With todays pace of life, I often stop when I’m checking off the list of things I have to get done this day and think back to a place when time for me was marked at a slower run, more of a mossie. I think sometimes I miss the point of life, running the race to get the newest this, or the best that, I just let all the good stuff slip away like water past my fingers. I think back and the memories I have that I can recall are all of people. People we spend time with, that is the race we should be running. Measuring time in moments, days even, not by seconds or minutes.
I think when I have left this world for the next, people will not remember me for the “stuff” I had but by what I did and I don’t mean for a living, I mean my day to day, who I really was kind of “did”. Sadly, It took until I was almost fifty to figure out life is ran on the pace I decide, not the measure of time others expect of me.
I learned long ago when I was just a kid that the pace life should be measured in is best taken from a swing that hung from a limb under a giant oak tree. Each day was the same, not boring, not dull but as I think back now, is how life should be for all of us. I can still see the front of the house, with our backs to a ditch and an old dirt road, the garden around the side of the house, chickens strutting around the yard like they owned the place and an old dog lazier than I was laying at our feet. Life was good then, it can be now if we go back and slow down just a little.
I followed him around from breakfast until bedtime, asked questions that made him laugh until he coughed, learned to whittle, learned to sit in the yard with my leg thrown over the other knee, leaning on an elbow the rested on that knee and looking like I was really thinking about something, a true old timer. Some say he didn’t talk much but he talked with me, for hours on end. Stories of hard work, hard times and the way of life that even then was slipping into the pages of history books.
He was old, well to me he was, I was ten and he was in his seventies so yeah, for me he was ancient. He was short and sinewy with a head of white hair and skin that looked like saddle leather. His daily dress code was overalls with a white long sleeve shirt and a hat. Well, except for Sunday, and then he put a dress coat over a newer pair of overalls that was still new enough to be a shade of dark blue, that made it formal!
I called him ‘Old Pa,’ I mean literally that and contrary to todays sensitive crowd, it was no offense, he was old compared to me! We started our day getting up hearing ‘Old Ma’ cooking, yes we all called her that but she gets her own story sometime. At the table it was the same everyday, no cereal out of a box, no microwave breakfast. Nope, home made biscuits, gravy, fat back, eggs and coffee. Funny thing was, Old Ma didn’t want me to drink coffee, I was too young. That still makes me laugh but Old Pa would get a cup and just grunt as we poured it out of a percolator off the stove for me. Yes, kids, this was way before the Keurig days. Sometimes when she complained about the coffee I would hear how he was drawing a cross cut saw all day long when he was my age so he didn’t think the coffee would cause to much damage. Now, if he actually did cut timber at ten, I didn’t doubt. She never contradicted him, all she would do was say, “Shhh,” in a hissing way and go about her business. Anyway, the breakfast was always the same, always the same time but with a new conversation each day. It could be about what had to be done that day, what the weather looked like it would do or a story about when he was a kid, it was the same for him then as it was now except for the stove burning wood and all about how he had to split it that morning before sunrise so breakfast could be cooked. I always sat and listened, wondering, what would this day bring, what work was to be done and best of all, what stories could I get him to tell me.
Now it may sound sexist today but when the eating was done, we left the table for her to clear and clean and off to “work” we went, if you could call it work. If that sounds bad it wasn’t, she would probably chase you off if you tried to help. She liked it that way, we liked it that way, but sometimes I think she did it to get us out of her hair.
We would grab our hats and head out the door. He had the addition of grabbing a walking cane which I didn’t need but I’d usually would have a stick on the porch so I could lean on it like he did so I could look at the garden or chickens and seem like I was deep in thought like he seemed to be. Looking back, with a laugh, he probably wasn’t deep in thought, he probably was thinking of a prank to pull on me. For example, I’ve looked for row (as in the garden) straighteners. I’ve searched the woods for the rooster twin brother( he only have one rooster in case you wondered). I’ve sat and watched for the tomatoes to turn ripe. I’ve searched for the rare and treasure oak cones, apparently they look like a pine cone but come from the rarest of oak trees. Strange but I never found one. I laugh now every time I see a stray pine cone that a storm has blown under my oak tree. I’m sure all the “chores” was to get me to stop asking questions but guess what, it didn’t work. Then again, practical jokes and pranks seemed to be a hobby of his, so it could have been just for his sheer amusement.
