Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

An Introduction

The time and place of my birth and early life seems alien today…the middle of the Twentieth Century in a Southern, rural, farming community. There is little resemblance of my childhood world to the modern one. A Baby Boomer, I might have grown up in a foreign country…or another planet. I did grow up in a different century. It is certainly not your world, my grandchildren, my loves.

I feel the need to tell stories. Hopefully you will recognize the language, hopefully you will learn that your roots run deep.

The hands of the clock moved slower then…there had to be more than twenty-four hours in the day.  Not because we were bored but because it seemed we did so much in the time that we had. Days so rich and so filled, there had to be more minutes in the day than the 1440 we have now. 

In the time of my youth, cotton was still king with cotton gins and textile mills running at full capacity.  Pulp wooders were still stripping the hills of pine trees to feed the hungry paper mill just across the river from my home.  John Deere tractors pulled disc harrows or hay bailers toward the river bottoms. There were more cows than people, when “backyards” included vast pastures and mixed forests. There were no traffic lights and few stop signs.

Dark-skinned truck drivers were still carrying huge loads of red clay past our house to Ashe Brick Company in distant Van Wyck.  Distant…which was just down the road a piece but might as well have been on a different continent.

Little white boys with crew cuts and flattops standing out in their yard giving the black truckers a universal sign of pumping fists they smilingly returned by blasting us with their air horns.  They seemed to never tire of it, I know we didn’t.  Huge grins blindingly white against dark complexions.

My little brother playing in a sandy ditch using his voice to mock the trucks as they shifted through their gears, pushing his Tonka Toy Truck as he did.  My parents worried he would destroy his vocal cords if he didn’t quit. I might have wished that he had…but just a time or two.

Sitting under a huge pecan tree on a hill above a two lane blacktop, watching the sparse traffic and being able to recognize the cars of friends, family, and acquaintances, some by their distant sound.  There was always a stir when a new model cruised by. Knowing who the occupants were just by the cars they drove. Everyone waved and smiled.  It truly was a different era.

It was a different time because my family was still intact, and the place of my youth still existed.  Family and place are important. Two hilltops and two ‘hollers’ filled with extended families.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents, uncles and aunts, all making sure we always toed the line. The old Nigerian proverb ‘Oran a azu nwa’, “it takes a community or village to raise a child,” certainly was true.  

Cousins to play with even though I was between generations.  Younger than one generation and older than another, I sat dead in the middle, alone. It didn’t matter.  My closest friends of the same age were just across the road or just up the road apiece, all within walking distance.  I am amazed at how long an hour of playtime was during those days.

Forays through our mixed forest into the piney woods across the “crick “ to the Morris’ home or across the road, walking past the scary kudzu shrouded ravine to the Jackson’s.  An active imagination wondered what might be lurking there. What animal or monster, or if the kudzu might reach out and kidnap me. An unofficial club house in a privet shrouded share cropper’s home that sat abandoned next to my house.

If we had a penny we might trek to Pettus’ or Yarbrough’s store for a small Sugar Daddy or BB Bat. “You be careful crossing that road, now, Stop, look, and listen.” Traffic was sparse but our parents still worried.

There were few families in my little world I wasn’t related to.   If the last name was Griffin, Pettus, Perry, Rodgers or Wilson, our family trees probably merged at some point…sometimes becoming quite tangled or maybe without limbs at all. An aunt on one side of the family was also an aunt on the other side of the family, and also my third grade teacher. I need to ask questions because I don’t exactly remember how that came to be. The last name, Miller, was a rare one but then my Dad was a transplant from Fort Mill, thirteen miles away.

Playing football or baseball in the stubble of harvested hay, or corn, or cotton in the field across the road.  At least we didn’t have to worry about avoiding cow patties, but we never learned to hook or popup slide, either. 

Corn cob fights around the corn crib and barn where we did worry about cow patties.  The forts and tree house we built on a bluff above a stream that led to the distant Catawba until cut by one of Bowers’ lakes…not so distant after all.  Playing war in the eroded red clay banks between the cotton and corn fields.  Our parents threatening to tan our hides because of the ruined clothes, once white tee shirts forever stained by the red clay.

Walking or riding my bike down the dusty “river road” to Bowers’ ponds teaming with blue gills, largemouth, and the occasional catfish.  On to the river that seemed so distant then…probably no more than two or three miles away today. Could it have moved closer?

I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions. “What was it like during the depression?” “What did it feel like to see your first car?” “What was it like to work on the railroad.” “How did you make your biscuits so moist on the inside and buttery crisp on the outside.” Hopefully these stories will answer some of your questions after my soul joins “The parade of souls marching across the sky.”

I’m going to tell stories that will be alien to you.  I hope you will take the time to read them sometime.  Hopefully, they will be educational.  Hopefully, you will want to read them.  Maybe you should read them to your mother and father, too.  Some will be humorous, some painful, some will just be.  All will be written with love.

