Friday, November 25, 2016

To My Family, written rather than told because that's what I do

 Yesterday I cooked. I enjoyed it. It was the first time in a long while that I enjoyed cooking. Then we all sat down to eat and it was over. It was good but it was not the stuff from which memories are made.

When I was a child, every holiday was an opportunity for a family gathering. I do not remember going to multiple houses on Thanksgiving so we must have alternated the holiday between my dad’s and mom’s families. Or maybe we went on Thursday to one and another day of the weekend to the other. Regardless, at either one, there were lots of people but more children at my dad’s family.

I especially loved the Click/Knipe gatherings. When I grow nostalgic for Texas, that is where my mind goes. My daddy’s aunt and uncle had a turkey farm in Lampasas. We would travel down there and have a great time. My memory is that it was always outside. Maybe I have gotten my memory of a Willie Nelson movie and my real life intertwined but I don’t think so. It’s just a way of life in Texas. Kids chasing chickens, music playing, people dancing, long tables filled with as many dishes as there were people. After dinner, at every single gathering I can remember, Uncle Roy (my daddy’s uncle) would find a tree with a little grass under it, lie down, pull his hat down over his face and take a nap.

Sometimes, we would gather at my great-grandmother’s historic home in Cresson. She had a big pot-belly stove in the middle of the living room and a huge cast iron stove and oven in the kitchen. She is the one who always called me by my whole name, “O.J.’s Oldest Daughter Barbara Gail.” Every time. Or so it seemed in my memory. She was also the one who admonished us as we raced out of the back door, “You chillren don’t chase the chickens!” And of course, that was exactly what we did. The back yard led out to a chicken coop and a little barn. It was a great backyard with trees to climb and corners to explore. Plus there were grapevines and swinging from grapevines was just about the best.

Later times, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s home in Godley. The smells of her house as we opened the door were intoxicating. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, reunions, or just some plain old Sundays, I can easily remember those plus the warmth and sound that rushed out the door to envelop us as we entered. The noise levels were incredible. Anyone having an auditory issue might have been very uncomfortable. But it was all good noise – laughter, love, and lots more of each.

Everyone seemed to have their special place to be inside that house. Grandma, Gail (aunt) and Mom were all in the kitchen or at the table. Grandpa sat in his chair in the living room. Daddy sat in Grandma’s chair. Damon (uncle) and Karen sat on one of the three couches. Jim (aunt’s husband) commandeered another couch. If my great-aunts and uncles were there, the couches had to be shared.

And my grandpa’s hands. I remember his hands on his hips with his head leaned back and laughter pouring out. He had the best laugh. His whole body was a part of it. Or his hand resting on the top of my head when I was still small. Later, his hand gently touching my daughter’s redhead as she sat beside his chair when she was two. I think he loved her best because she was a redhead like his beloved Babe (Grandma).   

Until my sister and I got much older, we would be asked to sing. We dutifully sang whatever song Grandpa requested. My sister Jo and I were the only grandkids for a while. The others were seven+ years younger than us. So, she and I were on center stage for a while.

It seems like most of our Thanksgivings were spent at the Clicks. Christmases were spent with my mom’s folks on their Palo Pinto farm. Grandmother (or Mamaw as she was also called), Mom’s mom, was a story teller. She was always telling stories from mom and her sister’s life. Or of me. I swear I do not know if I remember certain things or if I just heard the tale so many times it became my reality.

Thanksgiving always brought this poem:
Do you know what I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day?
If you won’t laugh, I’ll tell you.
For there’s lots that I can say.
I’ve reasons to be thankful.
You’d think so too, I guess.
I fell down stairs last night and tore this big hole in my dress.
I skint my knee and broke my doll
And Oh! I bumped my head!
So you just better believe…
I’m thankful I’m not dead!

My grandmother would tell the story of my aunt (mom’s older sister) being a little girl and performing this poem on a stage, complete with all the actions necessary to make it real. I looked up the lines and found the poem in a compilation, Oregon Teachers Monthly, Volume 16 page 172, “A Thankful Girl” by Edith P. Putnam. I love Google.

Halloween always brought up “Lil Orphant Annie.” The night before Christmas, before we would be tucked into a big feather bed with heavy covers ready to bear down upon us, she would sing this song,
Santa Claus is coming, children, he’ll be here in a day.
The snow is deep and even. You can hear each reindeer hoof.
So, hang up your stockings and go to bed quickly
and close your eyes tight was you can
for he’ll peep through the keyhole to see if you’re sleeping
that good-natured, jolly old man!

There really was a keyhole in the old door of the old house. And I could always imagine Santa peering through it to see if we were asleep. It was so hard to keep our eyes shut because on the other side of the door, out in the living room there would be the jingle jangle of bells. We would hear rustling noises as the jolly old man set out our presents. Later, I discovered that the jolly old man was our Poppy. That made the memory all the sweeter.

I have not found another person who knows this song. Nor can I find it via Google. Maybe she made it up. It is a good song and one that I have sung to my own grandkids when I have been with them on Christmas Eve.

I wonder what memories I have set up for my grandkids. I know that for most of them, the farm out at Springtown was a big memory. The youngest one was not yet born. The other two’s memories are fading because they were so young. Probably most of their family gathering memories are of my parents’ place in Granbury. Just as noisy, just as filled with laughter and food. Of course, there were no chickens but there was an occasional duck wandering from one cove to another. And of course, there were the admonitions to close the doors as kids raced in and out. It was a sliding glass door so there was not that satisfying clap of a sound as it slammed shut, unhindered by child hands.

Time is rushing by. I miss our family most on these days. Rather than making memories, with so many dead or those living scattered across the country, it seems to be more of a day for remembering. It is too easy to get lost in the sorrow of loss and miss the here and now. 

Funny how the memories we hold dear seem so much more defined than the ones in the process of being made.    

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