The Bootlegger’s House and the Bicycle

Sometimes for hours my brothers and I would sit in the car behind the old bootlegger’s house, waiting on dad to get his evening or daily drinks. Behind the bootlegger’s house were many shade trees and a swing between several of them. If it weren’t for the negativity the place portrayed, it would have been quite the place to play. Mr. G as I will call him, seemed like a nice man, short and slightly rotund with a bald head, not lacking for personality. He was usually jolly and didn’t like to see us sit in the car. There were times he would bring us out a soda while he and dad talked for hours and hours about nonsense. Conversations that became more nonsensical as the day drew on and the laughter became louder and peculiar, for nothing I heard was funny. He wasn’t a bad person, it’s just the way he made his living. The longer we stayed, the more visitors he would have and the bigger the population of drunks became. With each new visitor came more grandiose stories than the last. One of them usually had a pair of dice in his pocket, so the crap games began. It’s strange how perfect the life of an alcoholic is when they are nearly anesthetized. In general, none of them were violent. Most of them did however have a very extensive vocabulary of expletives and knowledge of anatomical body parts. Mr. G. was somewhat of a hoarder. He had old bicycles in his back yard that we boys would take off on and never be missed. My first bicycle came from Mr. G. It was old, with rust on the chain and a seat that looked as if rats had lived there. It was awesome though, it was mine, something of my own. My oldest brother Johnny found an old bicycle seat that was in better shape than the one that was on it was and replaced it for me. He took the chain off at daddy’s garage, cleaned it up good by using gasoline and a wire brush and soaking it in old motor oil that was kept after oil changes. Daddy always kept the oil and would pour it on the backs of the pigs to keep them from getting lice or other embedded varmints in their skin. I remember him keeping the oil in a 55-gallon drum. He would dunk our chickens in it. By the time he was done with that, the poor chickens were so heavy with oil they could hardly walk, much less fly up to roost. My brother Rodney and I usually had the task of cleaning out the chicken house and raking all of the debris out before the oiling process began. He would make us coat the roost of the chicken house with the oil too. “There won’t be any fleas or blue-bugs in here”, he would say. Blue bugs are a tick that love chickens. It will suck them to death, especially under their wings. This was another sort of ritual my dad had every year, much like the story I have told you of him making us take worm pills every spring. Passing by old Mr. G.’s bootlegged house, I find it to be as dilapidated as many of the unpleasant memories of my childhood. It kind of makes we wish it had looked like this as a child, maybe we wouldn’t have spent so much time there. But then again, there were other bootleggers in town, with much poorer reputations than Mr. G. At least he was nice to us. As my bicycle came together and Johnny finished it, Buddy and I now had transportation, to come and go as we pleased. As this memory runs on secondary to the initial posting of the bootlegger’s house, I remember Buddy and I coming down the west side of Isbell’s Drug store one day. Buddy was pumping me on the back of the bike. We loved to go fast, we didn’t love not having any brakes. Well, as we jump the small uneven pavement that annexed another part of property, the jerk knocked the chain off of the sprocket. Buddy realized the brakes were out. By now we were underneath the canopy of the Texaco station that sits where Arvis Davis parks some of his vehicles today. Knowing the intersection was next, I remember pulling the handlebars hard to the left, even though Buddy was in “control”. We took a spill and slid almost to the intersecting road. I’m not sure if I hadn’t that Buddy would have let us go into the intersection. Everyone that was in the station came running out to see two kids scraped from one end to the other. We got up, walked the bike to the corner where dads garage was and licked our wounds. As we looked at the bike, we realized the chain had come off of the sprocket. I can still see us unbolting the back wheel, putting the chain around the sprocket and the back wheel sprocket, me pulling the wheel tightly backward while Buddy is tightening the bolts. They sure don’t make bicycles the way they used to. Two memories tied together, the bootlegger’s house that we dreaded, yet held the bicycle that brought so much joy.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

