By A.H. Watson
Memories are not unlike the small pools formed by mountain springs before they flow into the stream. Man should store his good memories; they will help shelter him from the storms of old age.
But care is needed, no matter the depth of the thirst, when approaching a quiet spring. If you stoop and drink lustily from the waters, or dip wantonly from the depths, you will quickly spread a swirl of fine grained sand and small greenish algae throughout the pool, causing salamanders to wiggle off? looking for a quieter spot while casting even more debris; all left floating in the hitherto pristine waters. Your fishing partners will know you for that side of yourself ? The side you have always tried to hide.
And so it is with memories, one must be careful of what one dredges up. The detritus of one's early life may well contain both organic and inorganic matters best left undisturbed.
But man is fortunate as Freud explained before modern "feel good" psychiatrists had their way with him! Within reason, the more horrible a person's mistakes, the deeper he buries them in his id; That is unless his Super Ego dredges them up for its own amusement - in an attempt to punish.
You never remember dropping the pencil in order to get a peek up the teacher's dress?I guess today you would have to repress two years of sexual intercourse with her?. Playing doctor with your cousin in the barn till your grandmother found out - and for a WEEK you had to go to the barn each day, swat 200 flies, and bring them to her? counted out in groups of ten!
I didn't find out until twenty years later, she told my cousin that the next time she dropped her panties ? for any reason - better be three days AFTER her wedding.
Yeah?I know, but my grandmother believed that the woman should make the man wait ?just to show that the wedding was more than a license to screw. Well, actually Grans didn't say screw, but I guess you know that?I think she said, "Try to make babies." her thinking that was the only reason to let anyone get on top of you. Course I could never imagine grandpapa on top either?what did he do with the cane?
Living the summers in a small farming community with my grandparents rather than with my aunt, Uncle, and Mom in the more cosmopolitan Atlanta, gave me a perspective that would follow me for life.
One day - after the morning train had made it's delivery - I sat on a stool in the Post Office watching my aunt put up the mail.
My grandfather was the most circumspect of men, taciturn to the point of incivility at times. As many men of that era felt, grandfather honestly believed he was born to give orders and be obeyed. He would have given short shrift to women's rights ? not in principle, but as a movement worthy of one tenth of the attention it receives, along with the many other foolish collections of people with so little to do that they must waste time and coin chasing perceived affronts or insensitivity.
I remember one moment my grandfather was standing there doing whatever Postmasters do?which to my young mind seemed to be standing around going?."Harrumph" to most questions asked ?such as?.
"Harrumph ? Miss Pearson, mam; y'all know what time the 5:15 train gets here ? same time as every day, but Sunday." Then he would tug at his pocket watch, it must have weighed a pound, look hard, as if willing something to happen, then moved to another spot, away from such stupid questions from a public not deserving of mail delivery.
But today he was standing near the service opening ? just out of sight ? when the local Baptist minister came to the counter and spoke to my Aunt standing behind.
"Morning Mizz Mary, any mail for me this fine morning?""I know where the box is. Yes?. but I thought you might just lean down an' fetch it for me. My back hasn't been the same since the Jones funeral last week."
"Course, one of my children could be behind that counter if your daddy had not decided to make the Post Office a family affair. I have always thought it unseemly for you to hold that job, Mary. I told a church member just yesterday that your father Ruben should not have picked one of his own family."
We shall visit my grandfather's store at the other end of town later; you will see the lesson this wonderful, yet, flawed man taught me that morning.
Stepping from behind the mailboxes, to face Minister Young, my grandfather wasted not one word in appeasement. In a quiet voice but one that could pierce a steel safe, he gathered Mr. Young on the tip of his tongue? and began to carve.
"Young", leaving the scoundrel no rock of faith upon which to hide. I have had as much as I am going to take of your gossip and lies about my family and myself ? especially in that you, of all people, know the truth."
"The exams for Mary's job were civil service exams given in Atlanta by people that knew nothing of her being my daughter. Her name is Brown and she took the exam on her own - without my knowledge. As for your two children and cousin that took the exam over the last two years, two walked out unable to understand the directions and the cousin made a grade of 40 which is still laughed upon as the lowest grade ever given a man of thirty in the history of the Atlanta office."
