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.
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?