Mitchell Mathis lugged around his mother's biscuits in a crumpled brown paper bag until he had eaten every last one. I never saw him share them with his sister and brothers or for that matter his dog, Trapper, his incessant companion. We didn't think it odd.
Those were simpler times when a summer day stretched into infinity. Our young lives were filled with riding bikes, climbing trees, wading in the creek, walking on barrels and homemade stilts, playing baseball, and picking blackberries and wild plums. Every day we would hike the mile to Bruce's Store, scouting the ditches for dirty soda bottles to redeem for Mallo Cups and RC Colas.
Our breakfasts of grits, fatback gravy, farm eggs and biscuits provided us with loads of energy which we spent with wild abandon. It wasn't until after the sun was high in the sky for hours that our empty stomachs cried out for satisfaction loudly enough for us to cease our play and seek out lunch.
It was at these times, these sweet uncomplicated times, we would all gather at the cross ties.
At the border between our property and that of Teri, Lanny, Ricky and Mitchell Mathis, an enormous pile of well-weathered railroad cross ties held sentry. No one seemed to remember how they got there. They had been there when we moved into the old farm house on Bearden Rd. and from the look of their condition for many years prior.
It was at this pile of cross ties under the shade of a gnarled ancient oak that we gathered together to share lunch on those long summer school-free days. Uncomplicated lunches of tomato sandwiches, fried potatoes, Kool Aid, peaches and watermelon. Sometimes, Mrs. Mathis would make peanut butter saltine crackers for us. We never worried much about who brought what to our table-of-sorts. Life was good, the sun was warm, the tire swing strong, June bugs and fireflies plentiful.
Rafe Goins would join our fine assembly when his pa thought he had plowed Bessie as long as her old bones could hold up to. Rafe was colored; we would never have even considered calling him black in those days. People were white or colored and it didn't make much difference the degree of the hue.
Rafe went to Lincoln School and we went to Roebuck School so we didn't see a lot of him during school days even though he lived just beyond our pasture. But, we made up for it on those wonderful summer days. Rafe would bring his lunchtime contribution and offer it proudly, usually a Mason jar of buttermilk and some cracklin' cornbread. It was well known his ma made the best cornbread in the county. That boy could laugh the loudest of anyone I ever heard and if I think on it even now I can hear him in my mind. It's a good memory.
Years have passed. The old farmhouse has long since been torn down and replaced with a row of duplexes. There's nothing remaining of those stout old cross ties, removed long ago by some land developer who had no idea he was un-setting our table. The ancient old oak and our tire swing is now just a memory. One that makes me smile.
Time passed and in its passing we were each pushed farther and farther away from our communion table. Mitchell teaches school, Teri raised a fine family, Ricky and Lanny opened a Buick dealership. I often wondered over the years whatever became of Rafe, no one seems to know. Someone said he was drafted into the army and he never made it back from Vietnam. I hope that's not the case. The world is cheated to not share in his laughter.
Somehow, we've forgotten or misplaced some precious elements of life. Maybe, they've been stolen. I don't know. But, I do know of a simpler time, a time when accepting what a person brought to the table went without question or judgment.
I've dined with some fancy people and in some fancy places and my palate has developed to appreciate things gourmet. But, nothing compares with those carefree days. Days when buttermilk and cracklin' cornbread were as eagerly consumed as the finest morsels set before a king. And laughter pure enough to wash my eyes with tears.
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