Friday, April 26, 2013

Sometimes There Are Little Miracles...

          The Depression touched just about everyone in the country; things were even worse in Oklahoma which was suffering from the effects of the Dust Bowl.  Men looked for work wherever they could find it; feeding families was a necessity but hard to do.  It was a time that was forever etched on the faces of the people shown in faded pictures of the era; it was a time that is hard for us to imagine today.

          My grandparents were a part of that time; they were feeding a large family and struggling to live day to day, season to season.   Granddaddy was a farmer, working a farm in Stratford, Oklahoma then, eking out an existence from the soil to feed growing children and to sell the extra to buy other necessities.  During the winter, with no crops to rely on, he and his sons cut wood to sell in order to get by a little longer.

          One day he loaded up the old pickup with firewood, Grandmother gave him her meager, flour, and such... and he took off for town.  The front tires on the old pickup were getting worn and a fender was a bit worrisome, so he kept an eye on them as he drove on first the dirt road, then down the streets of the little town.

          It was getting close to spring so people there were watching the season...hoping the weather would turn warm enough soon that they wouldn't have to put precious pennies into firewood they might not need much longer.

          At the end of the day Granddaddy hadn't sold any of his hopeful cargo and he was forced to turn back onto the road home, still with the load of wood and nothing on Grandmother's list provided for.
          Her name was Ella Mae, a tiny little thing with the energy of a dozen people; his name was Ben, a tall lanky quiet man with work-worn hands and a care-lined face.  He called her Eller...always...that's what I remember.  Have no idea why.

          On the way home he rolled the pickup window down so he could keep an eye on the tire and fender.  No matter that it was getting colder...he couldn't afford to be stuck with a flat and a full load of wood.  What kept going through his mind though was "What am I going to tell Eller?"  She truly needed those things to feed the family; it was his job to provide them.  And he couldn't make it happen.

           In the early darkness he almost missed the quick twinkle...the bit of shine in the dust of the dirt road.  The old truck complained from the load as he shifted and backed up...he had almost decided not to look. When he saw the same thing again, he parked and got out.  With the headlights giving the only light, he brushed the loose dirt back with his hands and saw a leather coin purse.

          The leather was worn through from other tires that had passed over it earlier, worn through till a few coins inside were showing...that quick gleam had caught Granddaddy's eye.  He looked around...there were no houses anywhere near...he had seen no cars on his way back from was countryside, sparsely populated.  He counted the coins...there were enough to buy the things on Grandmother's list....

          Turning the old truck around, he drove back to town, got the supplies, and headed home...

          When my aunt told me this story, it certainly felt like a wonderful parable of God's providing in a beautiful way for my family. Her comment was that, if he thought he could have found the owner, my Granddaddy was the type of man who would have driven for miles to return the purse.  I know that too. 

          Then one day, I had another thought...that my Granddaddy's find was someone else's loss and I felt pretty sad about that part of the story.  Only for a little while though because...

          I do believe that there were angels on that road that night, angels around watching over that tiny purse, knowing that my Granddaddy was headed home.  I also feel that God took care of whoever lost the little purse too, that that little miracle didn't come at a cost for someone else. In the depths of the Depression, perhaps it was tiny miracles like that which gave people the strength they needed to keep going. God works in mysterious ways, remarkable ways, and just in time. 

          I wonder sometimes if my work-hardened Granddaddy (back then he plowed his farm with a hand plow and two mules, the reins wrapped around his neck) brushed away a tear when he held those coins in his rough hand. It was such a profound gift.  I know I brushed away tears when I heard the story... 

          I've wondered too, that on that dark evening, if Granddaddy had looked over his shoulder, he would have seen those angels smiling....

© Jaymie Mathena

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gherkin Follies

             I always loved staying with my grandparents, my mother’s family.  To me the farm was a place of new experiences…let’s face it…I was mostly too young to know that a farm required hard work from those who lived there.  I was also…let’s face it…very spoiled!

            I was the only grandchild for six years so I was doted on, allowed to do pretty much as I pleased, and had evidently learned to use blonde Shirley Temple curls and blue eyes to their best advantage. 

Since my mother was the oldest of twelve, I had the unique advantage of being just a shade younger than my youngest aunt and uncle.   Most of the time grandmother (who never seemed to stop doing a thousand things a day) would simply tell the two of them to keep an eye on me.

With those two as my teachers I learned magnificent new skills…from how best to remove the eggs from a crotchety hen, to turn found objects into magnificent playhouses, to wander far and wide through the fields investigating everything, and…probably most important of all…how to “bust” a watermelon open on a stump.   The rewards of doing this correctly enabled the participants to feast on the sun-warmed goodness of ripe red innards, so ripe that the juice ran merrily in rivulets down our fronts.  After eating our fill we headed for the nearest stream; otherwise we would have returned home a sticky mess and everyone would know where we’d been.  (I don’t think that escaped too many eyes anyway!)

Granddaddy farmed those acres with a hand plow and two mules, the reins wrapped around his neck.  That was just the way they did it back then.  The crops that grew best in that sandy Red River bottom soil were primarily peanuts, cucumbers, and watermelons.  For a city girl like me, all of them were fascinating…most fascinating were the peanuts.

