All Happens Now

Photo above:  Bald cypress tree beside the river at the Fisher Place, taken at a time of extreme drought.

I still feel the years of my growing-up in my bones.

Somehow, forty-five years later, I still fish with my big brother Eric on the river at the Fisher Place and try to snag the old catfish resting on the bottom near the north fence line but catch the hook in branches of the hackberry tree instead.

I still feel the golden heat of a summer afternoon when popular, blonde Lynn allows me, her tomboy, freckle-nosed little sister, to tag along to the local park, downstream on the same river, and still feel the shock of cold water as I teach myself to swim by holding onto the dam and kicking.

Even as I listen to my oldest sibling Neil today, who has the gift of telling stories with a style that makes the listener laugh throughout and not just at the punch line, I again see his teenage grin as he looks back at me, riding behind him as we bump down the gravel road on his motor scooter, little green flecks of run-over cowpie plastered to his face.

And in my mind I still watch the busy hands of our parents, never idle, as they–through quiet steadiness, gritty fortitude, and often pure cussedness–raised four strong-willed children and made a living by farming and ranching in the arid and rocky hills of southwest Texas:

Daddy mended fence; sheared Angora goats and Rambouillet sheep; birthed and castrated and vaccinated Hereford calves; repeatedly repaired tractors, combines, and plows; sacked oats; cleared brush; shod horses; built cattle guards and chutes; maintained water wells, pumps, troughs, and windmills; threshed pecans; fought grass fires; baled and hauled hay; dug ditches and postholes. He kept meticulous financial records, invested in the stock market when he could, and served for years as treasurer and deacon of his church. For leisure he watched televised baseball games on Sunday afternoons, often peeling pecans as he did so.

I see frozen images of my mother as though taken with her old Brownie camera: helping my father on the ranch, teaching her Sunday school class, sewing a new piece of clothing, cooking pinto beans in her pressure cooker or baking a chicken and rice casserole in the oven of her Chambers stove. I see her saddling her paint horse, Apache, and rounding up cattle from one of the pastures. I see her harvesting a tomato from her garden and peeling and slicing it to go with lunch.

As I now read an entry from her diary, written almost twenty years before my own birth, I can even–through some inherited, imaginative understanding–hear her almost 17 year-old voice as she describes fishing with her own younger brother on the same river (that symbol of life and its ever-moving current) which Eric and I would fish later:

May 26, 1937   John and I went fishing at the Fisher Place and took our dinner with us. We fried fish and had sandwiches, cookies, cake and iced tea. We caught some very good sized perch.

In memory, faulty as I know it to be, all happens now.

*                             *                             *                                 *

As a child, my mother used to sit and read a book inside the cypress tree, growing near the river at the Fisher Place, shown in the two photos below. For perspective, the “doorway” opening in its base is approximately seven feet high.

the top of Mother's cypress tree

Mother's cypress tree

Writing Practice:

What childhood memories seem to you as though they are still happening? What things do you still feel and hear?

What was the work of your parents’ hands?

14 thoughts on “All Happens Now

  1. Loved this multi generational snapshot. I do not have a sense of permanence but I will think about what I could write about thanks

  2. What beautiful memories. Your story reminds me of the many years Jason and I spent on the Frio River at our grandparents’ home. I love, too, the independence you and your mom both seemed to experience in your childhoods.

    • Hi, Sallye! Thank you–I grew up one canyon away from your grandparents. 🙂 I think my mom and I did share a lot in the way we grew up and in what we always loved–tramping along the creeks and riding horseback and reading.

  3. This is lovely! I remember sitting with my elderly Pa Pa, holding his hand. Today I can still feel his big bony old man hand, holding mine. His hands once did things like fight fires and build rail road cars, and then they held mine. I can feel the soft green sleeves of his overalls, and he smelled like machine oil from the shop. This is as vivid as if I were there right now! Thanks for helping me remember that.

  4. I am 69 years old but I remember more from my early childhood than I do from yesterday. Waking up to the smell of coffee, bacon, eggs and biscuits with gravy, all cooked on a wood cook stove in my grandparents home when we would visit will always be a treasure to me. Walking to Piggly Wiggly in Uvalde with my grandmother or walking to church with her are wonderful memories—and all these happened before I turned 6 years old. When we would come to town, all the family would gather at my grandparents so everyone could visit. We sat out at night, after the dishes were done and the kitchen was swept and mopped, and had ice water and laughed and talked until around 9-10 pm and PaPa would say it was bedtime. Wonderful memories.

    • Sharon, I am so glad my post prompted you to write these lovely memories, and I bet you have family members who would love to read them. You have stories to tell! Early memories are indeed so clear, so deeply embedded, and the ones associated with the sense of smell are often especially strong. I’ve been told that is because the olfactory center of our brain is closely related to some of our essential memory cells. Please write again. One personal note–my parents sold eggs to Piggly Wiggly in Uvalde when I was small, younger than 6 myself, and I remember going there with Daddy to deliver eggs.

  5. By the way, I told my mom that I reconnected with you. She remembers a writing workshop she attended with you. She was an elementary school teacher feeling out of place in a workshop for secondary teachers. I guess she was in a group with you. She mentioned how you thoughtfully critiqued her writing, and were so kind to her. She didn’t have a computer then, so every night she would have to go home and re-type her work! Those were different days.

      • I still had tears from reading everything all of you wrote about your childhood memories. So sweet! I can picture all of the parents and grandparents you describe. The cypress pictures are beautiful.

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