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The Four Winds of Time

I woke up early this morning, thank goodness. I usually do, but without an alarm clock. I am up by 03:15 on work days, so it is kind of frustrating for my circadian clock to be set at that time when it is my day off. As I awake, the surrounding elements in the dark are amplified and I am swept back many years, by a tidal wave of loud wind carrying small pebbles and sand that hit my bedroom window. What visitor is this that is so fervently grabbing my attention. It must be a visitor awakening me in this manner, but who? I lay there, closing my eyes, listening to the wind swirl around the corner of my house, hearing the limbs and rustling of the vines not yet in full glory beat against the fence. I am automatically reminded that I am not in that old house sitting in the field of sand in the country. My home is secured with nice brick and mortar with a metal roof and gazebo in the back yard. So familiar is the sound from my childhood, that I can hear the cable leading to the top of the old television antenna flap, slap and ping against the tall metal pole. I can imagine the snow and white spots in the black and white television set making the clarity and volume irritating. Irrationally finding nostalgia there, at a time that was mostly unpleasant. Especially as I am now sitting in my own living room almost 50 years later, in a room that is almost half as big as the old house we grew up in, watching a 58-inch, color, flat screen television, with clarity that rivals my own colored pictures in my mind. Beginning are the hues of morning peeking through the crystal glass door that opens to our living room. Soon the daylight will be clear, even though the wind continues. I hear the griping moans against the top of my fireplace, only stopped from entering in by a closed flue. Soon the clarity of outside will become cataracted by the different hues of dirt that will outline the horizon, covering the beauty that will reveal itself in its own time, it always does. Soon the locust trees will bloom, and I subconsciously worry that I will not get to smell them this spring because of the wind and sand that hits the delicate flower that drapes like white grapes. All you have to do is be near the fragrance and you have to stop to find out where this beautiful smell is coming from in this desolate sandy place.  A lone crackle can be heard outside, I know he is clinging onto the bending limbs of my large Pecan tree in the back yard. By now you would think Anemoi (God of the winds) would certainly be out of breath, but not yet. Our high school yearbook certainly has an appropriate name, the Zephyr, meaning west wind. The sun is peaking up and shines into the window behind me, slightly obscuring the screen of my computer. My wife has gotten up by now and is laying on the oversized couch that engulfs her as she lays there covered with a blanket made by her grandmother. She quickly began snoozing again when she became comfortable. My boxer, Lola has taken her place on the other, smaller divan, making it her own, rearranging the pillows for her comfort. Awake, watching the signs of security all around me as I finish my second cup of coffee, I know my visitor. The wind has awakened me to remind me that life is good, and I have been brought safely through the four winds of time.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

Remnants of the Past

Buddy and I were part of the Braves baseball team, circa 1970 or so. We were kids about 12 and 14 years old. One of my dearest aunts, who was by marriage but closer than blood in many ways bought our baseball uniforms each summer. My aunt Velma Grant was one of the sweetest women I ever knew. I can’t love her enough for what she meant to us. People used to say they didn’t know how the Grant men got such good wives. It is true, I don’t remember any of the aunts, or my mother that were not soulfully good Christian women, devoted to their husbands and probably much better than they deserved. But aunt Velma, well, I think she loved us more than our uncle did. She drove out in the country almost every Sunday and picked us up for church, fed us after and then brought us home. I can still see her writing in her tablet, the minutes of the church. Although I don’t remember the exact date I was baptized, I can rest assured she wrote it down somewhere and in the archives of the church somewhere it is written. I could write on and on about my aunt Velma and although this story sounds like it is about her at this moment, it’s really not, I just get lost in then. Getting back to baseball though. Buddy was always the ball player, I was just the little brother saddled to a team. I loved it though, it was one social event that we all looked the same. We had the same uniform that differentiated no one. You wouldn’t know who was poor and who wasn’t, thank you aunt Velma. One evening, getting lost in the game, getting deep in the 8th inning, Buddy, myself and several other boys were sitting in the dugout. To my horror, who can you imagine showed up drunker than Cooter Brown? It was my dad, not the nice Jekyll dad that had been drinking beer, it was the Hyde drunk that had hit the liquor bottle. He was always a different person with this kind of intoxication.  As if I didn’t already have enough insecurities playing ball and being small for my age, now one of my biggest fears was coming to fruition. The stands were relatively full, so there were a lot of people that saw my dad. My dad started getting loud, and obviously not in the right frame of mind to understand the game. He began yelling about us being in the dugout, that we should be out on the field playing and that if he needed to, he knew how to get us out there. This was probably one of the most embarrassing events I ever lived through. Dad was causing such a ruckus that the coach asked us if we wanted to go ahead and make sure dad got home, a polite way of saying get your dad out of here. Thankfully, we all learned to drive early, me included. I learned to drive in an old 1963 Ford Fairlane column shift. Buddy and I finally got our dad to the car and Buddy drove us home. I felt ashamed for a long time after that, so much so that I never played another ball game of any kind in my life, other than having to play in PE class. Only Buddy knew how deeply that affected me. There was no way I was ever going to set myself up for that immense humiliation again, despite Buddy’s infernal encouragement. Buddy played and continued to play throughout high school. I was always there though. I was his biggest fan, through the cold, wind and rain. I was always there, unless dad saw fit for us to do something else. By now, the school system knew how my dad was. I know some of the coaches went lightly on Buddy when he had to miss practice. So many things I experienced with my siblings, but Buddy and I continue to pick up remnants of the past and share them. In reading this story, it goes from good too bad. The feeling my siblings and I often felt. As I turn my head, I can see those little boys and remember every moment. I visualize Buddy swinging a crooked stick as I throw either clods of dirt are small rocks as we practiced baseball. I can see the tin cans we put in place for our bases and I can literally see the laughter bombard Buddy’s face as he hits the rock with that old stick. He was fun and in writing about him makes the words seem like a dance across the page. I love you brother!

