I was born in 1950. This was a time that now seems ancient. This was a time when built-in obsolescence was unheard of; when dependability and long-term utility were common. This was a time when I used to sit at the feet of my maternal grandfather, along with a couple more of his grandsons and listen to him tell of times before us. My grandfather didn’t have an ounce of formal education, but he was wise beyond any notion he harbored. He told us stories of times when he was a child. These stories were sometimes reassuring, sometimes funny and sometimes scary. The scary ones usually were laced with the realities he dealt with surrounding racism. Although he never got close to being lynched, he knew someone, who knew someone, who did. The sheer scariness of my grandfather’s stories was also enhanced by the reality that my cousins and I weren’t far removed from the horrors of the Jim Crow my grandfather experienced as a boy. (Emmett Till was slaughtered when I was a young boy.)
Let me switch here, because I’m not writing this piece to primarily talk about the horrors of living in terror, while trying to maintain a modicum of dignity and respect for oneself. I want to share the essence of the title of this piece. I must admit, I didn’t have the words to describe how important my grandfather was in my life at the time I was a man-child. The truth is, I remember more about my grandfather than I do about my father. My father died from a farming accident when I was eight years old. As much as I try to remember details about him, I can’t. I often wonder why that’s the case. For some reason, it just is. I guess this sounds like one of those situations where an analyst might be in order. You know, someone who can give me a retro psychological examination to help me remember what my mind has protectively caused me to forget.
My grandfather was a master of storytelling. Living in the rural areas of Cross County, Arkansas provided next to no opportunities for commercial entertainment. This gave my grandfather chances to use his oral skills at giving some of the greatest dramatic productions anyone could experience. He was able to tell us of times he would go hunting on crisp fall mornings, not for sport, but for food that would be consumed by his family. As he slowly and deliberately told of every detail from rising from bed to stepping out into the cool of the morning, I would sit quietly, holding onto every word. I was able to visualize every moment of each adventure and almost smell the air, and the aromatic content of the fauna and flora he traipsed through. His ability to spin a ghost or “haint” (haunt) story was not surpassed by any Cecil B. Demille Hollywood cinematic production.
As my cousins and I sat at my grandfather’s feet, on the steps of his three-room, self-built farmhouse, in which he raised six children, we were carried away to a time long ago. I can now appreciate the honor granted us to be there. I must admit, I find myself a bit envious that I have not occupied such an honored seat as my grandfather. I can’t recall a time when I’ve been able to hypnotically capture my children’s attention with stories rendered in such an oral tradition, as my grandfather. I do recall trying to impress my children with the experience of us having to tote water from a well and using the toilet facilities outside of the house. They thought I was spinning some sort of tall tale. Nobody would do such a thing was their response. Privilege of one succeeding generation over the other can often be blinding. Whose fault is that? I’ll let you ponder that for yourself.
It would be nice to have young ones sit at my feet, in a place of honor, as I tell stories of times gone by. I suppose competing with cell phones and the virtual realties they present is just too much competition?
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.