(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.)
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.
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.
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.
A few days ago, I saw the first sign that it won’t be long until spring in my neck of the woods. Near my patio, a tiny bed of tulips and daffodils are poking up through the cold, damp soil.
My mama always loved spring. She was an avid gardener of both vegetables and ornamental plants. In the growing season, if you went to visit in the daylight hours, most likely, you’d find her outside rather than in. As an adult, I don’t know how many times I dropped by, calling out for her as I let myself in the front door without knocking, only to be greeted with silence. I’d make my way to the kitchen, look out the window, and there she’d be, most of the time, in the garden, but sometimes in the yard tending her flowers.
In late winter, she’d pour over seed catalogs she received through the mail. I’m not sure if she ordered anything—I think not—but she loved to window shop. She purchased most of her seeds and plants at the local Farmer’s Co-op Feed Store in early spring, and as soon as the soil was warm enough, planted her onion sets, potato cuttings, leaf lettuce, radishes, turnips, and other hardy plants and seeds. Soon it was on to cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, carrots, beans, peas, and last but not least: okra. (Please forgive me, veggies, if I left some of you out.)
I know our garden was important in feeding our large family, especially in the early years; but Mama continued raising a big garden long after all of us were grown and gone, long after there was a monetary reason to do so. As the years went by, Daddy helped her more and more. And my brother and sister-in-law, who lived nearby, took over the most backbreaking work, enabling her to continue doing what she loved.
Mama surrounded our old house with all manner of flowering plants and shrubs. She loved anything that grew—she had to. What other reason than love would she have for spending hours tending vegetables, then still carve out time to work her flowers? And all this while holding down a job in town for a lot of those years.
During the last few months of my mama’s life, her mind was slipping away. She died in mid-January when a lot of the days were cold, dreary, and sometimes rainy, as it is here today. Quite a few times, when she was cognizant of the weather outside, especially when it was raining, she’d remark that she wished it would stop so she could get out in the garden. It broke my heart because I knew she would never walk those rows again. I’d tell her it was winter, and the garden was resting, and she should too; that come spring, she’d be out there again.
In the years since she has been gone, when spring comes and everything is green and growing, I take it all in and think how Mama would love it. Sometimes, I cry. Sometimes, I smile. And sometimes, I do both.
I’ve often told friends that if civilization were to collapse, I would survive. Thanks go to my parents for that. I’m sure teaching their children to be self-sufficient wasn’t what was on their minds when we were put to work gardening, canning fruits and vegetables, feeding livestock, milking cows, gathering eggs, etcetera, etcetera; the reason we were put to work was so there would be plenty to feed a bunch of growing kids. And truth be told, us kids didn’t labor long or hard. My parents did the lion’s share, especially Mama since she was left to run the farm/ranch a good part of the year while Daddy worked half the country away.
I learned how and when to plant seeds, how to take care of the plants, and how to harvest and preserve fruits and vegetables. And I learned how to cook meals from scratch—not as tasty as Mama’s, but edible.
And I wasn’t a stranger to the ranch side of our life, the taking care of cows and chickens. My parents stopped raising pigs when I was small, so I don’t remember them, though there are pictures of me and my sister with our pet pig, Red. I was told he tasted good. Yes, Red was slaughtered to feed the family.
I probably sound callous to a lot of you, but I grew up in a time and place when most people were still close to their food sources. Pigs, cattle, and chickens were harvested the same as corn, potatoes, and beans. It was just a part of life. I admit, though, that I have never killed an animal, but I know if push comes to shove, I could.
I have processed many and varied carcasses. When I was small, I helped my daddy skin squirrels and rabbits, and I remember him telling me what a good helper I was. His praise made the fried rabbit and squirrel and dumplings my mama made taste even better, knowing I had played an important part in bringing food to the table.
Then there was the time I assisted Mama with freezing some chickens, an experience that didn’t produce any good memories. Chickens are a horse of a different color, so to speak, when it comes to readying them for consumption. One has to pluck out the feathers, and before one can pluck the feathers, the chicken has to be dipped in hot water to loosen those feathers. I’m here to tell you, that is not a good smell. Add that smell to the plucking, gutting, and cutting into pieces of about twenty chickens, and even a strong stomach can turn. I didn’t eat chicken for a year or two after that.
My first husband had a hand in furthering my education. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. I learned a lot from him in regards to fishing—what made good bait and how to find it, how to recognize the best places to fish, and how to scale and cut up the catch. I learned how to skin and process deer from him. But I never hunted.
