(Note: A Shakespearean (English) sonnet consists of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter, and usually has 10 syllables per line. It has three quatrains and a couplet. Rhyme scheme: a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.)
I still hear
your soft, sweet voice
in my memories
of a long-ago time.
I was small, you a giant,
quiet and gentle of nature.
You were homemade bread, killer of snakes,
dressmaker extraordinaire, cow milker,
gardener, canner, factory worker,
herder of children, a comfy lap,
the scent of vanilla, honest sweat,
a good example, warm heart,
rough-workened hands, bent body.
You were many things—
Mama to me,
home, sweet home,
(Note: an etheree poem consists of 10 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 syllables. The lines can be reversed in order—10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. And you can do a double etheree, like my poem here, which is 20 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Or can be written in reverse order.)
(Note: A Terzanelle is a combination of the villanelle and terza rima poetic forms. It consists of 19 lines containing 5 interlocking tercets, plus a concluding quatrain, in which the 1st and 3rd lines of the 1st tercet appear as refrains. The middle line of each tercet is repeated, reappearing as the last line of the succeeding tercet, with the exception of the center line of the next-to-last stanza, which appears in the quatrain. Each line has the same metrical length.
Rhyme and refrain scheme: A-B-A, b-C-B, c-D-C, d-e-D, e-F-E, f-A-F-A [or f-F-A-A].) Definition taken from: Shadow Poetry website.)
The summer I turned nine, The Root House ate my cousin Lesa’s foot.
Bad things happened to Lesa. I don’t remember if she was on the clumsy side or just suffered from plain old bad luck, but whatever the reason, she was always getting hurt. That’s just how it was.
When we were catching crawdads in the branch, she often slid on the moss-covered rocks, fell, and got her butt wet. (Then would want me, sister Linda and her sister, Jennifer, to get wet as well so she wouldn’t be the only one getting in trouble.). Thorny briars snagged her clothes and skin in the blackberry patches. She tripped over fallen tree limbs in the woods. There were four of us girls, two sets of cousins, but most of the bad stuff, accidents and what-nots, happened to Lesa—such as The Root House eating her foot.
Lesa and her little sister, Jennifer, had spent the night with me and Linda, who was twelve at the time. Lesa, Jennifer, and I had gotten up early the following day and had gone out to play, leaving Linda in bed sleeping. Linda had gotten her period a couple of months ago and thought she was all grown up now. She didn’t play much with our cousins and me anymore, and on top of that, had gotten downright cranky at times.
One of our favorite places to play was on and around a towering sycamore perched precariously on a steep section of a crumbling creek bank. The tree’s roots snaked over and under the ground, and an equal amount spoked the air over the stream that cut into the earth beneath it.
No sooner had the three of us arrived at what we referred to as “The Root House” than Lesa’s bare little foot sank up past the ankle into the soft dirt between two roots and became trapped there. I tried several times to pull her foot free, but it was wedged tight. No luck.
“Go get Linda,” I told Jennifer. We all knew that Linda, older, wiser Linda, could get Lesa’s foot unstuck. With a nod of her head, Jennifer was gone.
After a bit, Lesa wiggled her foot a little, and lo and behold, out it came. Then we heard voices: Linda and Jennifer’s.
Her eyes as big as saucers, Lesa looked at me and said, “She’s gonna be real mad we woke her up for nothing.” She glanced over her shoulder at our approaching sisters. Then she did the darndest thing: she stuck her foot back between the roots.
I thought it was a crazy thing to do, but I didn’t really blame her. Neither of my cousins would cross Linda back then; I didn’t care so much if she got irritated but knew my cousins were somewhat in awe of my older sister. And if Lesa wanted it to be Linda who rescued her from The Root House’s clutches, who was I to argue?
Then there was the time Brother Mike made a misstep when perched on the roots that stuck out over the branch. I was even younger than in the previous incident, and on this occasion, The Root House’s inhabitants were me, Mike, and Linda. My memory is sketchy, and I don’t recall if Mike slid all the way down to the few inches of water that ran over the flat rocks below or saved himself by grabbing onto some passing tree roots. I do remember, though, his scratched-up chest and hearing that he’d told his friends at school that Daddy had cut him with a chain saw.