An introduction to Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren, a work in progress.

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Don Miller’s Amazon site: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jXxoLIhO8m6Oz6EZ3yUhX3TS3YHpsX0ldPJIFZxBDXQNB8JiA4in1Sgw

Quote from Goodreads.

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Quote “The parade of souls marching across the sky.” from the song Wheel Inside a Wheel by Mary Gauthier.

Cruel and Unusual

“The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it.” ― Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

My soon to be five-year-old boy-child grandbaby sat in the middle of the driveway painting a frog as his father was finishing up mowing grass.  A big grin erupted from his face as we pulled up.  I suspect the grin was more for his life-sized play toy, Grand Momi Linda, than for his Popi. 

Noli, short for Nolan, was barefooted, a perpetual condition regardless of atmospheric temperature.  It was a cool afternoon, but I can hear a soft Southern voice in my head say, “The boy just don’t like to be incumbered by the unnecessary”…and had he been left to his own devises would have been out of most if not all of his clothing.   The big grin on his face made it all okay.  Boy, you are going to be trouble with a capital T. 

As I looked at his water-colored painting, I realized he had been left to his devises as it applied to creativity.  Noli had chosen some interesting color schemes.  The frog he was painting was an escapee from an LSD trip it seemed, or a taco fueled dream. 

During this ten-minute period in his life, the boy is into his painting, but I doubt I have another “Grand Master” on my hands…unless a color-blind Salvador Dali might be a grand master. 

“Noli, that sho is an interesting looking frog.  Pretty!  Never seen one with a blue eye and a purple eye.”  Not to mention multi-colored spots. 

Noli just grinned and continued to add paint. 

“What is that sticking out of his head?  I’ve never seen antennas on a frog.”

Noli got hit by a photon and leaving his artwork on the driveway, ran to get his Spiderman playground ball.  So much for the budding artist.  Now it was superhero time.

Spiderman is a big deal…Noli has all the “Spidee” poses down pat.  I vaguely I remember tying a towel around my neck and flying from one twin bed to the other ala George Reeves as Superman.  That acorn might have landed close when it fell from my tree. Much can be said for imagination.

Both my grandbabies operate at one speed.  Wide open in daredevil mode.  Miller Kate the seven-year-old first grader and Noli the soon to be five-year-old will begin kindergarten in August unless Covid has closed us down again. 

I’m not sure I would want to be the teacher who has to channel their energy into something educational…especially with the siren’s call of warm August sunshine just outside the window.  I agree with Rick Bragg.

It is sadistic for a five-year-old to sit in a desk for long periods of time in August…or mid-January.  I pray for a creative teacher fostering a love for readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic.  A teacher who nurtures his or her children’s creative streaks.  A teacher who channels their own inner Peter Pan.

They both love doing.  Not much for sittin’ and their parents have done a good job of limiting their “screen” exposure.  The outdoors is their siren’s call, running, jumping, riding bicycles, splashing in the one mud puddle in their yard. 

I have a picture of a much younger Miller Kate standing in a flooded church parking lot after a drenching thunderstorm.  Barefooted in her new dress, ankle deep in water with her Grand Momi also barefooted in her own dress clothes.  Grand Momi never let Peter Pan die and I’m sure it was her idea to go wading.

Yes, August can be cruel and unusual punishment…as can early April with its seductive spring temperatures calling out for children to run barefooted in the newly immerging grass.  Hard to sit still in a schoolhouse desk with so much fun waiting just outside.

I remember those days when Peter Pan was holding on by his last grasp.  Shut up in a classroom, but at least there were big, tall, open windows to look out of.  Morning recess and what seemed to be a long afternoon lunch period to look forward to.  A brief afternoon recess just to get the kinks out. 

The best part of the school day.  Tall swings to practice your landings with a tuck and roll, see saws, and a spinning contraption that would send you rolling into next week if you lost your grip.  Playing “crack the whip” and “king of the mountain”, somewhat violent games now banned.  Bumps and bruises we somehow survived, laughing all the way back to the classroom. 

Somehow it prepared us for the afternoon “see Dick run” reading period, cyphering our numbers, or writing with “big, fat” pencils in a wide lined notebook.  Physical stimulation seems to help mental stimulation.

Fear of liability has turned the school day from learning opportunities into cruel and unusual punishments.  That, and the need to “stay on task” so that we look good at test time.  I’ve always believed there was more to schoolin’ than just what comes from a book…now, a Chromebook, and how well you do on a standardized test. 

Miller Kate seems to have weathered the storm and I’m sure Noli will too, especially if he keeps his grin. I’m sure that grin will terrorize all ladies regardless of age and regardless of their occupation.

I hope Peter Pan can find a last gasp and take them to a Wonderland of imagination, away from the cruel and unusual punishment. 

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Don Miller is a retired History and Science teacher and Coach. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2bHfb3dx-hOqW5DoszodDazv8xJDscd0_mpUS-ary5h6NEk6IOJp5St_g

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