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

Memory Ladder

As I climb the ladder to my memory collection, much like the world’s largest library, my mind slides back and forth like that ladder as if putting books back on the shelf. I see sad memories, delightful memories, short memories, recurrent memories and that memory, the one that is waiting to be heard, wrapped in satin and warmth and tied with a bow of safety. Of course, it’s home, yet it’s a different house and a different time. My boys are small again and I have a chance to see them as they used to be, before they became men. I miss them. If you have a child, close your eyes and remember the smell of their hair after their bath as they crawl up in your lap just to be held or rocked. Maybe they were scared, maybe they were just sleepy and wanted that feeling of security. Do you remember, is it coming back to you? The care, nurture and work it took to get them to kindergarten and hating to leave them. Yes, I was one of those dads that always went to the first day of school with my boys and I would do it all over again. I wish in this memory I could go back and change a few things, things that would have somehow made it easier for them, a better choice, a decision, a wait for them to be a little older, a little bigger before they started that journey. But remember, although dreams and memories transform us into time travelers, they cannot change what has been. Alex is playing soccer, he’s four. It is hot outside and he’s playing as hard as he can. All of a sudden, he’s walking off the field. Alex! Go back, your team is still playing. “I’m hot and tired, I’m done”. Laughing all the while and shaking my head. It’s not poor sportsmanship, it is a determined, headstrong little boy that’s done. Ken is in daycare and is about three, oh my goodness, every parent needed a Ken. How many times did daycare call us at work. Ken won’t take a nap, Ken this and Ken that. Ken always thought he had to be the teacher. “Don’t touch the bird”, “aren’t you too big to pull your pants all the way down to use the bathroom”? “Don’t you know how to use a tissue”? “Aren’t you going to wash your hands”? “Why don’t you chew with your mouth closed”? Dad, please get me “Crayola’s, I don’t like rose art”. (Imagine all these words said with no R sound). Can I have those pens”? “I need new paint and art boards”! While Alex at that age only wanted Hot Wheels and computerized game boys, etc. Today Ken is an awesome artist and has done beautiful artwork from paintings to exquisitely decorated cakes. He has modeled for magazines, has done commercials and film, is well versed in music and can still play the saxophone. He is a fantastic husband and is hoping to have his PhD in a couple of more years. Alex is wise beyond his years, he had to be.  He was dealt a couple of bad cards during his formative grade school years.  Ok, his 2nd and 4th year, since we’re keeping it real and it is a memory. My wife and I home schooled him from the age of 14. It was one of the best decisions we ever made.  He can take any computer apart, put it back together and code just about anything it needs. He has a year under his belt in computer programing and gaming and plans to go back to school. Alex still reads music, can play the saxophone and is a lover of music. His soul resonates that soft, unconditional love he gets from his mother. My boys have made me proud beyond words and continue to do so. The fog is rolling in as these words end, for they too are turning into a memory as the last letter of each word is written. I climb back upon my ladder and slide to the memory side of my library. I am saddened to put this one back in it’s box, for it is pleasant and soothing and easily relived. Hold your dreams and memories close, hold your children closer, for each memory has it’s end only to be resurfaced by its calling.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

