Growing up in the South, I lived a delightful childhood which has taken me years to appreciate the freedom and wealth of experience. Since Mother worked at a shirt factory during the winter, much of our care was left to my father and Granny Sharpe. Daddy’s relaxed attitude left no room for fear of danger, but expected us to survive and flourish no matter the circumstance. Therefore, my big sister, Paulette, and I had the run of the farm, providing endless hours of fun and adventure.
We had few toys, but old Sears and Roebuck catalogs became our source of paper dolls. After we chose the best models with perfect poses and clothes, the ratty books were retired to the outhouse. Sticks, pecans and pine cones became our weapons. Mud pies and a discarded wood stove evolved into a culinary experience. Our imaginations were limitless as we investigated the creek, played hide and seek in the corn fields and the barn loft and attempted to ride our ornery horse, Babe. From the cow shed attached to the barn, we climbed the tall pecan tree where we could see for miles.
Each year, Daddy’s sister, Aunt Marie, brought us a doll and a new dress for Christmas. New store-bought clothes were a novelty for two little girls who were more recognized in dresses and skirts made from shirt factory remnants or hand-me-downs obtained from cousins, Shirley and Jean. Under today’s standards, we would be considered poor, but I rarely felt deprived.
We always had plenty of fresh vegetables from the garden, pork and beef from our livestock, chicken and eggs from the coop or under the house where they liked to roost, and fish from the Altamaha River. (Daddy’s favorite pastime, next to sports and politics.)
After we harvested the sugar cane, we went to a community grinding at a nearby farm. Paulette and I were fascinated, watching the mule circle the contraption as a worker fed the sugar cane into the grinder and the delicious juice flowed into the wooden barrel. A community dipper hung nearby for tasting. The children caught fireflies until late while our parents visited and waited for the last bit of juice to cook down into a thick syrup.
Hog-butchering also brought the neighbors together in the fall. The children were kept from the area until our neighbor, Mr. Jones, shot our former pets or, to save bullets, knocked them in the head and slit their throats. Little from the animal was wasted. Mrs. Jones scraped the small intestines until they were clean and then blew into them to make certain she hadn’t punctured them with her knife. She then filled them with her special recipe of country sausage. She also had a mixture she called, “Hog-head Cheese,” which didn’t resemble cheese at all, but seemed to include anything left over from the victim after pickled pigs feet, chitterlings, ham and bacon. Thank goodness, Daddy didn’t like chitterlings!
Of all the memories of the farm, the most vivid returns me to the age of eight or nine. I am walking in the woods, surrounded by palmetto and long needle pines whose cones often pierce my bare feet. Surrounded by nature and a peaceful presence, I do not feel alone. Transformation occurs when my piney woods becomes a cathedral, a place of prayer where I commune with God. That would be the first of many conversations with the real presence, the One who knows me best and loves me forever. Do you remember your first encounter with the God of the universe?