Jason Hawkins: Reliving treasured memories ties old, young alike
He is 11, she is 87.
On the way to her house, the boy’s father talked with his son about you-never-know and be-thankful and enjoy-this-time-together.
The boy and his father are not strangers to this place.
They come here for the usual holidays and the in-betweens and when it is warm they fish nearby and when it is cold they hunt nearby and they are always here when another candle is blown out.
It is a Saturday night and she called twice that week, Tuesday and Thursday, to see what he might like to eat. He tried to encourage his grandmother not to cook. Her hearing is selective, she told him, and so it would be that she would fill his stomach with country cooking, as it is called.
She is slow to the door and she walks with a lean and her hands are firm and rough and cold against his neck. She smiles and she nods and she clears her throat and complains about her elbow and curses the arthritis in her hand and within the first few minutes of them being inside, she recites the daily obituary, linking those she knows, those to whom they are related and with a smirk she says, “I outlived five more today.”
She locks the door tight behind him and turns off the outside light when his father’s car leaves the drive.
She hugs her great-grandson’s neck again, and asks for help with the lid to the molasses.
“I’ve fried some chicken, creamed some potatoes, made some biscuits, slow-cooked pinto beans, and on the table is an album, for you to see,” she says.
He sits at the table and he opens the album and he is soon lost in remnants of the past.
She hums a hymn while she moves and she sees that he is absorbing each picture, slowly.
Inside these white pages where a film of plastic separates yellowing images from the touch of curious fingers, generations of time spent outdoors tells a story.
He sees pictures of men holding fishing poles, men and women cleaning fish, boys with stringers of fish, dogs and their owners kneeling with game before them, and boats, horses, and scenes on the water and scenes afield and dozens of pictures of fish and coolers of fish and fish from the sea and fish being fried and fish from the pond in the pasture nearby.
And when she sets the plate of warm food on the table, he looks up says, “Grandma, what can you tell me about these?”
Sometimes, it takes a child to humble us and to remind us and to validate our roles as parents and friends and teachers and mentors and this was one of those moments for her with all of the candles she has seen in her life to tell him about the outdoors, from her indoor view and in these pictures.
“You come from a long line of anglers and hunters and people that know an oak tree from a sycamore tree and they all carried a knife in their right front pocket,” she said. “Your great-great-grandfather and his brothers chased quail all over this state and they fished every river in three counties. It is a wonder their wives were such good cooks, for it was the only reason they came home,” she said with a chuckle.
“Your father’s uncles fished and caught fish as if they had them in a barrel. Your grandfather taught your father how to do everything from filet fish to make a stew to how to navigate a boat by the full moon when they fished the river’s down east for the spring runs,” she says as she touches his hand.
Turning the page, her rustic fingers point to an image of a boy standing on brick steps and he is holding a fish by its lower lip and he is shirtless and shoeless and appears to be only in his undershorts, nothing more.
“It frosted that morning. It was early April and he went to the pond and pulled that bass from the water and he was so excited he forgot about the wet spot by the gate and he slipped in mud and manure and water and we made him strip right there on the porch and pose with his fish,” she said.
From fried chicken to apple pie and then on the sofa in the sitting room they sat and talked and she walked her rustic fingers across relic photos of decades ago and her great-grandson absorbed and learned and laughed and together, they both were youthful. I
It was late into the night that she tucked him in and placed the album by the nightstand in his room.
She tucked the blankets tight and stroked his forehead and softly said as great-grandmothers will, “I don’t recall any of the fish or game in those pictures, but I do remember the boys and men and people and how the stood and how the smiled and the happiness they showed. This album is for you. When you leave tomorrow, take it with you and don’t forget it is not what you bring home, instead it is what stays with you.”
Later the next morning he hugs her when his father comes and he reaches for her hand and he says, “Grandma, I am coming back soon. I also think they came home for more than just good cooking.”
Enjoy your time outdoors.
Contact Jason Hawkins by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.