The Prettiest Girl in the World

Growing up was met with special disabilities in many areas of mine and my sibling’s lives. Someone recently told me I could write about my mother all I want, so I will again today. From the eyes of a little boy, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. In 1945 my mom met my father and married. The next year, they were blessed with twin girls. There have been times when men of my dad’s age would tell me that my mother was one of the most beautiful women ever to hit the streets of our town and they didn’t know how my father ever caught her. There is a chuckle in my mind as I remember the elderly gentleman telling me this story. He said, “there were five of us boys that ran together and he was the ugliest one of us all and he ended up with the prettiest girl”. My dad passed away in 1989. My mother was 63. She never once looked at another man and never dated anyone else. When asked why, she would sheepishly grin and say, “I don’t want to raise another baby”.  As the marriage was underway and baby after baby came, life settled in and struggles became their routine. Unfortunately, the routine had changed my mother. You see, my mother began to have delusions. Some of them were of grandeur and others  were slight, with voices she didn’t understand and had no intention of playing part in their list of charades. I never remember my mother being that gregarious woman the twins and my mother’s sisters speak of, the one that easily made decisions and was the first to volunteer. I remember many fun times and many times of grief. I am sure as years progressed, for better or worst as the vows say, my mom grew worse in mind and spirit, surely causing my dad to drink more. Knowing what I know now as an adult, it was probably the only way he had to cope with someone he thought had changed, a different woman than he married. Even so, that doesn’t make it right. This is the progression of the disease schizophrenia. If one could be blessed in the disease, we were. She never lost her graciousness and kindness. Many years after hearing stories, I thought it was my fault that mom was the way she was. As a child, I was not equipped with the understanding of any disease process, much less that schizophrenia had peaks and valleys.  Even though a little older than usual, my mom became afflicted soon after I was born. As I understand, immediately after I was born. Mentally, mother had no coping skills for the monster that had invaded her mind.  My grandmother and grandfather took many a night with me and took me home with them often. These are stories I have been told from my aunt Audrey and Aunt Dora who are no longer around to tell the story. I suppose this is why I had such a grateful heart for my grandparents. The one strange anomaly in my life is that in 1993 when my grandmother died at age 93, I have no recollection of her passing or being at her funeral. I have been to dozens of funerals throughout my life, but hers is a complete blank. I know I was there, my wife tells me I was. There is a reason, not yet figured out why this loss of time has not made itself known. As mom became better, I stayed home more, and soon mother found herself pregnant again and twice more after that. At times, she was a shell of a woman, thin and frail. It is at this time I have told the story of my sisters being our teachers. After the 1989’s death of my father, there were many months one of us kids would stay the night with my mom. After several months, mom said she was ready to stay alone. As time continued by, my mother continued to improve. Her life became a real life, one of smiles and endearment for family and her sisters. It was like a remembrance had been shown to her that had long been hidden in the weak, darkness of her mind. For over 21 years mother improved and was able to live alone, not having that fear of the unknown that included my father, even though she missed him forever, and desperately. He was spoken of often with tenderness of heart and tears of memories of the past. Her sisters would come to visit, meals were laid out, laughter was present, and her green eyes glittered with joy. No, she was not completely healed, because even though we know my dad had a large part to play in much of her madness, he also played an even larger part in her learning to love. My mother was all love. At the end, we were once again blessed with the prettiest girl in the world.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