The last time I remembered to look for The Tree House, which is visible from the road leading to my parents’ old home, it didn’t look nearly as impressive as when I was a kid. I suppose memories are that way, stored away as larger than they actually were. And I’ve read that our memory of an event changes down through the years, that each time it is recalled, it morphs slightly from the previous recollection. All I can say with certainty about The Root House is that it was a grand place to play, and it did eat Lesa’s foot.
My Granny Tucker was the kindest, gentlest soul I’ve ever known. And patient, lord above, did that woman have patience.
She came to live with my family when I was about three years old, following Grandpa’s death. I don’t remember Grandpa—probably just as well that I didn’t since according to my mama, he was a mean drunk—but I do remember Granny. I was still young, twelve or so, when she died, but many wonderful memories were crammed into those seven years, memories I’ll carry with me to my grave. And a few bad ones as well.
But I’ll get to the good ones first.
Granny read to me when I was a wee one. All my siblings were in school, and it fell to her to entertain me. But I don’t think she did it out of any sense of duty, but out of love. After I became a grandmother myself, I realized just how special grandchildren are. As a parent, one is often too busy to appreciate the company of a child, to experience the joy one feels in seeing their joy, to savor the love that fills one’s heart to bursting with love for that special little person.
But I digress.
In my mind, I see little me scrunched beside Granny in the old wooden rocking chair she favored. I hear her soft voice, feel the warmth of her thin, bony body against mine as she reads.
According to my siblings, Granny and I played teacher and student, with me insistent on being the teacher. I don’t remember this, but since my sister says I was a stubborn little thing, I’ll take it as fact. Being the spoiled baby of the family, I’m sure I was used to getting my way. I’ve mellowed since then. (“Yeah, right,” I can hear my siblings saying.)
When Granny’s sons (my uncles) visited, one of them—I think it was the uncle who always wanted money from her—invariably brought her a box of chocolate covered cherries. I don’t think Granny ate a single one; instead, she doled them out to her grandchildren. We seldom got candy, so the sweet, gooey chocolate mounds were pure delicacies to us. And to this day, my sister who is three years my senior, and I love chocolate-covered cherries with a passion.
The only mean thing I recall Granny doing was tattling on said sister and me. And looking back, I know it wasn’t really mean of her; it just seemed that way at the time.
One weekday morning, Sister and I decided we didn’t want to go to school so we pretended to be sick. Well, as soon as Mama headed out to the barn to milk the cow, Sister and I got out of bed, and if memory serves me correctly, went outside and played on the teeter-totter. Granny came out of the house and told us she was going to tell Mama as soon as she came back from milking. I suppose we got in trouble, and I suppose I was a little mad at Granny for a bit.
But I got over it. She was way too good to us kids for me to carry a grudge.
She got thinner over the years she lived with us, and frailer as well, but she told no one that she hurt or felt bad. The first clue we had that something was wrong was when I found her outside after she’d fallen. Mama took her to the doctor. I think exploratory surgery was done, and it was discovered she had colon cancer, was in fact so eat up with it that the doctors sewed her back up and sent her home to die.
And it wasn’t a pretty death; it was ugly and horrible, the way cancer most often is—at least that how it was in those times.
She had pain medication, but it could only do so much. I remember Granny telling Mama that rats were eating on her, and her taking my mama’s hand and placing it over her pubic hair to show her the rat.
Now, and even when I was just a kid, I wondered why such a good woman had to suffer so. And how could a loving God allow it?
I wasn’t in the room with her when she died, but for whatever reason, wasn’t in school that day. I remember seeing my mama crying and Daddy holding her. I remember my Grandma Workman, who was there helping out any way she could, coming into the front room to tell me what my Mama’s tears had already told me. I remember Grandma asking if I wanted to tell Granny Tucker goodbye. I remember going into the small bedroom where my Granny had breathed her last and staring at her beloved face.
