Bring Me a Memory
by Martha E. Shivvers
MIKE WOOD wrote his parents, Mary and Tom, that he had a few day’s Navy leave and asked if the “kids” could come home to the family farm for a reunion.
They gathered: the “kids,” the wives, the husbands, and their children on this mid-summer day when the greens of the trees, fields, and gardens were lush; the fruits were hanging from the apple, plum, and pear trees; the creeks were trickling over rocks and pebbles; and the hearts of this large family were eager with hope, anticipation, and memories.
Everyone hugged Mike, affectionately plying him with questions about his world-wide experiences, his promotions, did he have a girlfriend in many ports, and how long could he stay and visit with all of them.
The big round oak table was made even larger with the three extra leaves that had been stored in a closet – large enough for eight grown children, two wives, and two husbands. The noise of the six children, whose giggling and laughter around the smaller table in a corner of the room rose higher than it had ever dared in years past, competed with that of their elders.
Tom Wood assumed his rightful place, as usual, at the head of the table with Jim and his Nancy to his left. Mike, who hadn’t found his “one and only” yet, sat between Nancy and Fred and his Blanche. Youthful Bruce and his oldest sister, Beth, found their old places, and Skeeter, her Louie, Amy and her Donnie’s chairs were crowded next to Little Sister and her mother, Mary, who claimed her place at her husband’s right.
Mary passed the huge platter of fried chicken and the mashed potatoes and was reaching for the gravy on the sideboard when Fred speared the largest piece of chicken, as was his childhood custom. He then asked, “Just how did you and Daddy meet, Momma? In all these years I haven’t dared feel I had a right to ask.” He swallowed a bite, then continued, “Did you know him long?”
Mary smiled. “Well, I knew him. Everyone in the village of Hartley knew the good-looking bachelor, Tom Wood.” Then she passed the plate of sliced tomatoes that she had brought in from the garden. “But he didn’t know me for a while. He had eyes only for the red-haired Sally Thompson. He and several other fellows.” Was it a smile or smirk on her lips?
“Well?” queried Mike.
“Well, yourself. Anyway, that one spring day was warm, and when the church bells rang so fiercely I ran five blocks down town to see what was going on. Lots of people were standing around on the street watching Foshier’s Hat Store burn right to the ground, and there stood your father and that floozie, hand in hand.”
Mary paused as she leaned back to get the plateful of fresh rolls and the strawberry preserves. “I didn’t think she could make him a good wife, that is a proper wife, so I picked up a handful of pebbles from the street and put them in his pocket. He turned around, looking at me, and I winked.”
Everyone roared with laughter.
“Why, Momma! You ol’ schemer!” Jim cried out. Then all eyes were upon their handsome, portly father. “Well?” they all cried in unison.
Tom blushed. “I guess it worked. We were married the next year.”
“Did you like the farm, Momma?” Little Sister, who now answered to the name of Emily, asked.
“W-e-l-l,” Tom grinned from ear to ear, “I wouldn’t say she liked the farm, ’cause she had an awful lot of learning to do.”
“Tom Wood! Don’t you dare! I’lI tell them myself how I didn’t even know how to dress a chicken…”
“Oh, yes,” Tom chortled. “You did break the gall on the first one and we scrubbed all the pieces with soap and water to make it edible.”
Mary passed the green beans before she continued. “Making soap, caring for baby chickens, and planting the garden weren’t nearly as hard as learning to harness old Betsy and hitch her to the buggy and then learn to drive her.”
Jim threw up his hands and laughed loudly. “Oh, Momma, was it as hard as trying to learn to drive the car?”
“Now that was funny,” Mike chimed in. “I can almost see you, yet, pulling back on that steering wheel calling ‘whoa, whoa,’ and all of the time you went ’round and ’round in circles in the barn yard until Daddy jumped over the car door and stopped the car. It was pull and whoa, pull and whoa!”
Only Beth didn’t laugh uproariously. “I don’t think that was funny.”
