Monday, June 8, 2009

Summertime at the Sow's Ear

Always at this time of year, my mind drifts back to those summer days sitting on my Granddad’s front porch. I remember one lazy summer day on Granddad’s porch, I lived up to my nickname “Hacker”. They called me that because seldom was the time when I didn’t have an old hatchet with me. I don’t know why but it seemed that I always had a hatchet. I’d use it to clear brush if I wandered around in the woods, I’d throw it at tree's and blocks of wood to see if I could make it stick, or I’d just hold it above my head and let out a war whoop and make people think I had went off and was going to chop them to pieces. Regardless of what i was doing, I always seemed to have a hatchet with me. Well, on this one day and for some still unknown reason, I took to lightly hacking at my Granddad’s old dry-rotted porch posts. It didn’t take much until the posts simply crumbled away in places.

Granddad's house, "The Sow's Ear".

My Granddad tried to get me to stop but eventually just said, “If you destroy those posts, you’re goin’ to have to cut me some hickory poles to hold up the porch roof.” Well, I continued chipping away at the posts in the middle of the porch, even then I knew that the corner posts would hold up the roof. After I had hacked the old posts away, I went up in the woods and cut and trimmed up some nice hickory poles. I peeled the bark off of them, and they were a very pretty white color. We placed them in the spots where the old posts were, and nailed them up. They looked about a hundred times better than the old posts did, and even my granddad said it was a big improvement and said, “Hackey, I reckon you done me a good deed.”

That was until my Aunt Nawey came home from work. She about had a conniption, and said it looked like a bunch of hillbillies lived there with the hickory poles holding up the porch roof. She marched over to my Dad and told him what I had done, and wanted him to replace the porch posts. As luck would have it, we had a few old cedar porch posts there from where we had recently remodeled our front porch, and Nawey said that would be fine. The next day, me and Granddad put up the new porch posts and all was again right with the world. Nawey threatened to skin me alive if I hacked at the new porch posts! After they passed Nawey’s inspection, my Granddad informed her that he liked the hickory poles better and told her “No matter how hard you try, you ain’t never goin’ to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!” (I bet you can’t tell that I could get away with anything with my Granddad!)

In those summer days of my youth, we always seemed to have the same routine every day, about noon we’d go down to Riverton and get a few snacks and to catch up on the local gossip for the day, and then after about an hour or so, we’d start back up the mountain, only coming home through the Bland Hills.

Bland Hills

Bland Hills road was always so quiet and peaceful, and we’d poke along on our way home, stopping to look at anything unusual that caught our eye like grazing deer, an occasional hawk flying overhead, or perhaps some blooming patch of wildflowers alongside the country road. Seldom was the day when we’d pass another vehicle on our trip, and it was because of this that Bland Hills was chosen as the location for my Granddad to let me drive his truck, even though I was underage and still a couple of years away from getting a drivers license.

Looking back, I’m sure that he let me drive coming back up the mountain rather than driving down the mountain was so I couldn’t really let the truck get away from me on the uphill drag. I learned to drive fairly fast, and I had driven our car with an automatic transmission before so that wasn’t an issue for me, but figuring out a clutch was entirely different. It also didn’t help that Granddad’s truck was a 1967 Ford F-150 with a 3-speed transmission on the steering column! I don’t know whoever came up with the concept of a 3-speed transmission, but whoever it was should be dragged out into the woods and shot. As I recall, first gear was way up on top on the front of the column, second gear was all the way down on the front of the column, and somewhere about halfway on the steering column you could, if you were lucky, manage to finagle and contort the belligerent beast into third gear. Reverse was one of those directions that remained a mystery to me in the old truck, it was supposedly somewhere through the magical corridor, down by the magical mirror and was only attainable, I’m convinced, by saying a few quatrains of an old Pennsylvania Dutch hex. Luckily, on Bland Hills road I didn’t have much use for third gear or reverse, so I was good to go. I remember Granddad would drive over toward the backside of Riverton, and pull off the road and let me under the wheel, and I’d take over right at the foot of Dolly Ridge. Try as I might to ease out on the clutch upon taking off, I’d always either lurch forward and kill the motor, or I’d tear out throwing gravels and dirt for several yards behind me. All my Granddad would ever say is, “Take ‘er easy, hackey, take ‘er easy!”

Granddad & my cousin Poodies.

Once I got took off, I was pretty good at it and didn’t have much difficulty in shifting gears since most of the way was in first gear, and once we got up on the ridge, I’d shift into 2nd. Soon after getting to the top of the ridge, we would come to the forks in the road, the left going towards Monkeytown (which was were home was) and the right going back into Brown Bear Lodge.