"I heard you said at the barber shop, that I must be very sinful if I go to church as seldom as I do. Every dime you take home comes from my yearly gift to that church ? just as my father's did as well."
"As for that matter, you haven't written a sermon since you arrived. You found Preacher Niven's old sermons in a folder he kept in the attic. Do you think us fools? You are giving the same sermons Nivens gave over the last two years."
"You are sorry, lazy, and a vicious gossip? to boot. Best you start calling around to other churches - as I have told the vestry that my tithe won't continue until you are well gone from Jonesboro."
With that my grandfather turned his back and walked to the rear of the office leaving the Reverend Young nobody with whom to argue?. My aunt was sitting there? still ? smiling sweetly - as her daddy had always taught.
That was my grandfathers righteous side?some would no doubt say "too righteous," but things were blacker, and whiter, back then, and, looking at today, better that the corruptions that now face us all.
To see the other Ruben Mundy, my grandfather, it is necessary to travel to the distant end of Jonesboro. One long block from the Post Office, and holding down the other end of town, was my grandfather's store.
For those that never have visited a small town in the late thirties or forties it will not be possible to give you the proper description, smell, or picture of the "general store" of that era, but I shall to the best of my ability try to give a feel for shopping in a small town of those days.
My Grandparents had moved from the large house at the edge of town to a smaller and easier to run and support house two blocks off Main Street. Main Street was also the only highway south to Florida from the mid Atlantic and mid western states.
A trip to the store usually started with my grandmother, somehow, capturing my friend Timmy and myself from some "senseless foolishness" - as she called our many efforts at amusing ourselves. She would send us to the store to retrieve some thread or food item she needed for dinner.
Halfway to town, on both sides of the dirt road sat the Carnes Cotton Gin and Storage warehouses. It consisted of two gin buildings, a bailing building, a strap and buckle building and four large cotton storage buildings each the size of a football field. Each building was fashioned from 12" walls of slave made brick ? the interior was heavy, hand hewn joist, rafters, and sills carved from native long leaf pine. The wood was heavy with sap, that still seeped from the massive timbers, sticky and sharply scented as when first cut some eighty years before. The buildings had been saved from Sherman's flame because both armies had used the property during the last battles south of Atlanta.
The bricks and timbers were sold in the eighties, for many times the cost of the buildings when constructed. The material itself made one enterprising young man a millionaire over night. I find it strange, yet remarkable, how man's perception of beauty and classic form change over time.
Mr. Carnes, the gin owner, kept his office in a small building some 50' by 30' built to look exactly like a miniature plantation with columns and front porch similar to that at Tara or other such estates. While not historically accurate, it was a building one remembered.
When passing Mr. Carnes office there would always be several colored boys out front or in the side yard awaiting orders from Mr. Carnes. You see, though I am sure none of today's children would understand or believe ? there were no I pods, no cell phones, no internet or E-mail ? not even intercom. If the owner wished to send orders or ask questions of those in other buildings it was necessary to send a note and receive a reply. The boys gathered by chance near the office were used for these messages. In a moment of truth, but lack of political correctness, because these messages were often sent just before lunch and dinnertime, they became known as "the noon coon." As in the question, "Did you get your "noon coon" from John today about the problem getting box cars?"
Racist? Perhaps so if you are of the hysterical bent - But surely not as racist or hateful as today when people are killed just because they are white.
Though Timmy and I would gladly take messages for Mr. Carnes we were not part of that group. When Mr. Carnes saw us coming down the street, a dirt track really, he would immediately pick one of his boys to race us to the top of the slight hill at the corner of my grandfather's store - The winner would receive a dime. I doubt if any child today could ever imagine just how much a dime meant to a young boy during those lean years.
On this particular day, Mr. Carnes called out Leroy, long of limb, older by some four years, and faster than Timmy, my friend, that could run rings around me.
