We got out of our cars and just like hundreds of times before, saw that old leaning chimney that had been the same way for more than 30 years. As we made our way to the porch, I remembered all the Sundays standing right there in that very spot, Mommaw and Poppaw greeting us when we arrived and telling us goodbye when we left. Poppaw always wore bib overalls, and long sleeves even in the summer. He was my grandfather and I loved him, but I remember those kisses goodbye were a little bit painful because he had a tough beard and kissing his cheek was like kissing rough sandpaper. It’s funny remembering the things that went through my mind as a kid. We walked up on the porch and my cousins and sisters talked a little bit and laughed about some of the things we remembered. I remembered the porch swing which wasn’t there now, and how funny, but kinda scary it was when Daddy would pull the chains of the swing together so it tilted all the way back. We never flipped completely over, but it sure felt like we would a few times.
We walked back in the door and as the screen door slammed behind us, it was like we traveled back in time. The house seemed the same. Even the smell was the same, and I remembered the many times through the years I had been there, the week long visits every summer, using a dipper to drink water from the pan just inside the back door before they got indoor plumbing, and all of those Sundays sitting at that table, eating Mommaw’s biscuits, and vegetables from the garden. One of my favorites was her tomato soup, and I would crumble up those biscuits like only she could make into the soup for a delicious meal. We talked about all those days on the front porch, with purple thumbs from shelling peas. I guess that’s why they’re called purple hulls. I remembered the summer nights sleeping with the windows up, and how peaceful and relaxing the rain on their tin roof sounded. I remembered all the winter days of quail hunting with my dad, and uncle and cousin and how incredible the warmth of the heat from the wood burning heater felt on my feet once I pulled them out of my frozen rubber boots.
Twenty-nine years ago, on a plot of land down a country road that seemed to lead to nowhere, we said a sad goodbye to Poppaw. Today, Mommaw joined him, and to me, even at 50 years old, it seemed like it was more than a goodbye to her, it was also goodbye to my childhood.
We hung around a while, and I wasn’t expecting it when Daddy told us to look around and see if there was anything we wanted as a keepsake. I couldn’t think of anything, because the keepsakes were all in my head. Still, I half-heartedly walked around looking through the house, and it wasn’t until I got to the back corner room that I found the answer. There was an old brace and bit, and a relic from my childhood more than 40 years ago – a tack hammer that had been the perfect size for me when my world consisted of warm summer days playing in Poppaw’s back yard. The two things I remember loving as a kid was exploring new places, and building things. Poppaw had two wooden sawhorses in the back yard and he always kept old lumber, nails, and when I was too small to use a regular sized hammer, he had that tack hammer for me to drive nails into boards “building” all sorts of things in my mind.
I remember Poppaw always saying that he could never complain about not having much because with that house and property he had more than he’d ever had in his life. Mommaw lost both parents before she was 12 years old, and as a 6th grader, Poppaw lost his Dad and had to quit school. So, before he was even a teenager, he had to step into the shoes of a man and help make a living because that was the only way his family would survive. They grew up during the Great Depression, and I think living through that gave them a unique appreciation for what they had. Both of their childhoods ended very young, and maybe that’s part of the reason they helped make all of us grandkids get so much joy out of ours.
I wish my mind was sharper and I could remember more of the adventures we had as children. But even without all the details, that tack hammer and brace and bit are symbols that make my heart remember even when my mind can’t. It’s funny how it works that way. It’s like an illustration in a book that I’m living, from a chapter that was finished a long time ago.
Saying goodbye to those you love is always tough, but we know that we only see part of reality from our perspective today. In his book, “The Last Battle”, C. S. Lewis described the ending of the adventures in a fictional land called “Narnia” which I believe also describes what happens when we say goodbye to our loved ones in real life.
“And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures … had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
How awesome to think there are better chapters than the ones we shared together. Until then, we’ll miss Mommaw and Poppaw, but these simple tools, like bookmarks for some of the favorite chapters of my past will always remind me to be thankful for the awesome childhood I had and how deep the roots of family run.