I learned how to fish in the yard. Down here we have these grubs, alien looking things really, that have holes in the ground about the size of a drinking straw. You find a long piece of grass and poke it into that hole and jig it slowly up and down. When he grabs it and tries to push it out, you pull up and yank him out of his den. Thats, how you yard fish. Funny, as I work in my yard today, I see these holes and I’ll not lie, I’ve been known to snap me off a grass pole and see what’s biting. I chuckle now just thinking about it.
After the chickens got feed and set free in the yard and the garden was inspected it was time to sit under that tree in the swing. He’d chew tobacco and roll his own smokes and tell me stories for hours on end. I’d ask about something and he’d either show me about it or tell me a story about it.
I learned about logging with a cross cut saw and mules. How life before electricity was lived. How to tell the weather and the seasons by watching the animals, plants, and even insects. As I write this I look over now at a pocket watch he gave me all those years ago, nothing fancy, it still winds up and keeps time. I don’t carry it anymore but it lays on my table beside me to keep me in mind of a simpler time for me. I remember him saying he didn’t need to know what time it was, he could see if it was day or night perfectly fine himself. To be honest I rarely saw him look at it.
I still remember how nothing seemed to bother him. I’m not saying you couldn’t make him mad, it took a lot and if you did, it was best to just run. He seemed to take everything with a grain of salt. He’d tell me of his dad and grandaddy and how life was different then. Always though, he would tell it like it truly was different but to him in a good way. I wonder if maybe someday if I’m still here for my great grandkids if my stories might need to be copied from him. I mean come on, it sounds way cooler to talk about logging on a mountain with mules than my stories of working on computers.
He’d talk to me about meeting Old Ma and loving her and frankly that grossed me out at ten, besides, old people didn’t need love or worse a kiss. Now, that’s funny but that’s how I saw it at ten.
They both had their jobs in life and they did it day after day and I never heard a complaint except one time. Old Pa and I was sitting in the swing hung under the tree as usual as it got close to lunch time, when Old Ma came on the porch to ask us what we wanted for lunch. Now understand, I don’t know why she asked, it was the same thing everyday, pinto beans and cornbread, fried potatoes and some vegetables from the garden. Anyway, she asked and all he replied was;
’Thats what they said down at the mill too but they just kept on grinding.’
She asked a few times and he said the same thing. The last time she got so mad and said we could make our own lunch, she wasn’t cooking and slammed the door!
Now, to be honest I was really worried, I couldn’t cook and I doubt he could either, but Old Pa said not to worry, we’d get lunch. I guess he knew after all these years it was almost done anyway. I didn’t know that, but he did. Sure enough at noon we got up and walked into the house and ate the same lunch just like normal.
After lunch it was back to the shade tree and the swing, it was hot anyway, best just swing for a while and relax. We’d swing the afternoon away, him chewing and smoking while telling me of the day he saw this, or the day that happened, all the while with me studying every move he made. The way he sat, talked, made gestures. I’d hear of a time when “time” was measured differently, a time when bad winters or stormy springs marked it. A time when the corn was good and the trees big enough that one would pay a days wage at the saw mill.
As the sun dipped, it was time to put the chickens up and head into the house. Dinner was leftovers from lunch. Time for a bath and pack me to bed because usually I was so worn out that by eight, I was falling asleep sitting up. Knowing that when you woke up, it was a repeat of the day before. Really, though, that was a good thing. The day might run the same but the stories would be different.
Sure enough, the next day would start the same, the only excitement might be the weather but barring tornados we would end up eventually back in that swing. When the stories ran out for a while we might sit for hours at a time without a word being spoken but that was ok. We both knew it was just like it was supposed to be.