Though faster than either Timmy or me, due to age, and legs that seemed to reach the sky, Leroy never beat Timmy and me for the dime reward to the winner. Something would always befall poor Leroy before he could win the race. Sometimes his legs would become tangled with mine and he would fall ? sometimes Timmy would fall in front of him and I slow of foot? would dash home the winner.
On this day Leroy was ahead at the turn, but by the time we reached Mr. Carnes and the finish line, Timmy and I were far ahead. Leroy walked to the finish as Mr. Carnes fumed at a race with such an uneventful ending.
Once Leroy was ensconced again among the other two legged message machines sitting in the shade of the building, Mr. Carnes motioned to Timmy and me to join him on the porch of the small office.
"You boys confound me." Mr. Carnes said, smiling at Timmy and me. "I declare, I send the fastest of the little ninny's, Leroy, against the two of you a couple of times a week, and every time you manage to find a way to keep him from winning. But today, I give up. How in a Sunday Sermon did you get Leroy to just flat give up and walk back to the office ? not even trying to win the dime? I would give a quarter for that knowledge."
Without thinking I looked at Carnes and blurted out? "We offered him a nickel to just come in last."
With Timmy standing behind Mr. Carnes shaking his head at me in frustration at my telling - Mr. Carnes looked at me with a strange look and offered, "Henry, you and young master Tim are way too aware of the ways of the world for your age. What possessed you to try and bribe someone bigger and faster that either of you?"
"Frankly Sir, (as I regained my composure and saw a small light far in the distance)?Frankly Timmy and I were tired of getting all bruised and cut up throwing ourselves in front Leroy to win a dime."
"Mr. Carnes think of it like the story you like to tell about your brother on the coon hunt."
He often told the story about his brother Sam one night crawling out on a limb 40' above the creek to shake down a raccoon the dogs had treed after a two hour hunt. The damn animal had charged him right there on the limb with no room for Sam to maneuver or get away.
After being bitten and scratched for some few minutes, Sam told Mr. Carnes to shoot the damn raccoon. He told his brother that he couldn't 'cause they were all hung up together.
Then laughing and slapping his thighs he said his brother said ? "Shoot anyway you old fool ? one of us up here needs relief."
Mr. Carnes smiled, and said, " I see Henry, y'all bought off your competition."
"Yes Sir, we did that."
Then looking at Timmy and winking?."We will really enjoy that quarter you promised if you only knew? just how we got Leroy to make him walk.""You expect me t?you think I owe you two?. for ?." And the words trailed off.
Well, if you pay right now Timmy and I will accept 24 cents?won't we Timmy?"
"You are going to give ME a one cent discount for cash payment? I ought to spank each of you two little bandits as we speak!"
Here is your bloody quarter you little heathens?.I don't mean that boys. Actually, I like your thought processes ? but why 24 cents Henry? Truthfully, why ?"
"Cause 24 cents is three 8's and we want to give Leroy a equal share of the quarter, Mr. Carnes."
"Why on earth would you give Leroy part of the quarter?Hell, he would not only not do it for you ? it would never enter his mind."
"Well, Mr. Carnes we ain't Leroy we are us?. And we made a deal to give him half the dime for the race. I don't feel that not knowing about a possible quarter changes much ? do you? A deal is a deal."
"He won't understand it and will waste the money ? you know that don't you?"
"Yes Sir, most likely" Timmy added further?. " I know he will never get home with it."
Mr. Carnes looked at Timmy and me for quite a spell then said, "Fellows I learned something here this morning, thought I was past learning bout human nature?but don't guess you ever are ?or should be."
"Henry, I told you earlier that I liked you and Tim's thinking?but, actually? I admire both of you. You cannot know just how glad I will be retired or dead when you two hit your stride. Don't ever change."
But, of course, we did.
Magic only lasts for those special periods of life ? soon over, soon dissipated by the constant wind of time.
But that Christmas Timmy and I received small white envelops at the Post Office with nothing other than our names written in that beautiful hand one only sees in old albums or on BBC.
Each contained a fifty-dollar bond - but no signature?
But we knew. ?Timmy and I.
©2007 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.