But I didn’t cry. I knew that at long last, her suffering was over.
My Granny Tucker had loved to read, and that love was passed to Mama, then to me. I believe whatever small talent I have as a writer originated with those two wonderful women. That is why I use the Tucker name (It is the “T” in KT.) as part of my penname: to honor them with my words, the only way I know how.
An old Conway Twitty song titled “That’s My Job” just about sums it up. We go through our younger lives depending on our parents and grandparents to be there when we need them. But there comes a point when we step up to the plate, so to speak, and be the ones “doing the job.” The final stanza of Conway’s song brings this point home.
If you care to listen to it, I’ve added a YouTube link to it below. And if you don’t at least tear up listening to it, you’ve got a pretty hard heart.
Spring was my mama’s favorite season. She loved gardening, whether it involved vegetables or ornamentals, and when one visited, spring, summer, or fall, outside among the growing thingswas where one would likely find her. Her front porch sported a multitude of wind chimes, and when I hear mine (on my back porch) “tinkling in the wind,” I think of her. This one is for you, Mama.
March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way, Chasing away dark winter days. And I wonder where the wind has been.
Unlike winter, spring sports a grin. Yellow-bold, bright and warm and gay. March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way.
Sometimes brash, chimes dance, drunk on gin. Or perhaps weed entered the fray. Drunk or high or merry, who’s to say? They jump and jingle as they spin— March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way.
(Note: Originating in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century, a rondel poem is a fixed form of verse based on two rhyme sounds and consisting usually of 14 lines divided into three stanzas. The first two lines of the 1st stanza are repeated as the refrain of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas. The meter is open, but usually has eight syllables per line. Rhyme scheme: A-B-b-a, a-b-A-B, a-b-b-a-A-(B)—capital letters represent lines repeated verbatim.)
The branch runs close to the old house I grew up in. It is still there, though the house is long gone, torn down and replaced when I was around twelve or thirteen, with one having indoor plumbing. Yes, it still meanders along the base of the hill where the now old, but newer house still sits, and children are yet making memories along its twisty-twiney path, some of them my great-grand nieces and nephews, and cousins, both removed, second, thirds, and what-nots. It played a central role in my childhood, provided many hours of entertainment back in the dinosaur days of no internet, no cellphones, just a rotary phone whose line was shared between eight households.
When heavy rains came, the branch jumped its banks, sometimes spreading over the nearby fields my daddy had cleared for the cows to graze. It flooded the place where our road crossed it to the main road—both dirt—and we couldn’t get to the other side, sometimes for days. That could fit into both the Bad and Ugly, and Good. Much depended on which side of the branch you were on when it flooded, and whether you were a child or adult.
We lived near the road crossing, but there were two other families, plus my grandparents on my Daddy’s side, who lived farther down our side road. No one could get to town, no one could get to jobs, but us kids didn’t mind that the school bus couldn’t cross the branch to pick us up. And if one happened to be on the other side and it flooded, you couldn’t get home until it went down. Once, when I was in junior high, that happened to me. I remember Mama being on the other side of the branch when the bus pulled up. She yelled at me to go to my sister’s house, and Lord, did she have to scream loud for me to hear her over the water’s roar. Luckily, my recently married sister and her husband lived maybe half a mile (I’m not good judging distances, so it might have been more or less.) back along the school bus route, so the driver dropped me off there. I stayed at least one night, possibly two. The Good was I got to stay with my sister; the Bad and Ugly, I still had to go to school. Thank you, Sister, for providing clean clothes.