“I’ll bet you don’t,” agreed Fred. “Seems like you and the car didn’t get along so well either. Didn’t you give Momma whiplash one day with your jerky driving?”
“Well, Beth, you were a pretty good buddy, anyway, to carry Jim’s and my lunch buckets to school sometimes.” Mike tried to be a pacifist.
“Oh, yes, and drop them in the dirt ’cause she stumbled over some clods. Ugh, I can still taste that dirt!”
“Well. you didn’t need to always be showing off, trying to walk the rails of the train track, or skate on the ice in the winter.” Beth was clearly trying to assuage her pent-up emotions.
Jim winked. “All is forgiven. Pass the rolls and preserves again, please.”
After swallowing a big bite, Jim spoke again. “I’ll never forget, though, Beth, when you had that terrible diphtheria, and we were all afraid you were going to die.”
“Nor will I,” chimed in Mike and Fred. “And that terrible fumigation!”
Skeeter inquired, “What were those terrible candles that had to be burned in the house, all closed up, and we had to stay with grandpa and grandma?”
“Sulphur,” said Tom, “and do you remember how you cried when all of the papers and magazines had to be burned, and even books had to be fumigated? What a smell!”
A more somber note fell over the group as Skeeter spoke again, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day when Mary Hope was born. Fred, Bruce, Amy, and I had to take Little Sister to school all day, and she bawled and squalled to go home to Momma.”
Mary’s eyes misted as she turned to Amy and Donnie. “I’ll always be grateful that you named your little girl Mary Hope, and that you live close to us, and we can enjoy her.”
Fred’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he leaned across his plate toward Skeeter. “I’ll bet I can still get my bucket filled with cherries before you can. And, I didn’t get scared when the new pigs were coming that day and run to the house, either. Boys still know more than girls. Ha!”
“That wasn’t me. That was Beth. So, there, too!” Skeeter defended herself.
Amy, swishing her brown curls, piped up, “I wasn’t a scaredy cat, and I’m not now. I’ve always known what I wanted and did what had to be done to get it.” She pulled herself up straight, her dark eyes sparkling.
Tom put down his knife and fork and almost blustered out his comment: “How well we know, Amy. What about the time I told you that you were too little to plant potatoes, and where did we find you that spring day when you were supposed to be eating dinner with us? Out in the truck patch scattering those precious potato eyes all over the ground.”
“I know,” Amy smiled demurely, “it was fun, too.” She laughed gleefully. “I also remember sneaking out to the vestibule at church that cold Sunday and drinking the left-over communion wine – grape juice it was.”
Donnie spoke up. “And she really hoodwinked me, too. We were in the third grade when she told me she was going to marry me when we got bigger. Guess she knew something I didn’t.”
Donnie smiled at his pretty wife. Suddenly all eyes turned to Nancy. “How can we forget when you came to teach our school, Nancy?” Fred bowed in mock obeisance. “Miss Blackwell, it was then. And how I remember that big paddle you brought to school that first day.”
Everyone laughed recalling how Fred had had the idea of putting a live toad in the desk drawer of the new teacher on the first day of school; that is, until he saw that big paddle and realized that this diminutive young lady might not be as easy to tease as he had thought.
“And, Amy, you were always blabbing family affairs…” continued Fred.
“And you were always shushing me, too. I still talk too much, don’t I, Donnie?”
Her husband agreed.
“Fred,” Nancy leaned around Mike to look him in the eyes, “I had an inkling when I went to see your folks about a place to room and board while teaching school that you just might be one of those fellows who liked to get the best of the teacher. And, I had my brothers make that paddle for me before the first day of school. They taught me a lot of other things, too, about how to handle fellows like you. So, there, too!” Her laugh told everyone she had a good understanding of family life and pranks.
“Fred,” it was Bruce, an image of his father, who broke into the conversation. “I’ve often wondered if you remember the time you pronounced a benediction over the graves of those two babies buried in the timber along the way to school.” He raised his hand above his head, closed his eyes, and intoned, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, what the Lord won’t take, the devil must. I wasn’t very old. but I remember.”