I had no problem dealing with dead animals; it’s the live ones I couldn’t deal with, not as food. But as I have learned other things, I could learn to kill. Most people could. Hunger, yours or your loved ones’, is a powerful incentive. Most of us have never known the sort of hunger that would cause us to kill an animal, with our bare hands if need be. And I pray we never do.
But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, to have a little basic knowledge of farming and animal husbandry. Or if nothing else, own a paper book(s) on the subject. And maybe one on survival. Just in case. I don’t look for civilization to collapse, for all our modern conveniences to stop working—ever heard of an EMP attack?—but it’s somewhat comforting to know I could survive without them. What would bring me much more comfort, though, would be to know that my grandchildren could. Sadly, I can’t say that. As are most people their age, they are a product of the 21st century, willingly tethered to the Internet and their cellphones.
We have become a nation wealthy in technical knowledge, but dirt poor in everyday knowledge. Maybe along with the 3 Rs, we should be teaching our children how to plant a garden, raise livestock…and maybe skin a squirrel.
Avery saw the small door on the back wall of the chicken house. It hadn’t been there yesterday evening when she’d gathered eggs. Or at least she hadn’t noticed it then. It was so dark underneath the roosting bars, she might have overlooked it. But she didn’t think so.
Had her daddy made the opening between the coop and adjoining shed where the feed corn was kept when she was at school?
“When did you put the door in the chicken house, Daddy?” she asked him at supper that night.
“What door?” he said around a mouthful of cornbread.
“The one in back under the roosting bars.”
He washed down the cornbread with a big drink of buttermilk, and turned his full attention on Avery. She squirmed under the gaze of his narrowed blue eyes. They always seemed to see right through her and not like what they saw: a girl, not the son he had wanted. His only child, and there’d be no more since her birth had messed up Mama’s insides so bad she couldn’t have any more kids.
When I was growing up, summer was synonymous with blackberry season. I monitored the thorny vines from the first appearance of the delicate white blossoms, through the ripening stage—impatiently eating more than a few of the hard, red, sour berries—to when they were gloriously plump and black and juicy. A little taste of heaven.
Barefoot and wearing shorts, my brother, sister, and I roamed the fence rows and overgrown fields in our search for the most succulent berries, which in many cases were just out of reach. When that happened, we had to go in. There was no passing by those perfect specimens just because of a few thorns.
We learned how to avoid getting scratched and poked, how to gingerly grasp each spiny vine between thumb and forefinger, ease it to the side and slide forward through the tangled mess, over and over, until we had worked our way to the prize. Then we had to work our way back out. Despite our best efforts, many times we didn’t emerge completely unscathed; instead, occasionally we sported battle wounds of bloody scratches on arms and legs. But those luscious berries were worth it. And the inevitable chigger bites were worth it as well.
Mama picked the berries too, but not for herself as did her greedy kids. She canned them in quart jars, and they joined our substantial larder to be made into blackberry cobblers in the winter months. And as long as the vines produced, we had cobblers during the summer too. When us kids could control ourselves, not eat everything we picked, all we had to do was take a pail of berries to Mama, and she’d make a cobbler.
Lord knows how many years it’s been since I’ve tasted blackberries as sweet and juicy as those wild ones of my childhood. My son cultivates the thornless variety, but just like any other plant that scientists have fiddled with, they aren’t on quite the same par as the original. Yes, they’re good, but in my opinion, a bit of flavor has been sacrificed along with the thorns. And they aren’t as juicy; when making a cobbler, one has to squish them a bit before baking to get an adequate amount of juice.
Or perhaps does the blame for the loss of flavor rest with my aging taste buds?
Or the viewing of my childhood through rose colored glasses, where everything appears better and grander?
The only way to know for sure would be to travel back in time and conduct a taste test, pop a few blackberries in my mouth and see if they are as special as I remember. Only thing with that is I might never come back, and mess up the whole space-time continuum. I don’t think the government would let me do that.
buzzing June bug
of iridescent green
“come fly with me”
over rolling hills
and deep valleys
over canting barns
and garden patches
over grazing cattle
and pecking chickens
to a time and place
that slumbers gently
in my mind
endless summer days
and long dusty roads
cool shaded woods
and gurgling rocky streams
and blackberry thickets
an old weathered house
perched on the hill
of my distant childhood
so fondly remembered
of kindly Time