The worst of the Bad and Ugly happened when I was to be the second-grade princess in the school’s spring pageant. My cousin loaned me a formal dress, for I was to sit on stage with the other royalty—a sixth-grade boy and girl who were king and queen, and the princesses and princes, one boy and one girl, each chosen from grades one through five. I don’t remember who my prince was, but I do remember the joy in my shy, little heart at being picked as a princess. My sister, who was in fifth grade, was slated to sing with a group in the pageant. You ought to have seen how beautiful she looked in her bright yellow dress. Well, it rained the day of the pageant, which was being held at night, and all of us kids made it home from school okay, but between then and time to leave, the branch rose higher and higher until it was impossible to cross without risking life and limb. I was so disappointed, and most likely muttered a few choice curses under my breath, probably learned from my older brother, who was also Good and Bad, but not Ugly.
I forgave the branch. Like most people and things, it had its own path to follow, and its unique share of ups and downs.
The Good provided by the branch more than made up for its Bads and Uglies. My siblings, cousins—who lived just upstream—and I were in it in the spring as soon as the water warmed enough that our bare feet could comfortably wade in it. Carrying a big tin can, we searched for crawdads that often hid beneath flat rocks. Snakes sometimes hid there too. There was an art to crawdad hunting: Stand to the back of the rock you were going to raise, slowly lift it on the side farthest from you, and take a peek. Most always, a crawdad skulked there, pinchers raised in warning, but on occasion, a snake would be coiled beneath. Then it was drop the rock and run. The crawdads we caught and collected in the can containing a little water were set free after we were finished, unless a relative or neighbor had requested some to be used as fish bait. It was strictly a catch and release program, though I do recall that at least once we cooked their tails over a fire at the bluff. But the wondrous bluff is a story into itself, so I won’t go into it at this time. I don’t recall how the crawdad tails tasted—maybe like chicken?
My brother, sister, and I set out minnow jars in a deeper puddle in the branch that was fed by an underground spring. We constructed them similar to the picture above, except we used half-gallon Mason jars and screen wire for the funnel instead of a soda bottle. What we did with the captured minnows, I don’t recall, but I’ll never forget the time we hauled our jars from the water, and squiggly snakes filled the insides of the jars, and like the minnows, couldn’t escape. One of us returned to the house, fetched Mama, and she came to the rescue, breaking the jars and killing the snakes with a garden hoe.
A few times we seined the branch and caught snakes then too. I don’t know what we had set out to catch; we probably didn’t even know ourselves. It was just something fun to do that included the outdoors and water.
When the branch’s waters warmed even more, along around late May or early June, we took baths in it. We had no indoor plumbing so bathing involved heating water to a boil on the wood cook stove, pouring it and cold into a long, metal washtub, and us kids taking a bath, youngest girl to oldest, then my brother. Using the branch for this purpose was a heck of a lot easier; we grabbed a towel, wash cloth, and a bar of Ivory soap (my sister says because it floats), and waded in. I only recall us girls doing it. Either my brother stayed dirty or bathed at a different time.
When summertime’s heat and lack of rain dried up the branch, we had to result to more drastic measures on our forays to catch crawdads. They burrowed down into the mud, leaving a little hole to mark the spot. We dug a few out of their shelters, but I don’t recall often doing that. It was really more trouble than it was worth. The ones that suffered this fate at our small hands probably died. Kids can be so thoughtless and cruel.
I have a fond memory of my aunt, mother of the cousins who lived upstream, showing us how to make mud gingerbread men. At their place, the branch ran behind the house and had big slabs of flat rocks on the bank. There, we mixed dirt and water, and shaped our mud men and women. My aunt plucked the flower heads from nearby wild butter weeds, whose blooms look like black-eyed susans, but have a yellow center instead of brown, and used them to make eyes, buttons, and such for our mud people.
When fall set in, the water gradually became too cold to play in, so there was a lull in our preoccupation with it. But when winter snapped its teeth upon the water, turning it to ice, we were at it again. Wearing only our regular shoes, brother, sister, and I skated on it. We were smart enough to stay off ponds, but the branch was fair game because even if the ice gave way, at worst we would be drenched in the cold water to about our knees—maybe thighs if it were me, the smallest.
That branch, along with the woods and bluff, was our entertainment. We made our own fun, having no need of structured play time and play dates. I think we were what is now referred to as “free-range” children, no helicopter parenting for us.
