Everyone has someone they came from. Everyone has had something that affected them one way or another. Everyone has someplace they have planted their roots and currently call home. Everyone has someway to remember the days of their youth, even if some of those memories require scratching a scar or two.
My father wanted to move back to his family’s land so me and my sister could grow up in familiar surroundings and enjoy some of the experiences of his youth. As I left staggered footprints in the sand of my life’s journey, there were times when I questioned his choice even though I am now able to see the merit and courage in what his decision was able to provide. It is not common practice this day and age to have one grandmother, one aunt, one uncle, five cousins, and family folklore a bicycle ride away, and I recognize the history that I was able to enjoy and add to for future reference.
The first of my thoughts take me to the many times I would bicycle up our driveway to grandmother’s house. My grandfather died before I was born so she was all I knew of my father’s parents. I remember her spooning snuff into her cheek while rocking in her sitting area and listening to a black and white television with foil covered rabbit ears. My grandmother made the most savory, lard laced, flour bread each week, and it is, to this day, one of the most missed family traditions of my childhood. Her eyesight was not very keen, and she would ask me to read the Bible to her. On my weekly visits, I would occasionally take my spare Bible to her house and read to her as she pushed her worn out rocking chair with her foot. Since the Bible meant so much to her, I placed the one I carried and read from beside her in the casket before all of us said our final goodbye.
Other thoughts take me to numerous hours I spent with my cousins. If you wanted to know where the party was at, all you had to do was look for a pile of bicycles at the front steps of whoever’s house and that is where the mischief was taking place. If we weren’t constructing our own makeshift bicycle ramps out of cement blocks and layers of scrap plywood, we were transforming old tobacco barns into clubhouses and hideouts like it was a backwoods edition of Love It or List It.
As we all grew up, bicycles transformed to golf carts transformed to four wheelers transformed into automobiles. If there is one thing a person needs to experience before they die, besides buying, transporting, and shooting illegal fireworks smuggled northward from South Carolina, it is living on a dry, dirt road with a beehive of angry four wheelers buzzing around your house. Have you ever seen a plane leaving an enormous trail of ‘whatever you want to label it’ as it slowly passes by in the upper atmosphere? Well, imagine all that exhaust, dust, and racket at ground level and being produced by beastly swarms of bees juiced by untethered testosterone. It was a constant sandstorm that never settled until the first rain chased our trails away for a day or two.
Me and one of my friends had the same four wheeler, a Kawasaki Bayou 220. I remember eyeballing that sweet machine at a nearby dealership because she had a fluorescent orange flag attached to her backside. She caught your eye by reflecting fire engine red in the golden sun, and I imagined my hair dancing in the breeze as I pushed the accelerator with the thumb on my right hand.
One day when I came home, I looked to the far side of the carport and saw my surprise sitting in the failing light of dusk, waiting to be ridden. I raised as much dirt, and hell, as I could while living on our sad dirt road and dusted everything I zoomed past. If a neighbor was brave enough to open their windows on a cool spring day, with them looking forward to rocking on the front porch and listening to the birds chirp, there was a good possibility that I ruined those peaceful easy feelings and chased them inside by Tokyo drifting around the curves, drag racing in the straightaways, and spitting up more sandstorms than an angry Tasmanian devil tearing through an open desert.
Karma later caught up with me one day when it came to my four wheeling mischievousness because my good friend, the one that owned the same four wheeler but different color as I did, accidentally backed over me in reverse while I was running away from him. I remember holding the rear chassis up with Atlas like strength as the tires spun at four thousand revolutions per minute near my skull. The scene that unfolded resembled some of the more memorable moments from a movie franchise like Saw or Final Destination. My friend argued that he thought he was stuck on a stump, but the more I think about it, I could have sworn that he reeved it up even faster when he plowed me over. A modern day hit and run minus the running. Now that I honestly recollect, I think there is a good possibility that he was trying to murder me in the first degree. My cousins quickly interceded and lifted the muddy machine off of me. Needless to say, that was how we ended one of our normal summer weekdays.
A special hang out for the wild bunch during the hot and humid summer months was a placed called “the swimming hole” (it was more than an actual hole, and we did not mean to discriminate its significance with such a misleading label when we christened it). The swimming hole was located at a creek that ran near and around family farmland. It was the first swimming pool any of us ever had. My uncle and his sons attached a rope swing to one of the nearby birch trees and built a wooden platform as the launching pad. The good times and memories took off from there. If we were not swimming in the cool, murky waters of our nearby exotic getaway, we were fishing that specific spot for a perch, brim, shad, or, if we were lucky, a bass. I’m surprised we did not get attacked by a wild animal, had one of our toes bitten off by a snapping turtle, or were bit by a venomous snake. The ancients must have been watching over us as we engaged in innocent, childish fun.
