Summer 1957, my father’s continuous job transfers jeopardized my mother’s pregnancy. She and I were sent to live with my maternal grandparents for the duration.
Mother was so ill. The family physician came unhinged at her condition under the care of “those city doctors.” He ordered blood transfusions, lots of my grandmother’s home cooking and plenty of bed rest.
Grandmother-in-chief sent mother to bed and left my daily maintenance to my Grandfather. The adventure of a lifetime was about to begin!
Grandfather was a sharecropper on a 300-acre spread that produced vegetables and Black Angus beef cattle. To suddenly have an 18 month old girl, in his charge and at his side…all day, every day, for the next 3 months…well you just know he had to be elated!
Whether my memories are real or only the stirrings of family photos or handed-down stories...who knows!
I was told I became the “Hen House Mistress.” Apparently chickens do not feel threatened by a skinny, knock-kneed toddler who freely roams the coop. I would wade in waist deep birds, pick up a couple under each arm and wander the yard. I even sat on their eggs and nested them occasionally. None of them ever attacked me.
Grandmother had probably told them to watch me when Grandfather was busy!
Of course there were the farm chores. I would rise early and listen to the warm milk’s synchronized blast against the tin milk pail every morning. Mid-mornings were spent riding in my Grandfather’s lap aboard the huge green John Deere tractor as he plowed fields. Afternoons involved filling salt licks, treating the cattle for horseflies and feeding them the wonderfully aromatic molasses cracked corn in the feeder lots. Evenings were spent rolling on the front lawn with the Collie puppies while the grown-ups shelled peas or shucked corn on the front porch absorbed in gossip to a chorus of crickets, frogs and Bob-whites as the first stars twinkled at dusk.
But occasionally…Grandfather would gather me, two cane poles, a tin can full of freshly dug earth worms and head for the pond. This was my slice of heaven.
We would walk through the tall field grasses to the cattle pond with the Collies bouncing along side us stirring up crickets and huge green grasshoppers. Sometimes Quail would shoot out in front of the bounding dogs. You never knew what to expect.
At the pond, Grandfather would remove the 14-foot flatboat from its hiding place, set me in the middle and shove off. He would glide the old wooden paddle effortless across the water, hardly even stirring the water.
“Gotta be real still and quiet,” he’d tell me, “don’t wanta scare off the fish!”
I would be so full of anticipation it would be all my little body could do to hold in the scream of delight bubbling up from my belly…so I would wiggle.
“Stop fidgeting,” he’d fuss at me, “ya gonna fall out, then ya granny’ll be all over me!”
Oh it was just unbearable!
The Collies would pace the shore barking! He had forbid them to swim. They knew better than to cross Grandfather. Soon they would find a turtle or rabbit to occupy them and settle down.
Grandfather would paddle to the one spot he was absolutely certain the fish were hungry for our fat juicy earth worms and let down the anchor. I would dig my little fingers into the tin can filled with fresh barn manure earth and grab on to a wiggling creature. I loved it! I would giggle with delight as they tickled the inside my cupped hands.
Grandfather would weave the worms on my hook with such skill; their guts never even came out! It was truly amazing. Next he took pliers and attached sinkers just above the hook, so the worm would have some help in its plummet to the pond’s deep, dark depths. Lastly, he set my bobber approximately the length from the hook to where he believed the fish were…and I was on my own.
He would rig his pole and the two of us sat, backs to the setting sun and silently watched our bobbers play on the soft ripples of the pond; a breeze stirring the cattails along the banks.
Family photos show me beaming next to the 5-pound catfish I caught.
I only remember the nearness…the closeness of my Grandfather...the security of his protection…the safety of his love…the immediate proximity of heaven.
© 6/7/04 Lissa M. Lee