Often, I think about my childhood, about the branch and how adventurous it was to explore. Seeing snakes in it, falling in it and getting hurt as well as wet, and even the leach that latched onto my leg that Mama scraped off with a knife failed to dampen its allure. After all, what kid doesn’t love playing in a branch—especially when it’s a Good branch?
Snow ice cream served up in a bowl (one of two) that Mama gave me when my first husband and I married many, many years ago—along with a few other needed odds and ends we didn’t receive at our wedding shower. The bowls are special, antiques at least as old as I am; but what makes them even more special is that they had belonged to my mama, that I had eaten out of them when I was a kid.
Last week, for the first time in several years, we received enough snow—around five inches—that I could scrape up (from my vehicle’s hood) clean, fresh snow and whip up a batch of snow ice cream. I have to say, it was almost as good as my mama used to make.
The simple treat took me back to winters spent in that weathered, drafty house filled with kids and love. Mama cooking on the wood stove, Daddy out tending the cattle, Granny Tucker sitting in front of the fireplace in an old, wooden rocker as close as she could get without scorching her legs. My brother, sister, and I out playing, having snowball fights, skating in our shoes on the frozen-over branch, our half-ass attempts to build a snowman. The time my brother fell on the ice and hit his head so hard the ice cracked. Seems like I recall him lying there for a bit before getting up. The time he threw a snowball at me with a rock packed inside and cracked the front door. I guess I’m lucky he missed me. The seemingly endless days we were out of school around Christmas break because the buses couldn’t run the rural routes.
The snow is gone now, though because of the unusual cold snap that arrived with it, hung around for a few days. When I looked out on all that snow, my mind traveled back to those times, long gone but never, ever forgotten. Yes, our house was old with cracks between the boards you could have slung the proverbial cat through. Yes, by today’s standards, we would have been considered poor. But you know, I never felt poor. I had a roof over my head, a warm fire—though you had to be practically on top of it to feel its heat—clothes to wear, good food in my belly, and loving parents. In all the things that really matter, I was rich.
I see it’s been a while since I posted—close to two months, in fact. As to why I’ve been remiss, as I told a fellow blogger, I just haven’t been in the mood to post. And when I started this blog (my fourth), I made myself a promise I wouldn’t force myself to post, that I would only do so when inspiration struck. My previous blogs got mired down because they began to feel like a job: I had to show up at the appointed time and produce or some calamitous event might occur. I’ve never been good with that. Too much pressure. I held down a job for many years and was seldom absent, but in that context, calamity would strike if I didn’t show. Things like losing my house or vehicle, not eating, and such. A blog is another kettle of fish…or whatever.
Shortly after my last post, this whole Covid-19 thing reared its ugly, diseased head. I was in the middle of writing a short story set on an alternate Earth (I’ve written five with the same setting) that just kept going and going, so I decided to take some time off WordPress to complete it. The thing ended up in novelette territory—over 17,000 words. I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Should I send it out to magazines, a process that might take months (or never) to place, with little payment for my time? Publish it in installments here? Shove it in a drawer and forget about it? Any suggestions?
Anyway, after completing the story, my creative juices flowed in another direction. Two directions actually: baking and sewing. In the baking department, I made yeast breads, quick breads, muffins, and other goodies, things I’m an old hand at, before deciding I wanted to try something I haven’t before: sourdough bread. And to make the bread, I needed a starter. I’m trying to grow my own, and so far, have killed one, water too warm, I think, and am now attempting another. I have bubbles and growth, so I think (hope) I’m on the right track.
As for sewing, I learned the how-to on my mama’s old Singer treadle machine when I was a wee one, probably younger than ten. I’m not sure about the age but remember making doll clothes on it. And for a good part of my adult life, I continued to sew off and on, but quite a few years ago, except for mending, I stopped. To be honest, I hadn’t broken out my machine for any reason in probably 8 or 10 years, then I couldn’t find the face masks we were all told to wear, no way, no how. No problem, I thought, I’ll make them.