After the years passed, it seemed like everyone pulled the rip cord one by one and parachuted in places near and abroad. Some stayed, some never returned and transplanted themselves elsewhere, and some are rediscovering their rustic roots in their own way. The only thing that has remained constant, besides the memories that connect us, is the family cemetery. The hallowed grounds remain entombed in the middle of a field and has always attracted a faint breeze. The piece of land stands as a place of shade from the hot summer sun and provides hickory slash walnuts for squirrels and other wild animals. The creek and nearby river has become a fickle beast when a hurricane plows through, and their banks sporadically become overwhelmed by torrential rainfall, not to mention collecting run off from newly constructed highways and byways.
A couple of times in my life, I thought I had myself convinced that if I had offspring then I was going to move them far away from the bitter angst that lurks in the shadows here, the type of distemperment that only southern living can provide. As the picture attached to this post foreshadows, that has not been the case per se. I find myself letting my son enjoy some of the things that I partook in as a kid. In retrospect, I go back to the times when I questioned my father’s decision about moving back home and sharing the things of his childhood with me and my sibling. I thought he was crazy, but then I take a step back and look at the cycle of generations and folly of my momentary mindset.
Another memory, that washes over my eyes like a mirage, comes from my grandfather on my mother’s side of my family. Grandpa would always give us the bird (slang for the middle finger) whenever we would get ready to leave his house in our car. Grandma would slap at his hand as though he were a child reaching inside the cookie jar and plead for him to stop his foolishness. She was a God fearing woman who went to church every Sunday, and she believed behavior of the such was meant for the devil and his demonic offspring.
Me and my sister would flip him back without hesitation, and our mother would slap at our hands just like her mother was doing to her father. Dad played the innocent bystander and edged us on through his laughter, and I would be a liar if I said that he did not raise his middle finger on occasion until mother’s volcanic stare cornered him into silent seriousness. Since they have long passed, I still find myself waiting for Grandma to send a birthday card in the mail and be addressed in handwriting that depicts a slight touch of Parkinson’s. If I’m really lucky, the smell of Old Spice will hit my nostrils while I’m outside, and I’ll look around for the man who constantly mouthed a toothpick and taught me an unforgettable way to say goodbye.
A lot of things have changed over time, with one of the biggest markers of our families timeline coming when my childhood home was flooded, twice, due to hurricanes, rainwater, and rising creek levels. Everything was eventually gutted out, and the house was relocated to farm land that dad owned. It was harder for me to watch my parents go through that hardship than for me to personally experience it because they had worked their entire life for that house, piece of land, and surrounding structures and had specific memories attached to certain things. I’ve never seen a more imperfect house go through such a relentless struggle. I have come to realize that the house itself is more than just wood, cement blocks, and nails. It is one of the most beautiful metaphors of the human soul if some of us take the time to recognize it. Not every home can be described as such, and I take pride in that fact.
If the powers of nature ever want to flood the entire Earth again, which pieces of it inevitably will, I know where my ark is located. I have no love loss or attachments to the life experiences I have encountered and things I have owned while living in a flood plain. It is said that some people’s final trial will be by fire, and I know a lot of obstinate people around me that choose to fan those flames while they are alive on this Earth. Of course it appears that irony, my soulmate, has decided to judge me by the opposite element for the time being.
Even though the environment around us changes with every passing year, there are constants that connect certain parallels of the past, present, and future if one pulls the veil aside and seeks them out. Some generations keep traditions in the family. Some generations sell those traditions, pluck themselves up, and replant elsewhere. Some generations seek out nostalgia of days past and receive bittersweet glimpses of what life used to be like. Some generations grow communities, neighborhoods, special groups, and churches while others choose to destroy those named entities from the inside out. Some generations become bitter, angry bullies as time passes and sow discontent until their dying breath. Others choose to live and grow in grace, wisdom, and understanding, and their souls become more and more beautiful with every passing year.
As my fingers rattle the plastic keys on my keyboard, I take a deep breath and imagine myself being eleven years old, riding my bike as fast as I could up our driveway to Grandma’s house with my Bible underneath my armpit so I could exchange free reading for warm bread. All she wanted was to hear the sacred words from whatever chapter of whatever book, and it was the least I could do considering the matriarch of the family farmland was going to give me future memories to reflect and look back on.
The other day, I looked around at my surroundings as the wind bent the trees left to right and back again. A cloud tore apart like white cotton candy from upper level disturbances. A weed danced in the breeze and released its seed into the surrounding air. That is when the smell of Old Spice tickled my nostrils. I scanned my surroundings to make sure no one was around and waved the middle finger in the air.
Where do you grow, rustic roots, and how far down into the Earth do you go?
Rustic Roots, where do I need to go from here?
Plug In Earbuds : Push Play : Enjoy
P.S. – If I ever do move, I’ll probably be cursed by the spirits I abandon here, and my life will turn into some effin Stephen King horror movie wherever me and my wife plop down at next. She’ll see people crawling the backwards crab on the ceiling, and I’ll have shadow people calling out to me and haunting me from a dilapidated wood shed in the back yard or cellar door underneath the stairs. Worst case scenario, our new house will be located near a pet cemetery or ancient Indian burial ground, if our current house isn’t already. Lucky me! We can only hope, can’t we?