Eliza Lynn Taylor

Eliza Lynn Taylor
Eliza Lynn Taylor Freelance Writer

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Just Passing Time

Leanne sat on the porch swing with her eyes closed, earbuds in, listening to music on her IPhone. A warm breeze blew her hair across her face occasionally and she swiped it away. Her head bobbed slightly to the beat of the song. A butterfly lighted on her nose, tickling it until she sneezed. 

“Bless you, dear,” her grandmother said.

Leanne opened her eyes. Her grandmother was sitting in her rocking chair crocheting an afghan blanket, her usual afternoon activity.

“Thanks, grandma,” she replied. “Are you still working on that thing?”

“That thing is an afghan. It’s a type of blanket, but smaller, to cozy up with when it gets chilly,” she corrected.

Leanne looked closer and noticed that it was different than the one she had seen her making the last time. “How many is this one?” She had gotten up and walked the short distance to the chair and then squatted next to her grandmother.

“Five or six so far,” she told her. “I forget,” she added with a shrug of her shoulders.

“But why so many?”

“It’s a good way of passing time,” her grandmother told her. “It’s productive, unlike sitting on the swing with those things in your ears bobbing your head all day.” She looked at Leanne and made a face.

Leanne giggled. “I suppose I do something else at the same time.”

“You have to be able to multitask to do that.”

“I can multitask. I just don’t do it,” Leanne stated. “I do it in school all the time and school is out now.” She stood up and went back to the swing. “Grandma?” she said, absently pushing the swing back and forth with her feet. ‘It’s summertime. Why are you making all those afghans?”

“Well, if I wait until winter comes, it will be too late to use them.”

I should have seen that one coming! Leanne thought. “What do you do with them all, grandma?”

“I give them to the veteran’s home mostly, and some to the various nursing homes around town. 
Some people don’t have any family or they put them there and forget them. I am fortunate in that I have family, I’m healthy, and my family wants me around. If I can brighten their day and give them something nice to snuggle up with, I feel good and they feel good. Win-win!” She smiled at Leanne.

“Oh, I get it. It’s like when mom and I are in the kitchen baking cookies for the church shut-ins. We are passing time together and doing something good at the same time.”

“Well, that’s one way to look at it,” her grandmother said.

Leanne sat there a minute thinking. She pulled her earbuds out. “Grandma, I’d like to make those too, but I don’t know how to crochet.”

“Well, drag up a chair and I’ll teach you. That way we can pass time together.”

“And,” Leanne added sheepishly, “I can be productive and maybe hear some stories about mom growing up.”

“Oh! That would be just fine. Oh, the stories I could tell!” her grandmother assured her, smiling.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dirt to Run My Fingers Through

It's been thirty-six years since I've been to Macon. I do hope things will be better there in Georgia than here. The newspapers say we're surely on our way out of the 'depression', whatever that is. I guess we were never rich enough to notice when banks went broke, we never had a dime in one, but we also had a hard time making a dime on our farm.

I was eight years old the summer of 1899 when Papa decided to move the family to Kansas for a fresh start. He said the earth was played out and he couldn't get anything to grow anymore. It was a small parcel to begin with; only twenty acres and he share cropped another fifteen, but when the farmer died who owned the fifteen his son sold the place and they wouldn't let us share crop anymore.

 "Papa, are you going to sell this place?" I asked.

"No child," he answered. "One of you younguns might want to come back some day. It'll be waiting for you."

We loaded our big wagon, hitched up the horses and headed to Kansas. Our poor cow, tied to the back, lost so much weight from the walk she quit giving milk. Papa traded her in Missouri for a heifer due to drop her calf in a couple of months. It wouldn't have been a fair trade but she got bred to the wrong bull and they figured the calf would be too big and maybe kill 'em both when it was born. The farmer was willing to fatten out our older cow and see if she could be a good cow again, or he could eat her; either way he figured to win.