Blanche gently laid her hand on her husband’s arm. “You didn’t!”
“I’m afraid I did,” the son who had become a minister said as he looked lovingly at his companion.
“Beth, any plans for marital bliss, yet?” Mike spoke in almost a whisper, but everyone heard. His oldest sister blushed nervously, then replied, “You’ll be the first to know, if and when.”
Chuckles of understanding floated around the table.
Mary kept passing the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, fresh tomato slices, home-made bread, and preserves until everyone was too full of food right then to eat any cherry and apple pie, and that included the children who excused themselves to run outside and play. The table was cleared of food, chairs were pushed back from the big table, then the reminiscing continued.
“I don’t think I’ll forget the morning, Jim, when you told Daddy you weren’t going to farm with him after you graduated from high school,” Fred spoke quietly.
Everyone became silent for a moment as they, too, remembered their father’s anger as he encountered the bursting of his cherished dream of the farm being passed on down to his sons. And, when Mike asserted his plans to enlist in the Navy as soon as he became seventeen, Tom’s anger became more volatile. He wouldn’t talk to either son for days; not even when they tried to make peace with him – asking if he always did just as his father had wanted him to do. He still wouldn’t relent for weeks.
“Mike, Fred, and I lay out in the yard under the stars night after night, Daddy, trying to figure out how we could pacify you and still follow our own dreams.” It was Jim speaking slowly and deliberately. “Fred had his plans in mind by then, too, but he was wise enough to wait to tell you.”
The crimson slowly faded from Tom’s face as he, too, recalled those bitter days. Then Jim went on to tell about his work at the tractor factory, and how they had made another improvement on the machines that would make the work even easier, concluding that perhaps Bruce could see the rewards when they put in next year’s crop.
Bruce cleared his throat and kept his eyes lowered.
“If you are passing kudos around, how about tossing some to the Navy, and this Navy fellow? What about all those mementos you’ve received from around the world? Let’s give three cheers for the travels of our country’s navy!”
“Hip, hip, hooray!” echoed around the room.
It seemed strange that teasing, fun-loving, often-down-right-ornery Fred was in the ministry. But then, perhaps he had a better understanding of problems of his fellowmen because of his makeup. By the time he told his father of his plans to leave the farm, the hurt Tom had felt earlier had diminished to an understanding. An understanding that he and Mary had given to the world boys and girls – men and women – of conviction, of dreams, of respect for family and posterity.
Emily and Bruce had not made known just what paths their future was taking them; not yet, but soon they would, they informed the family. The pies were devoured as chuckles, giggles, sighs, and rememberings continued into the afternoon. When the light of the summer day shifted lower in the sky, and in the room, and the young children became restless, the families planned to leave. That is after Mary assured them she wanted to do up the dishes by herself since she “had a lot of things I want to turn over in my mind, and being alone is the best time, while keeping my hands busy.”
Lavender and pink clouds feathered out over the sky as the sun sank into the west. A cool evening breeze floated through the air, brushing against Tom and Mary as they sat upon the step of their back porch, a place where many problems had been discussed through the years.
“We’ve had a good life, Tom. Lots of happy memories to help us through those that weren’t so happy,” Mary spoke as she pushed tendrils of softly greying hair into place.
“I know. But, in a way I feel I failed you.” Tom gently answered.
“Do you remember on our wedding night as were driving home in the buggy and you said that you thought big families were such a burden, and you wanted to keep ours small?”
Mary smiled as she looked into the night that was becoming awake with stars. “How could we ever do without any of them? Each one has given us a blessing, and each one has his and her own place in our hearts.”
Big work-worn hands tenderly clasped the smaller hands as the couple looked off into the night.
And crickets chirped in the grass.
Type set by computer with Ventura Publisher in Garamond Antiqua. Edited and published by Jake Warner. Master copy printed on a LaserJet III and then printed by offset by Dave Warner at the Homewood Press. Cover was set in Raleigh Cursive and Univers and printed on a 10×15 C&P.
The Boxwood Press
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