You approached the mature plant with a spading fork and carefully pulled it loose from the soil.  It was like finding hidden treasure!  If you had picked the right plant, you unearthed a wealth of peanuts, just waiting to surprise you!  No wonder I saw it as fun!

When there was work to be done, however, all hands (all five aunts and uncles) were required in the fields.  There was hoeing of weeds to be done, there was picking to be done (so the plants would keep producing), and eventually the final harvesting of the crops…all required well-practiced hands.  This usually left me out……

One morning Granddaddy announced that the day’s job would be picking cucumbers so he could take them to market.  Wonder of wonders, he asked me if I would like to help!   ME!!!!  I was as proud as if I had been asked to save the nation (or something equally heroic).  My aunts and uncles must have smiled inwardly and raised their eyebrows…they already knew that Granddaddy meant the whole morning at least!

Off we went to the field and I was given my very own tow sack to fill.  I even had my own row!  By the time I was halfway down the row it was apparent to everyone that I was missing a lot, if not most, of the cucumbers ready to travel.  After all, those leaves were scratchy…no one said that I had to pull them aside and hunt for the critters! 

In order to help me save face (or possibly to keep the peace), Granddaddy changed my job description…to gherkin hunter!  Oh, what an accolade!  He suggested that there was definitely a market for gherkins, and since I was pintsized, perhaps that would be my natural bent…to find pintsized cucumbers!  I liked that better (mainly because the others would call me over when they found the tinier ones) and my job was much easier from that point on.  The worst part was that they kept finding them all morning!  I thought it would never be time to go back to the house for lunch!

I carried my finds back to show Grandmother, who dutifully admired my prowess (I told you I was spoiled).  The best however was yet to come.  After lunch Granddaddy asked if I would like to go with him to sell the morning’s work.  Would I!!!!!

He fired up the old truck, the tow sacks were loaded in the back and off we went to Little Arthur, Texas, just across the Red River.  There was an open air shed by the railroad tracks where the local farmers brought their wares and sold them to a broker of some sort. 

When we arrived I was handed my precious cargo and Granddaddy unloaded the more impressive pickings from the rest of the crew.  The sacks were placed on a big scale, weighed, and the price for the day was figured and counted out.

When it was my turn to put my “wares” on the scales, I tried to act as if I did this all the time.  I couldn’t help but watch to see if the man would be impressed with my haul.  He raised his eyebrows and commented on what a good job it was…I’m sure the two of them were in cahoots over the whole thing but I was thrilled!  Even better was when he counted out three coins into my little hand, telling me that gherkins fetched a fancier price!

I rode home in the old truck clutching the coins in my hand, thrilled to pieces with my day’s work.  I showed them to Grandmother who dutifully admired my new skills…I’m sure my work buddies had escaped to the outdoors to keep their amusement from getting them into trouble!

            I was probably all of four or five years old at the time…those summer memories I’m guessing were from the time my parents were moving our family to Tulsa.  It’s close enough.  I’m sure I was an adult before I analyzed that foray into the business world very closely. 

            I KNOW I didn’t pick enough tiny cucumbers that day to have amounted to the proverbial “hill of beans”; I’m pretty sure that my granddaddy “salted” my sack with enough cucumbers to make it worth weighing them.  I’m also pretty sure that both men “winked” their way through the transaction…and probably provided a lot of grins for the other farmers who were there at the same time.  I’m pretty sure the blonde curls helped….

            I know how hard they worked on that farm; their income depended on the crops they raised.  Everyone worked; it was their food first, but the sale of the surplus was the income that bought everything else they needed.  Whatever he put in my tow sack that day was a little less for them.

            My husband and I drove through Arthur City (as it’s called now) last year.  I looked and looked along the railroad tracks for that shed.  I hoped it would still be there even though common sense told me the wooden platform and tin roof were a thing of the past.  It still exists quite safely in my memories though...the day my granddaddy and I took the cucumbers to market. 

 I finally realized too that that tow sack was worth a lot more than those three coins; it was filled to the top with a grandfather’s love…and that…was priceless!

                                                                                    Jaymie Mathena      © 2008

How Fast Time Flies!

          It's been quite a while since I've been able to got in the way with health problems for my husband, a busier job for me, and the passing of a very dear aunt.  A blessing that came from my aunt's passing (if you can call  a sad happening that), was a unique opportunity to "meet" a number of my family members "on line".

          I found out late last year that my mother's family has a closed group on Facebook; when I joined, it was a delightful family reunion of sorts...I have had a fantastic time getting acquainted with so-o many cousins I honestly didn't know I had!!

          Life has a bad habit of getting in the way sometimes and we get so wrapped up in our own "happenings" that other things get put aside, not on purpose, but just because of the concentration we must give our immediate family's situation.

          In my case I'm having a second chance...I've found that my extended family is caring, delightful, funny, and just absolutely wonderful folks.  My mother was the oldest of 12 children; I am the oldest you can imagine what a large group of cousins (and their families) I'm in touch with now.

          I only have one aunt and one uncle left.  I've been given a chance to catch up, thanks to a innovative cousin, through Facebook, and find out what I've been missing. 
Am I going to make up for lost time?  You bet!!