Mamaw & Papaw: By CURTIS OWENS

Even today, almost 40 years later, I can see my grandfather sitting in his green leather chair watching the 11pm news on the old console tv that sat against the wall. It was a ritual, or a habit, I guess. He always watched that program, then would slowly get up, turn off the tv and head to bed.
I’m not sure when he woke in the morning, but I’m sure it was early. It seems like those in his generation always did. A throwback to their youth I guess, when there early morning chores, walking miles to whatever job they had that day, or maybe to beat the heat while working in the garden or elsewhere on the farm.

I can see him, as well, sitting in his seat at the table having breakfast. Eggs and biscuits and gravy, all homemade. I always enjoyed watching mamaw rolling out the dough and cutting the biscuits by using a clean steel vegetable can, with no label. The metal looking shiny and new. Afterwards papaw would mix up the leftovers on a plate and scrape the mixture into the dog bowls for his pups in the pen by his house.
I would come home from school and stop by their house because I knew mamaw would be fixing supper. Mashed potatoes were a staple, I suppose because of the large bin full in the cellar. We would dig those in the early fall and dump bucketful’s into the bin to help get through the winter. She would send me, her ‘tater john’, out to fetch them. She called me that not because it was my job, but because I’d shovel those delicious whipped taters into my mouth by huge, heaping spoonfulls.

If I was lucky she would have made some fried apple pies for dessert, or maybe have some apple stacked cake leftover from our cousin and neighbor Merl. She did this cooking in between hiding on the back porch or in the bathroom, occasionally puffing on one of papaws Camel cigarettes, that she thought we didn’t know about.

I went with papaw and checked his tame ginseng patch in a shady area above the dog lot. That was up past the wooden leaf lettuce bed that he would pile leaves on and burn it off every year. He always talked about how the wind ginseng fetched a better price, but he’d always harvest the berries from the plant to replant there in his bed. I think it was just harder for him to walk in the woods searching for the herb, but selling what he got put a little money in his pocket.

I would sometimes peek inside the outhouse that we didn’t use anymore, but was still there on a well work path farther away from the house. I couldn’t imagine, or remember, using that, but I knew it’s purpose.

Making slaw and pickles, canning beans, tomatoes and corn were also a fall ritual. Sweet pickles were always my favorite, as well as gnawing on the cabbage stalk after grinding the flesh off by running it through the hand turned colander. I do not, however, like to think about her wringing the chickens neck, or it’s part in a Sunday dinner.

One of my clearest memories is papaw sitting on the glider on the front porch. He had his glass of whiskey close at hand and his old .22 rifle across his knees. He was watching for that groundhog to come out of the bushes by the creek that ran along the bottom of the property, so he could take a shot at it. Maybe he was a bad shot, or his eyesight wouldn’t allow him to hit it, as I never remember his actually harvesting that animal. I truly believe it just gave him something to do during the day. I like to think that he missed those occasional shots on purpose.

He had a barber’s strap hanging on the wall by the bathroom. When us kids were getting a little rambunctious, he would look at us and say ‘Don’t make me get my strap down.’. Not loud, not mean, but matter of factly and we all knew that he meant it.

At Christmas, when opening his present, papaw would take out his old pocketknife and deliberately cut the tape used to hold the wrapping paper together. He would then fold the paper up, to re-use I guess. Another holdover from his youth when everything was re-used again and again, until it was completely used up. So much different than the disposable society we have today.

I think of my grandparents sometimes, fondly, with great nostalgia for that past. That was so long ago, but still so clear in my mind. Just like how when I was young, mamaw would set me on the porch with a metal coffee can with the plastic lid in place, then give me a few nails and a hammer and tell me to drive those nails in the lid, just to keep me entertained for a while. Today I’ll be watching a movie on my laptop while playing a game on my phone, and I’ll still not be occupied to pay attention to anything.

I often wonder what him kids remember from their youth and what stories they will tell their kids about growing up, not all that far from where I did. I know there’s stories of vacations taken, of bike rides down the street, along with the occasional trip to visit uncles, aunts and cousins on the small farm where I grew up and shooting cans or riding in the back of a pickup on the farm. I know this because they’ve mentioned these memories while talking about their youth. Also family games, making chocolate chip pan cookies, thousands of ballgames, band concerts, video game marathons and family movie nights.

I’m glad they have those memories, and I hope to be able to share some of my youth with my grandson and other grandkids to come. I worry though, that maybe what we did wasn’t enough. That maybe they won’t have the strong memories like I have of my youth.

Those memories I recall today, sitting on my porch in the early morning, drinking whiskey like my papaw and smoking a fine cigar, of wandering the hills, fishing the creeks, climbing in the barns or riding hogs in the lot. Also cutting firewood, fixing fences, and countless hours mowing acres of fields. Memories of a youth that helped shaped who I am, constant reminders of where I’m from and that instilled a little work ethic as well as a thousand memories that inspired love and appreciation of those family member of my youth.

In a conversation tonight with my oldest son, he mentioned a memory of high school. It came back to me clear and as simple as can be. He asked me why I remembered that and I truly don’t know. I guess because it was just as important to me as it was to him.

Soon I’ll be turning 50, my youngest son will be getting married, and before any of that I’ll be taking a trip to visit Ireland and Scotland with my dear wife and the best friends anyone could have. I’ll be creating more memories, for me if not for my kids. I will have, however, more stories to share, more memories to regale my grandkids with, as I hopefully watch them grow up and older. I’m looking forward to getting to repeat the experiences of my children, seeing them play ballgames and having birthday parties, just like my kids did.

Maybe someday my kids and their kids will get to tell stories about memories they made with me and recall those with the same fondness and appreciation of their youth, that I have today. The same thoughts of how those activities helped shape them, in any small way, into the good people they are and will be. I pray that they know that I tried to share with them a little bit of who I was, their heritage of who we are, and most importantly where they come from.

Some day.

I truly hope.