Monthly Archives: August 2013

Poo

In the summertime I liked to go over to Granny Lue’s and Poo’s and just “hang out.” This was a very long time before that term came into vogue, but its meaning is ageless. We did practically nothing and enjoyed it.  The main attraction was sitting on the front porch and watching the people go by.  If someone looked amiable and willing to chat, Poo would say, “How do?”

And then the person would say, “How do?”

I thought this was hilarious, but I didn’t let on.  Of course, it’s just a contraction of “How do you do?” which is also pretty goofy, especially with a different emphasis on a different word, like, “How DO you do?”

Poo had a gift for seeing ordinary things and pointing out that they were really pretty interesting.  He taught me how to watch people and notice the way they would swing their arms while walking.  Some were really vigorous swingers while others would hardly swing their arms at all.  We watched the people and talked about the various ways they were swinging their arms.  I remember itas pretty much fun.

Oh, I should tell you that I was born on Mother’s Day, 1938. The man who came to be called “Poo,” decided that he wanted to be called, “Paw.”  I guess hewas trying to distance himself from the Grandparent label.  Anyhow, when I was just getting the hang of talking, “Paw” always came out as “Poo.”  It stuck.  Everybody started calling him “Poo.”  Such is the power of a grandchild. Poo came from quite a different generation.  He was born in 1890.  And there were some things that he found innocent and amusing that I didn’t find that way at all.

He taught me this jingle:

I went down to the river

And I couldn;t get across

So I jumped on a n—r

“Cause I thought he was a horse.

The horse wouldn’t run

So I traded it for a gun.

The gun wouldn’t shoot

So I traded it for a boot.

The boot wouldn’t wear

So I traded it for a bear.

The bear wouldn’t dance

So I kicked it in the pants.

I thought about reminding Poo of the song I sang in Sunday School.

Black or yellow red or white, they are precious in his sight…..but I didn’t.  I thought it would make him think that I was pretty persnickety.  When I think back on those front porch days, I remember the song from South Pacific, “They Have To Be Carefully Taught.”  I wish Poo could have listened to it with me.   Then maybe we could have talked about what it meant and turned it this way and that,  And then, when we both felt pretty good about it, we could have gone back to watching the people swing their arms as they came our way to say, “How Do?”

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Best-Laid Plans

Mother died in church.  She had a stroke, fell over in the pew and never regained consciousness.  My father said that her last words were, “I want to go home.”

Many people told me that since she died in church, she must have gone straight to Heaven.  I think that that kind of knowledge belongs in the vast and foggy area off “nobody knows for sure,”  But if there is a heaven, then I’m sure that Mother went there first class, on a direct flight, without any of the baggage that most of us have to carry around.  Of course, my Mother’s passing was a source of great sorrow for my Father, my brother and myself and to all the people who loved her because there was a great deal about my mother to love.  But the grief that my father felt was accentuated by the timing of her death.  Off and on for years, he had instructed her in things like pilight lights and leaves in the gutters and who to call when the plumbing wash’t working as it should.

And then my mother died first.  She had never instructed my father in the aspects of their marriage that were almost exclusively in her domain.  It never occurred to her to do so, because she was destined to be a widow some day, but he would never be a widower.  That was just the way hit worked.  It was the American way.

So my father was left without a knowledge of household things like cooking and grocery shopping.  But a larger difficulty was that he was left without my mother’s social skills.  She was always the one who planned dinners for family and friends.  She was the who was always on the phone setting things up, bringing all kinds of people into their lives.  She furnished their future with her enthusiasm and her imagination.

After my mother’s death, my father told me,”I don’t have anything to look forward to any more.”  That’s when I started  going home more often to spend some time with him.

We had never been close.  My mother had been the go-between and the interpreter between us.  We spoke different languages when we spoke at all, and she would fill in the silences and smooth over the misunderstandings.  Without her my visits home were awkward for both of us.

My father was not a warm and outgoing person.  At least he seemed that way to me.  I felt that he kept me at a distance.  He didn’t hug.  Not that I wanted him to.