We arrived in the dead heat of the summer. Mama was about to have her own baby and the travel was real hard on her. The man in town that sold Papa the 'new' farm had told him the roof blowed off the house in a twister earlier in the year. But there was an old soddie that might work 'til he could put on a new roof. I found out quick just what a soddie really was; a hole dug into the side the hillside with a dirt floor and a dirt roof. The front was made of layers of sod. It looked more like a glorified cave to me. Papa said it would be a good root cellar when the house was fixed.

Papa and me cleared a field and dragged the cottonwood trees back to the house. He made what he called rafters to support the roof. Then he cut shingles out of other trees and nailed them to the rafters. We were real tired after so many weeks of working dawn to dark, but we got it done and Mama said she was real proud of us
Mama had a baby boy, Adam, just after we got moved into the new house. She prayed every night for him to stay healthy. She had already lost three children to a bad influenza back in Georgia. We never did figure out how come I was spared.

I had to go get Papa out of the field he was plowing to plant hard winter wheat when the heifer tried to have her calf. She was having considerable trouble. Mama didn't want me to watch because she said it wasn't fitting for a young girl to see such things, but Papa told her it was nonsense. I lived on a farm and that's just what happened on farms. He managed to save them both and that was the biggest, prettiest calf I ever saw.

We planted a fall garden, but an early frost got some of it. Papa's winter wheat made it through all right though. I helped with loading fire wood onto the wagon for Papa when I wasn't helping Mama clean the house and watching my little brother.

I remember that one day a couple of years later I heard a knock at the door and when I opened it there stood two men with reddish skin, dark eyes, and long, black hair dressed in buckskins with a rifle over one shoulder and a pack of some sort over the other. All I could do was stare. We had never had Indian visitors before and I thought they were all on the reservation.

Mama finally pushed me to one side so she could talk to them. They were traveling north and one of their party took sick and they had stopped a few days to let him rest. They'd already gone through most of their provisions, which would have lasted the entire trip had they not stopped. They were nearly out of food and had almost no ammunition. Mama gave then some flour and corn meal and a few potatoes. She said she couldn't spare anymore than that with her family to feed. They said they understood and thanked her. Then one of them took off his pack and gave Mama a few animal skins and a pouch of little colored beads. Mama accepted the gift and they were on their way. She said she had heard they would trade for anything they got because they didn't like to have things just given to them. She didn't want to offend their pride so she took what they offered. Come Christmas my brother got a small fur hat and a coat and shoes made from the hide after the hair had been removed, and I got a beautiful crocheted broach with the little colored beads woven into the pattern. I was very proud of it. 

The winters were cold but we kept warm with comforters and quilts Mama had made. I lost count of the birds I had to pluck to get the fill for those comforters, but they sure were warm.

After we planted the garden we all got a pouch tied around our waists full of seed corn saved from the year before and we planted a row at a time until the field was done. Papa marked the rows and made sure we didn't run out of seed as we poked a stick in the dirt and dropped in the seeds. It us a full week, but we got it done and had a real nice crop too. We had enough put away for us for the winter, to feed the animals, and even to sell some. Papa said he was proud of us for working so hard to bring in a good crop.

Mama made me go to school in the fall. She said I was old enough to learn reading, writing, and figuring my sums. I couldn't go all the time, but often enough to learn something. I had a sister, Belle, and another brother, Jessie, by then and she said we would all go, but as my brothers got older the more of my previous jobs they seemed to get. I got stuck in school learning and at home learning how to cook and sew. My sister Bell didn't mind, but I did. I wanted to be outside working in the dirt, barefoot. Mama did have a time getting me to wear shoes.

It was up to the children to get in the last of the vegetables from the garden before the snow hit. We could see it coming for days. We just barely got them all in, but at least the canning kept us all too busy to worry about all that snow.

A late season twister came through and Papa had to plant the wheat all over again. It was beginning to be a pretty regular thing, so Papa started planting it later. It was barely up when everybody else's was all pulled up and ruined. He still had his crop though.