You should have heard my poor machine when I put the pedal to the metal—squeak, squeak, squeak. But I persevered, stitching along a piece of scrap fabric, turn, stitch another row, again and again until my machine was sewing as smoothly and quietly as it had when it had been put out to pasture so many years ago. I would expect no less from a Singer.
To my surprise, I enjoyed making the masks, so much so that I’m now itching to make something. Anything! I need new potholders, so I think I’ll make a few to get back in practice, then move on to something bigger. I haven’t decided yet what that might be, but being mostly housebound for the foreseeable future, I’ve got to come up with something to keep myself occupied and in a different room than Husband. Our marriage may depend on it.
In this time of rabid intolerance, can you imagine being married to someone whose political views are the opposite of yours? Okay, before Covid-19 this was manageable, just don’t talk politics. But with the cable news networks now blasting information/disinformation 24/7, Husband has been stressing out. Combine that with his ongoing TDS, and you have a powder keg about to blow. I’ve already gotten scorched a few times.
Baking, sewing, writing, a lot of reading…what else can I find to do indoors? In another room from Husband, of course.
When I was growing up, store-bought snacks were a rare treat. We ate the proverbial three square meals a day, occasionally topped off with homemade yeast rolls, a cake, fruit cobbler, or my favorite: banana pudding. Then there was mellorine, popcorn, and fudge, our main snacks.
In case y’all don’t know, mellorine is imitation ice cream, and according to Britannica, it is “made with less expensive vegetable oils instead of butterfat but utilizes dairy ingredients for the milk protein part.” (I haven’t seen it in stores in years, but think it’s still available in some areas.) I suppose Mama reasoned that if you have a houseful of kids and must make every penny count, cheaper imitation ice cream is better than no ice cream at all. My young self would have agreed; she loved the Neapolitan.
Mama used the big aluminum pan she cooked beans to pop the popcorn. She poured in a bit of Mazola corn oil when the pan got hot, then added the corn kernels, and a sprinkling of salt. Next, the lid went on, and it was shake, shake, shake until the popping stopped. It was a bunch of popcorn, requiring a large dishpan to hold it all. Us kids and Daddy (if he were home) made short work of it. Hopefully, Mama got a little too.
Then there was the fudge…made from scratch with Hershey’s Cocoa, a staple in Mama’s kitchen that’s still available today. The candy required only six ingredients, seven if you counted the nuts, but I wouldn’t say it was simple to make, especially if one didn’t have a candy thermometer, which we didn’t. I remember watching Mama and my older sisters mixing, boiling, and stirring, the stirring going on for quite some time.
We had a large black walnut tree in our yard that provided nuts for the fudge; but getting enough for a batch was as time-consuming as all the stirring. Black walnut shells are hard and thick, and when one finally cracks it open, fishing out the nuts is no easy task. We used a clean bobby pin to dig and gouge out the small morsels, breaking them into even smaller pieces in the extraction process. Fingers were stained, and patience was tested, but it was all worth it; the black walnuts transformed ordinary fudge into a gourmet delight.
My memory is a sketchy thing, recalling little about the first time I made fudge. But I do remember the aftermath: the candy didn’t set. I was so disappointed.
In her own sweet way, Mama lifted my spirits, turned a disaster (to me) into a cherished memory. She told me it didn’t matter, that the fudge would taste just as good eaten with a spoon. And in my mind’s eye, I can still see her and me doing just that: sitting in front of the fireplace, each with our own spoon, passing the pan of half-set fudge back and forth.
Down through the years, there were quite a few instances Mama kindly pointed out that something, which seemed important to me at the time, didn’t matter in the overall scheme of things. More often than not, especially when I was young, I didn’t grasp what she was trying to tell me; I had to get quite a bit older for it to sink in, for me to realize that most of the things I studied on and worried about really didn’t matter. But at least when it came to the runny fudge, when she and I were scraping it up with our spoons, I knew she was right: it didn’t matter, not one little bit.