it much beyond my early life. She passed on and then Granny and Papa lived alone. At least, they did until they took my family in. Thankfully, as we would otherwise have been homeless. I was 5 or 6.

 

My parents slept down in Miss Brown’s old room. We 3 girls slept in Granny’s bed with her. She and Papa had separate beds, located in the same room. I know it sounds weird, but it wasn’t. It was all we knew, and frankly, we girls loved Granny and Papa so much that we were just tickled to sleep in their room with them.

 

Remember “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory?” Remember how Charlie’s grandparents all slept in the same bed? Well, picture 3 little girls and one old lady, all facing the same direction in a regular full-sized bed, and that’s pretty much how it was. In the sweltering summer, we all sweated there together. In the frigid winter, we couldn’t turn over due to the weight of about 73 quilts. Granny was always on the outside, near the center of the room. We girls fought over the other 3 spots. Again, it was all we knew. And it was good.

 

The first time I heard the boots walking down the hallway, I was sleeping next to Granny. The sound started softly and grew louder as the wearer approached the bedroom. In the still darkness, I whispered to Granny, “What’s that noise?” She spoke right out loud, “Them are boots. It’s an old soldier – a haint – comin’ down the hall.” The boots grew louder and louder, until it sounded like they’d come right into the room with us. I was lying there, holding my breath, eyes desperately searching the coal-black night for the old soldier. I never saw him, and nothing else happened. The boots didn’t walk back down the hall, and the rest of the night was quiet. Eventually, I fell asleep, safe beside my Granny.

 

I didn’t like the boots, but I sort of got used to them. The sound would show up every now and then, usually without incident. I say usually, because there was that one night when the old soldier wasn’t content to simply walk into the room. On that hot summer evening, we were all trying to sleep on top of the covers. There was a fan propped up in the front window, but it only served to stir up warm air. The boots took their time coming down the hallway, slowly ambling into the room. I was relegated to the side of the bed nearest the wall that night, with my 2 sisters between Granny and me. I could barely see anything in the darkness, but I did make out Granny’s leg as it began lifting into the air. She started yelling, “Let go-a my leg! Let go-a my leg!” But the old soldier had her, and he held on for about 10 seconds, lifting her leg by the foot until it was straight up in the air.

 

Papa, in the other bed, was yelling at Granny to shut her yap. We girls were so scared, we just lay there, hoping we weren’t next. My little heart was beating almost as loudly as Granny’s screams. And then the old soldier let go, and her leg fell to the bed. Granny was none to happy about it, and was cussing a blue streak at the old soldier. And at Papa, as he hadn’t done a durned thing to help her. I started to breathe again, and was mighty grateful to be next to the wall. It took me near forever to fall asleep that night, I tell ya.

 

There were other incidents in that old house, and the boots still returned from time to time. That was the only occurrence of a ghost interacting with any of us, but once was enough.

 

Well, there was that time we kids held a seance. But that’s a story for another day…