Well, Granddad would always say, “I believe we’ll ride back this way today and see if anything is different.” There never was anything different back in Brown Bear Lodge, I'm fairly sure that nothing had changed there since the Yankee's marched up Dolly Ridge after the Battle of Riverton way back when the North invaded America. But going right at the Forks did add a couple of miles on to the trip since the road back into Brown Bear Lodge was a dead end and we’d have to backtrack out of there. I remember we’d drive by the old Cunningham Cemetery where two sets of my great-so-many-grandparents are buried, and Granddad would inevitable tell me about them, and tell me about how years ago they had a problem with groundhogs back there, and the groundhogs had gnawed and dug their way into some of the graves and were bringing out scraps of clothing from the graves. Of course, this was very upsetting to the people who had loved ones buried there, and several men set around with guns and waited for hours to shoot the groundhogs. After killing several groundhogs from that spot, then men stuffed rocks into the groundhog holes and covered them over the best they could. He said now people kept watch for any sign of groundhogs returning even though that had happened several decades ago, and no other action was needed. It was almost as if he shared the cautionary tale with me to keep alive an ongoing feud between humans and groundhogs.

The old Cunningham Cemetery.

Eventually, I’d have to turn around, and I had a favorite spot for it, remember how I said I could never find reverse in the old truck, well I got around this by turning around at a wide spot in the road near a big open meadow. It was wide enough to swing the truck around without having to put it in reverse!

This is the meadow that has the wide spot I used to turn around in.

After backtracking the Brown Bear Lodge road, and then onto Bland Hills road toward home, I would creep along ever so slowing, sometimes stopping to see something of interest, and all the while learning how to take off without popping the clutch. I’d drive to what we called the “First Hill” near the main highway, at which point I’d pull over and let Granddad take over the wheel again, and he’d drive us on home.

A typical view in the Bland Hills.

Once we got home we’d sit on the front porch and talk and tell stories, or find something that needed done, like poking around in the outbuildings or climbing up in the attic at Granddad house. It was always an adventure, you never knew what you were going to find. I remember one time we were up in the attic digging out some old boxes of stuff. The attic was but a crawlspace, and you had to be really careful so as to only place your weight on the rafters of the old house. I recall that it was so hot and stifling that you could barely breathe, and I’d crawl around, find a box, and drag it back to the opening of the attic and hand it out to my granddad on the porch roof. I remember one time I kept noticing the electric wire had been gnawed by a rat in several places and I commented to granddad, “If that rat gnaws through the rubber coating of that wire, it’ll have a bad day.” Well sure enough, after crawling further back into the attic, I saw the skeletal remains of the rat, still stuck into the electric wire where it had succeeded in biting its way into oblivion. Really, I don’t know what ever kept that place from burning down with the gnawed electric wires, the sawdust insulation and the wiring system that my granddad figured out and installed.

We’d then dig through the boxes that were placed “overhead” for the past several decades, there’d be old pictures, school papers from the kids, sometimes knick-knacks, and various other items. It really was like sorting through Pandora’s Box. If something caught our eye, we’d lay it to the side so we could take it with us. Everything else was placed back into the boxes and put back into the attic, where those treasures remain to this day. I wonder what I would find if I were to look through those boxes today?


Vera said...

I enjoyed that Matthew. I sure would like to look in those boxes..

Tipper said...

Loved this post! I think you should go after the boxes.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Yep, just like Pandora's box, and I can tell you what is left in that box -- hope. Lord knows what sort of ruckus always occurs there.

Good post. Interesting to hear the orgination of the "silk purse/sow's ear" comment you always mentioned.

Granny Sue said...

Yep, you need those boxes. I bet you'd love what you find in them. I keep memory boxes too--I rarely look in them but I plan to go through them with grandchildren someday and just remember why I kept all those things.

Lindah said...

Love reading your stories!

Nance said...

oh hey! my kind of day! let me know when you go up top to bring one of those boxes down! LOL!

Janet, said...

Loved your post, Matthew. That reminds me of our attic. I store everything up there. I've brought a few things down, tho, because I'm afraid they'll ruin up there from the extremes of heat. If I was you, I'd put on the summer to do list 'going back to the attic and getting those boxes'.

Al said...

Great story.

The Mountainbillies said...

In the middle of a storm here but wanted to let you know I just found your blog and love it! We're transplanted Texans in Ashe County and are HOME.

Will be eager to read more!

russellnelson100 said...

matthew,i enjoy your stories so much."they take me home".

russellnelson100 said...

matthew,i enjoy your stories so much."they take me home"...