I'll never forget the excitement when one day Papa found that old hollow tree full of honey. He was scouting for trees to cut for firewood for the stove and for winter and came across a swarm of bees. He said that tree fairly dripped of honey. He donned a long-sleeved shirt and gloves and a big hat. Mama wanted to cover his hat with cloth to keep the bees out but he said he couldn't see what he was doing. He took an old can of oil and stuffed a piece of burlap feed sack in it and then lit it on fire. He said he was going to smoke the bees out and take their honey, but not all of it on account of they had to eat too. He brought home two big wooden barrels of it and said there was lots more, but he wouldn't be greedy about it, especially since they seemed to be getting mad at him. He got stung several times but he didn't seem to mind. He said it was worth it, and that honey sure was good. Mama was forever shooing us younguns out of it. 

There were a couple of years of drought and no matter what we did that corn just would not grow much more than we could eat or the animals could eat. We hauled water up from the creek for the garden, but not as much as we would have liked. Papa was afraid it would dry up too. We used as little as possible ourselves.

In 1905 a twister hit. It tore off part of the roof and a good many of the boards on the front of the house. Papa salvaged as many of the shingles as he could and put them back on but it still leaked so he patched it with pitch and tar. The boards were only good for kindling and he couldn’t afford lumber. Our trees weren't big enough to cut for the boards either, so he made a deal in town for some thick black stuff he called tar paper and some nails. He said that would have to do for walls until he could afford the boards. The house seemed harder to heat and drafty after that.

By 1906 there were eight of us kids in the house, two of which were twins. The house was very full. Papa and Mama talked about making the house bigger, even though there wasn't even enough money to replace the tar paper on the walls. 

Papa had barely got the garden plowed for Mama's spring garden when she told him about number nine.

A few weeks later an epidemic of the influenza made its way to the area. People were dying everywhere. Mama had her hands full for sure. Papa coughed more every day and finally took the fever and chills. If Mama hadn't threatened to tie him down to the bed, he'd have gone out even then
A neighbor boy whose family had already been through it came to milk the cow and feed the animals for Mama.

We got weaker every day because we couldn't keep anything down and we couldn't stay awake long enough to figure out what might settle good and eat it. When the children started dying off Mama sent for the doctor to come back. We lost John, he was six, Chester, he was three, and Jessie. The neighbor boy helped Mama bury them. She was so tired she couldn't even cry.

The doctor gave Mama the last of his quinine and said he didn't know what else he could do for our family. He was worried about Mama too. She hadn't gotten sick and neither of them could figure out why. They were worried her baby could get hurt by it though. She was exhausted but kept on going, and he was afraid she'd collapse at any moment. She thanked him for his concern, but wouldn't slow down for a minute.

 She gave us the quinine and tried to feed us toast and chamomile tea when we were awake. She prayed a lot too. When four year old Ruth died Mama became more desperate than ever. She said she wasn't losing anymore of her babies. She kept a big pot of tea always made on the stove to keep hot and a big stack of toast next to it. She started waking us up every thirty minutes or so one at a time to feed us just one or two bites and a sip of tea. She only stopped long enough to put a fresh cool cloth on our fevered heads. At night she dozed in her rocking chair by the fire, but awoke at every sound or groan from one of us. 

When I finally got where I could sit up without getting dizzy and hold down food better, I helped Mama. I sat in the bed replacing cloths on the heads of my sisters and fed then the toast, though Mama always insisted she do the tea because she wanted it to stay hot and she was afraid I wasn't strong enough yet not to spill it on them. I guess I was still pretty weak because I did my share of sleeping. Mama said that was all right because I needed sleep to get better.

Papa was down for nearly a month and it was too late to plant the corn when he was able to get out of the bed. Mama made him stay inside and regain his strength. That took another week or so. He felt bad because he said we might actually get rain and the crop would produce like it was supposed to. Mama just told him not to worry about it and grinned to herself like she had a secret that no one else knew about. And she did.

 Mama made Papa promise not to overdo it trying to catch up on things before she'd let him out of the house. Imagine his, and our, surprise to find that our neighbors had gotten together and planted our corn. They took turns making the rows and got it all done in less than a day. They did ours first because Papa already had the field plowed. Then they'd move on to the next neighbor, plowing and planting until everybody's was done. Papa shared his corn with them when it was ready. It was our best crop ever and Mama said it was because it was sowed with love and human kindness. Through the years we all tried to remember that lesson.

