Thursday, April 23, 2009

I REMEMBER- Summers in Tishomingo

....summers at Grandmother Clara Whitlock's house in Tishamingo, Oklahoma. It was a small white house with a big yard, shaded by many large trees. She never worked at a job outside the home. She was the Harriet of Ozzie and Harriet.

I remember her always wearing an apron and every once in awhile her German would slip out. [The kitchen sink was the "zink."] I loved the summer vacations at her house. She spoiled my sister (Sharon Kay Welton Chamberlin) and me in fabulous old-fashioned ways. Summers in
Oklahoma were hot and humid, and the fans and swamp coolers were always running. We spent the days in shorts and tee shirts. My grandfather bought me a 5 lb. keg of nails (an actual tiny wood barrel full of nails) and brought home a short length of railroad tie. I would sit in the shade of that big tree in the yard and pound nails until the cows came home. Each summer I would take up where I left off the summer before, until there was no more wood to be seen: it was just nails. I could barely move it.
My job around the house was to take the kitchen scraps (eco-composting was alive and well in the early ’50s) out to the garden and bury them. It was mostly egg shells, coffee grounds, and orange peels, as I recall. There were tons of worms in the dirt each time I dug a new spot. The garage was a stand-alone building away from the house and next to the garden. It housed a beautiful root beer-colored early ’50s Plymouth, long cane fishing poles (about 10-12 feet—could have been a lot shorter, but they sure seemed long to a 7-year-old) and mud dauber (wasps) nests in the rafters. On bold days, I would poke the tip of the cane pole into one of those nests to piss off the wasps and then run like hell. I remember vividly [and this is 55 years ago, so it made quite the impression] the last time that I pulled that stunt. The very angry wasps flew right down the pole and into the armpit of my shirt and stung the bejesus out of me. Bees only sting once, and then their guts pull out while leaving the little barbed stinger in their victim [little Kamikaze bees]. Wasps have little needle stingers and can sting you repeatedly. Well, I am running, yelling and screaming into the back door of my grandmother’s house with the wasps fast after me. My grandfather thought it was pretty damn funny and that I deserved it, and my grandmother felt sorry for me and put baking soda poultice into my flaming armpit and made me a sling to keep my arm still. Never did that again...sort of instant and short learning curve.

When my grandfather and I went fishing, it was always a grand experience. I got to ride up front in the old Plymouth (it was of course new then). No booster seat, no seat belts. The seats were made of wool and were as scratchy as hell on my legs (wearing shorts). We went fishing in a little river (stream) a few miles from my grandparent’s house. It had a rickety old swinging bridge that was fun (and scary) to walk across. This one time we did not have the proper stringer to keep the fish on, so we used a length of clothes line (before driers) and a spindle part off my grandmother’s sewing machine. Nobody messed with my grandmother’s kitchen and even fewer dared to touch her sewing machine. My brave grandfather snagged the part with the stipulation to me that we would go fishing for a few hours while my grandmother was visiting friends and get the part returned before she got home. No harm—no foul. Or so we thought. We caught a mess of fish and had a stringer full—until I dropped the stringer into the river and the little horde of strung-together fish just sort of swam away in front of our eyes. Nothing ever happened to me, but I am sure my grandfather paid the price.

One of my favorite pastimes, when I wasn’t pounding nails, going fishing, or aggravating wasps, was to go to Alaska [in my mind]. I mentioned there was a giant swamp cooler in a window in my grandparent’s bedroom. It would blast ice-cold air like a jet engine. I would pull a big overstuffed arm chair up in front of the cooler and fill it with all the goose-down pillows in the house. I would then climb into the chair and snuggle down under the pillows [including one on top of my head] until just my eyes and nose stuck out. I would carefully reach through the pillows and hit the on button. I was in Alaska! Could sit there for hours and imagine trekking to the North Pole. Remember: no day-time TV shows, no Nintendo, game boy, PC’s, computers, internet, etc. We had to use our imagination…it was a blast.
As the summers were hot and humid, my grandmother would have my sister and me take a bath each night, powder us down with foo-foo powder from a big, pink round box, and then we would lay down on a pallet [pal・let (palit) noun - a small bed or a pad filled as with straw and used directly on the floor] in front of the black-and-white TV (giant box, small screen) to watch Lawrence Welk. [We didn’t care for it much, but my grandmother loved it.] We would have root beer floats with cherries in them. 

No way at home would mom let us have a root beer float and watch TV before bed. It’s good to be spoiled by grandparents.

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