The world is full of stimuli. It’s a wonderful and vastly different world from the one I grew up in as a child. In just the few decades since then so much has come into existence. The smells, textures, tastes.
Today at work, while walking down the hallway towards the bathroom, I walked into a scent that triggered memories from that slower time, the happiest times of my childhood.
The smell was cologne, Old Spice. My Gramps wore it. He wore it every day whether he was going to the neighbors or plowing the fields. The feelings that it evoked had me staggering with the flow of thought snippets. Immediately I pulled out my paper and pen and began writing the words down that each held a special meaning to it. Whiskers, chicken, beer, well water, iron – so many memories that I had to lean against a wall for support.
The one that came to mind first was my Gramps. I lost him when I was just sixteen and the pain of that loss still brings a sudden tear to my eye and a pain in my heart. He was everything to me.
My cousins and I would spend the entire summer with our Grandparents on their farm. I was the only girl, but my other three cousins, Johnny, Shermie and Bruce never treated me any differently than they did each other. We would leave the house at first light and not return until we were nearly starved or it was too dark to see. Sometime we would go into the woods that ran alongside the farm or spend the day down at the river, swimming or fishing. We never had a set plan, just as long as we were together and it didn’t involve school.
My Grandparents were Irish. He and new wife, Alma Jane came to this country in 1918. Along with their meager belongings, they brought their own parents and siblings. Gramps had five sisters and one brother. His brother, Thomas James only ten at the time, and his parents died on the trip over. I never asked him what of, but it was likely the hard trip and their age. My Grams parents and her only sister survived the trip only to die within the first year of landing. A house fire took their lives that first Christmas Eve in this, a better world for them all.
After settling in Kentucky and saving every penny they could they were able to buy a nice track of land. Until their own deaths, both still lived there and farmed. I had never tasted a vegetable or fruit from a store, nor had I ever had pork from anywhere but their smoke house. Hogs and farming were all they knew besides their faith and family.
The summer I turned eight I remember that Johnny and I were pulling weeds out of the sidewalk in front of the main house. Grams was making homemade ice cream on the porch, churning the crank handle while sitting under the shade of one of the two oaks in the front yard. The rhythmic chinking sounds of the ice along with the crickets were soothing. It made you think it was much hotter than it really was just from those sounds.
A sudden shout rent the air and we all looked up to see what Gramps was hollering about. He was sitting under the shade of the Maple across the drive, beer in hand and faded baseball cap on his still red hair. “Kathi!” he yells again.
Grams said, “go on over see what he could be awanting.” Her Irish accent strong even after the sixty years in this country.
I watched as she picked up the wooden blue ice cream churn and went into the house before I raced to see what he wanted.
My Gramps never raised his voice in anger. He didn’t have to. If you did something wrong he would only look down at you then shake his head slowly. It was more painful than any punch or slap I’d ever gotten from my father. It hurt longer and made more of an impression on me than any threat he could have ever used. To disappoint him was paramount to ripping out your heart and having is stomped on. He was quick to forgive and forget but the lesson was permanent. Whatever it had been, you never wanted to do it again.
“Ask Mrs. Deatherage when we can be havin’ our supper laid.” That was the only way I’d ever heard him refer to his wife, my grandmother.
Off like I’d been shot from a cannon, I ran to do his bidding. I was so proud of the fact that I’d been singled out to do this for him.
Slamming into the house, screen door hitting the wall, I tumbled into the kitchen. And right into another look.
My Grams looks were more varied. The one she gave me that day was “you did not just do that” look and that was all it took. Without speaking a single word, I turned around and walked out of the house. This time I gently opened the door and just as quietly closed it behind me. I sedately walked up the two steps from the mud room into her inter-sanctum, the kitchen to ask her about dinner.
“Grams, the old prick wants to know when we’re gonna eat.”
Now maybe I should explain something. I’m sure they loved each other very much. I’m sure they had the greatest respect for each other, but they didn’t live together. He lived in the shanty across the drive and she in the big house. No one ever said why and no one was dumb enough to ask.
The tomato she was slicing hit the cast iron sink with a splat and the knife clanged loudly against the faucet. I watched as my otherwise happy grandmother turned several shades of red and breathed as though she was having difficulties. Both her hands gripped the sink with enough force, I could see the white of her knuckles. Before I could ask her if she was alright, she turned to me, green eyes blazing.
“Katherine, that name, prick…well that’s my own special name for your Gramps. My own name, you see.”
“Like a pet name, like honey?” I’d heard one of the ladies call her husband honey just last Sunday at church and had asked my Aunt Mabel about it.
“Yes. A pet name. So you don’t be acallin him that. Dinna call anyone that until you get yourself a man of your own.”
I agreed that I would and that I wouldn’t. She smiled at me then, eyes still sparkling and shining.
“Tell Mr. Deatherage, that dinner will be ready in an hour, I’ll be acallin’ him when it’s finished.”
After relying the message to him, I went back to the sidewalk and the weeds. Grams homemade ice cream was involved and payment wasn’t paid without a thorough inspection of a job well done.
I never told my cousin about the pet name. And it wasn’t until years later that I figured out that not only was it not a pet name, but also what she’d really been calling him.
When my Gramps died when I was just sixteen, I realized that I’d never heard her call him that again. I was both saddened and ashamed by that. I knew that I had taken away something that while not really very nice, it was theirs.
I miss them both. I miss them both so much even after all these years that I ache with it. I realized when I thought about them today that I’ve been using them as a standard to be both a parent and grandparent to my own children. I think they’d be proud of me and my brood.
There are many more thoughts that I want to share. I’ll be picking a word from my hodge-podge list on another day. But for now I want to savor this one, this great memory just a little longer before I open another one.