When it was all done and over and everyone was back on their feet, Mama took to her bed and we waited on her for a while. She surely did deserve it. She cried for her lost children but said she couldn't stay down for long. Life had to go on even though she'd miss each of them terribly every single day for the rest of her life. She still missed the three she had lost in Georgia so she knew what she was talking about. The dark circles under her eyes eventually did go away and somehow she managed to have healthy twin boys, Charles and Jefferson.

 We didn't lose any more family members after that and Mama had three more children, Sara, Virginia, and Andrew.

 We all learned to read and write and figure like Mama wanted us to. It was just as well; between the droughts and the high winds, and the constant replanting in the same place over and over, the top soil is gone. Now they call this area The Dust Bowl. You can't grow a thing. The children are all grown with families of their own and like the topsoil, they have scattered across the country with the wind.

 I don't feel bad about leaving because I guess Mama and Papa are together in heaven watching over all of us. Mama passed two years ago and Papa a year later. He said he just couldn't live without her anymore.

 In 1908 I married that neighbor boy who helped Mama during the influenza outbreak. We had five children and even they have grown and moved off with their families; the youngest was married just six months ago. In spite of this 'depression' we are supposed to be in the old family homestead in Georgia is still in the family and waiting for me. At least there I'll have dirt to run my fingers through once more and it might actually grow something. Tired as I am, I can hardly wait.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Father's Day Tribute

Father’s Day is fast approaching. For many of us we have no father to send a card, or give a gift or give a call to, or even visit. This is my first year in that position and it is hard to swallow, as I am sure for many of us it is.

First of all, let me tell you that my dad was just like the man in the Brad Paisley song He Didn’t Have to Be. I was 7 years old when my stepfather adopted me and my siblings. I was so young when my parents split up that I don’t even remember my natural father, and I never got to meet him, although I did call him a few times and exchange letters sporadically. I had to find out through Ancestry.com that he had died because no one knew to contact me. 

But my dad, now he was different. He always seemed to know what I was interested in and what I was doing. He went to the opening night of the community theater plays I was in and clapped the loudest and cheered in spite of being extremely hard of hearing. I was in 4-H from the 4th grade on and he knew when I was eligible to go to state competitions. Since my ‘thing’ was sewing, he bought me my very own sewing machine- a really nice sewing machine. I used it for 14 years before I finally wore it out. 

As a very young child, in kindergarten, I contracted every illness that came down the track, not unlike many kids when they start school. I had the mumps and chickenpox just a few months apart, but I don’t remember which one was first. I do remember that I was very ill and I had been sleeping a lot. I woke up in the late afternoon one day and had a teddy bear almost as big as I was in the recliner with me. I loved it. I had it until after I had my first child. When we moved it had to go. It had little to no fur left and one eye and an ear were missing. Most of the stuffing had fallen out over the years too. It was a sad looking thing!

He went fishing nearly every weekend and when we got to go along it was a real treat. He’d turn off the radio and my sister, mother, and I would harmonize with him and we would sing all the way there and back home again. It was a lot of fun. 

In later years he told me to always remember when I went out on a date that the headlights in the rearview mirror might be his! It kept me on the straight and narrow, I’ll tell you that. They never were his of course, but I always looked. 

He walked me down the aisle when I got married and gave me away to my fiancĂ©. My youngest son shares his first name. He was there to talk to when I needed him until the end. His illness was short that took him from me and our family, and even though hard as I tried to get there, I couldn’t. He knew I was on the way but he just couldn’t hold on any longer. I’ll never get over that. I’ll never again hear him yell when talking to my mom on the telephone, “Hey baby!” because he couldn’t hear me. I miss him all the time. 

Happy Father’s Day Daddy wherever you are. And to all of you who have fathers still around, go see your dad, or call him, and let him know you love him. Never let time go by when he doesn’t know, because one day, he won’t be there.