I felt that hugging was an upper body that has to be completed with dispatch and, if at all possible, avoided.  We shook hands.  Even that was incomplete.  He never let the handshake go all the way, palm to palm.  The valleys between our thumbs and forefingers were never filled.

It was coitus interrupts.

Snapper

Granny Lue was hoeing in her garden and I was feeding some bacon to the baby alligator that really wasn’t a baby anymore.  Granny Lue and Poo had been visiting relatives down in Louisiana where everyone had double names like Rosey Jewel and Velda Mae and Billy Neal.  Anyway, when they came back home they brought me a baby alligator, sort of a living souvenir.

I was thrilled and my popularity with the neighborhood kids rose dramatically.  But Mother liked her alligators down in the bayous and not in her bathtub.  So Poo built a pen for it in their backyard and  with all the bacon I was feeding it, Snapper was growing bigger and meaner by the day.  Poo was glad to build the pen because it gave him something to do.  He was a boilermaker for the railroad but his union had gone out on strike and he’d been at home and at loose ends ever since.  Ed Schulte who lived next door had crossed the picket line and when he did it seemed like he jumped right in on Poo’s job.  This didn’t sit well with Grannie Lue and she was hoeing her garden with a vengeance.

I was busy feeding Snapper when I smelled the delicious odor of something other than bacon.  I looked up to see Mrs. Schulte approaching with a kind of quivery smile on her face.  She was holding the source of the aroma – – a luscious golden-brown pineapple upside-down cake.  Granny Lue looked up from her hoeing and saw the enemy approaching.  I’ve never seen her move so fast, before or since.

She held that hoe up high like  deadly weapon, which it was.   And she was screaming, “Get off my property, you filthy scab!  Get off my yard, you scab!”

This frightened Mrs. Schulte so much that she hastily retreated and dropped the pineapple upside-down cake and it landed right side up, which was really the wrong side, on the ground.  What a waste!  Even Snapper was impressed by Granny Lue’s hoe wielding rage.  Little did he know that he’d soon be traveling.

Granny and Poo decided that Snapper might be confused and not know the difference between bacon and the fingers of some neighborhood kid.  So Poo and I took him down to the Mississippi river and told him to swim south, back to his own kind.

The next day the local paper had a story with a headline that read – – Alligator Sighted In Mississippi, Farthest North Ever!”

Out Of Hannibal

In the summer of my twelfth year I discovered, for the  first time, that I really was free.

I lived in a town and in a time when a kid could go off on his own for a whole day, no questions asked.  Mother would make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I would take off on my bike. I didn’t really know for sure where I was going.  But I knew I was going to have some adventures.

So off I went, knowing that some surprises were in store.  That’s because I lived in kind of a magical town called Hannibal and I was living in the same setting Mark Twain used in his stories. I was a little bit like Huckleberry Finn come to life all over again.

I was growing up in the same places where Tom and Huck played.  And they didn’t seem fictional to me.  They were as real as every day and as familiar as morning.  First I decided to go to the highest place in town – – Lover’s Leap.  This was a very high outcropping of stone that offered a view of the Mississippi and much of Illinois.  The story was that there had been an Indian brave and a maiden who wanted to marry but couldn’t because they were from different tribes.  And so they leapt to their death from Lover’s Leap.  Kind of like the story of Romeo and Juliet done Indian style.

Next I got on my bike and went to a place on the River Road that I had a funny feeling about.

I climbed up the steep embankment until I discovered what I had imagined, a natural stone tower that jutted about eight feet out of the hillside. I climbed on top of it and just sat there and looked around in wonder.  I was thinking that I was the first person to ever sit on this tower, which was probably the work of a glacier.

Vowing to never share my discovery with anyone, I set out for more Hannibal magic.

After finishing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I decided to go to what was my very favorite place.  So I biked up into Riverview Park where the statue of the great man stood, looking over the Mississippi.

Hannibal was his boyhood home, so we had something in common.  And I felt like I knew his characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  It was a great thing to be a writer and that set me to thinking. Maybe I could be like him if only in small ways.

I always read the inscription on the statue and it always gave me chills.

“His religion was humanity and when he died, a whole world mourned,”