They are Whole as One

Their story is one of love, heartache and destiny. As you see, my mother was the epitome of love, she didn’t know anything else. When she gave, she gave all. My dad knew this and sometimes advantages were taken for granted by it. He knew there was no other who could love him the way my mother did, nor would any other do so. Call it dysfunction, call a spade a spade. For whatever it’s worth, growing up in my home taught us many things, but the most was love. I can see the above picture as if it were yesterday, mom feeling safe, holding on to my dad with a gentle, feather soft touch, holding her head against his head, her heart full. He, laying there enjoying the peace of mind and their stationary indulgence of each other as she cradles him in an engulfing solitude. They are whole as one. A hard day working in the garden to feed nine children and an even harder evening of washing clothes outside on a rub board, tells their life story. Yes, in all of it’s splendor, this was our living room, the old couch having seen way too many days. The wall in it’s prodegenerative state with the drywall tape absent. The ever-present signs of a hard day of work written across their clothes. Dad lying there like a child being caressed by his mother. Going deeper into the lives within the photo, one can feel the pulse of my dad’s heart in my mom’s arm. She can feel the heaviness of his shoulders on her chest, as he feels her breath through his hair. I can see the often absence of tenderness is my dad’s folded hands, a retreat, relaxation from the demands of others who were looked up to, more important than him. This photo is proudly owned by me and reminds me of them both. Reminding me of my truths. I display it proudly without reservation or embarrassment. For it is them, in their finest. This familiar, yet unorthodox union of two people who couldn’t be more different, look the same here. Their ideas and what is left of their dreams culminate in a loving spirit of hardship, yet endurance. This photo is not sad, yet it is brutally realistic, supporting the values I hold dear. The values that I always knew were there, even when my dad was at his worst. If only you could look at this photo and its absence of materialistic value, you might feel the reason there was a need for us to carry the contents of this photo forward to appreciate our lives, our abundances of joy and recognition that fruitful things often come from the droughts that others go through to make it better for others. When you look at this photo, don’t feel sorrow, don’t feel judgement. If anything, feel a little envious if you have never had this kind of love. No, it was never perfect, obviously. Yes, it was often scary, and many are the times I can remember if I choose to do so. But for this picture, let me remember them in their best light of one another. I will consider it an honor for anyone who looks at this picture and understands the love that blooms behind a tattered backdrop.

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)

Memory Lane

Where does your memory lane begin and end? Is there an end? Each memory is sparked by one defining characteristic and that is because it impacted you. Whether or not it is a glance of the past, where history lies, or whether it was this morning where possible changes can be made, and history can be rewritten. Memory lane lies in your mind and your perception of why you revisit it. My memory lane is ever constant, hiding around every corner, surprising me sometimes. Some of my memories seem to never end. There is an addition of the story that lives on forever, that continues to be told, thus not ending. I have so many twists and turns in my memory lane, that I don’t think they can ever all be told. Some memories are just little flashbacks, like the time my brother Buddy found a 2X6 board that had been painted with an enamel-based paint. It was white, shiny and very slick. This time, the story is on him. Well, Buddy got the bright idea to bring it in the house, which was already wrong. Rodney was small, yet remembers, I asked him last week. It was getting on in the evening and it was nearly time for dad to be home from work when Buddy brought in this stupid board, propped it against the couch and we three began to climb on the couch and slide down the board over and over. Of course, mom kept telling us to get it outside, but, boys will be boys! Her warnings fell on deaf ears apparently, for no sooner than she told us to get the board out of the house, my dad walks in and catches us sliding on the board. Needless to say, we all scurried and ran under the kitchen table. Dad came in the kitchen and told us to come out. Well, Rodney and Buddy came out and got their dues, but I didn’t want to. I knew what was going to happen. I remember saying “if I come out will you not fwoop” me? He said no, “I won’t whip you”. I will never forget the pronunciation of that word. Well, he lied. I came out and got a good spanking and was sent to bed with Rodney and Buddy and that’s where we stayed till morning. Other memories in random float by before I can finish the ones I’m working on, like the evening my dad cooked a goat outside in a fire. I can remember using a lot of catsup on mine, it was terrible! I remember stealing money out of my dad’s wallet and waiting till morning to walk to the store and buy a bag of candy. Yes, it was a twenty-dollar bill, dad missed it and wondered how we got all that candy. I lied and told mom that someone had given it to us. I didn’t have a chance to get under the kitchen table, and I never could find where I buried the change in the dirt, bills and coins. Twenty dollars was a lot of money in 1963 and probably should have been questioned when a four-year-old goes to pay with it. Anyway, for a day we were happy. I remember the first time I ever flew in a plane, I was so scared that I wouldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. By the time I got to the terminal, I thought my bladder would burst, as if this is something you wanted to know. You see how many twists and turns can abruptly change in my memory lane? I see my older brothers playing football in the sleet, while I’m in the football stands wrapped in a blanket. I need a passing lane. LOL…..

Copyright @coffeewithcharles.blog (Charles D. Grant)