The Big Bang and Moving On
We bade Terry Wilson a fond goodbye after making plans for him to visit us in Springfield later in the summer.
. . . .With July 4 approaching, mom and dad arrived to spend some time before the four of us headed south for Georgia. I was having fun with firecrackers in a meadow-like area behind the houses on Bob and Dot’s street. I had discovered how, by wrapping a coke bottle in aluminum foil dropping a firecracker with a burning fuse into the open bottle, and then running to a safe distance away, the racket made by the detonation was impressive. Since the bottle was wrapped in aluminum, it didn’t scatter broken glass in the blast like shrapnel from a bomb. Brother Bill didn’t appreciate my noise making, and we got into a wrestling match near a recently detonated foiled bottle as he tried to convince me to stop setting them off. As I tried to pin him to the ground, he lunged up, and I fell back. When I lunged forward again, my left hand came down on a big shard of dirty Coke bottle. It cut the base of the palm of my hand at the wrist pretty severely and put an end to our “discussion.”
. . . . . . It was a mad dash back to the house to wash the wound and my registered-nurse-sister gave 100% of her attention to the task. After the cleansing, she wrapped an ice-packed towel around my hand, and the blood came through as though it was a Kleenex. A fast drive to the emergency ward at Wheeling H0spital ensued. The doctor was an older woman, probably in her 60s, cleaned it with serious disinfectant, then shot some local anesthetic into the area before starting to sew it up. I was pretty calm up to the fourth stitch. Trying to show some humor, I commented that she sure knew her way with a needle and asked, tongue in cheek, if she was planning a second career as a seamstress after she retired. The woman with the needle showed no evidence of a smile, but when I glanced at Dot, it was clear she was stifling a grin. That made the remark worthwhile. At this point, the needle went in with the fourth suture and I knew instantly, the local anesthetic had not reached that part of the wound. It took major effort for me to keep calm, but I knew it was the last one, and there was no outburst . . . . and no more effort at humerous banter.
. . . . . . From that point on, during the rest of the vacation trip, I was “the evil one” of the family because of my stupidity with firecrackers and Coke bottles. Even so, I was allowed to accompany the entire family to a threater in downtown Wheeling where we watched It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and we enjoyed every minute of it.
. . . . . . . Another day or two later, mom, dad, Bill and I piled into our silver-grey 1959 Buick Electra at the crack of dawn and headed south to visit Aunt Stelle and Uncle Turner, now retired from his medical practice in Leavenworth and living on a 40-acre piece of land, much of it devoted to vegetable gardening, in Elberton, rural north Georgia, the same “neighborhood” where he had grown up.
. . . . . . Almost all the drive was on two-lane Appalachian highway through countless small towns and villages. The year was 1961. The terrain was misty in early afternoon as though we had just missed a light shower somewhere in South Carolina. Bill was napping close to the centerline side of the car, and I sat curbside, idly watching the detritus of civilization (junk cars, houses falling down, abandoned farm buildings) we passed by at probably 45 miles per hour. As we approached a rural mailbox at the bottom of a driveway that disappeared into the overgrowth up the side of the hill, I noticed a girl about my age who had walked down from her home to retrieve the family mail. She was a regular girl, not wearing anything skimpy; just a plain dress, not a splendiferous face; just a nice-looking girl. Maybe 70 feet from us as we approached, she looked up, directly into my eyes, and locked onto them as mine did on hers as we passed by. Neither of us looked away. And so it continued until we were about half a block away. Then she turned to the mailbox and that’s the last I saw as we went around a bend. The memory of her face — not smiling or grinning, but not frowning either — is part of who I am today. I have since wondered, countless times, who she was and what happened to her. In a dream not long after, I asked dad to stop the car so I could walk back to her at the mailbox and introduce myself. In the dream, I calmly told dad to continue on with mom and Bill, that I’d make my way to Aunt Stelle’s house later. It was only a dream, but it was a gooooood dream.
. . . . . . . Stelle and Turner’s farm was just a few miles south of the Caroline border, an idyllic setting: on a a narrow two-lane deep-rural blacktop in hte middle of nowhere, probably 10 minutes from Elberton. a village not quite a town, with a granite museum. Their home was a five minute walk from Turner’s brothers Preach and Cran Anderson who farmed far more than 40 acres as they had since they were teenagers.
. . . . . . . Preach and Cran had a barn, a corral, pigs, horses and dust. Crushed rock had never touched the dirt drive that ran up to their house and elsewhere on their land. Bill and I were the perfect ages for “big city kids” to be introduced to be introduced to farm life, and they were storybook-perfect tutors, gentle and patient knights of red clay rural north Geo’gia. It didn’t take long to understand how Turner Anderson learned to laugh. It also didn’t take long to understand why he departed that part of the world to learn how to make a better life for himself.
. . . . . . . . . . Bill and I were introduced to pigs by being allowed to chase 15 piglets around the corral while grownups sat on the fence rails and shouted encouragement. We learned how to ride horses bareback with bridles and reins. Bill took to the large steeds like a duck to water, but though I learned how to control a horse while riding one, I felt on the verge of sliding off with nothing to hold onto but the reins. I did not learn how to enjoy it. Their trotting gait was especially exasperating: I was told that a gallop was smoother, but I didn’t have the nerve to find out. One afternoon my new farm-converted kindred came back to Stelle and Turner’s with a young goat on a rope to her great dismay. I had never smelled a scent like that goat wore like a Calvin Klein suit, and in the decades since. I have not inhale a scent that came close. Stelle and Turner laid down the LAW that goats were VERBOTEN closer than 300 feet from the house down wind and never upwind. She later said she had to burn his clothes, but I believe she was kidding. She was KIDDING (no pun intended) . . . . . I do believe. Bill became an almost-adopted son at Preach and Cran’s, but I found a desk in aunt and uncle’s house more welcoming than red dust and livestock.
. . . . . . . . At the desk, I designed flying model airplanes on large, yellow ledger pages that someone found somewhere. In the course of a week, I made detailed construction drawings using a ruler and a right angle I had made by folding a sheet of paper a few times. The activity turned me into a recluses of sorts during a lot of our visit. Three perfect designs came from the desk, and I kept them for years, intending to build at least one or two eventually, after we returned to Springfield, but I didn’t. Since my left hand was still significantly bandaged thanks to my mis-deeds in Wheeling, real physical activity was unthinkable, especially in north Georgia. It was almost two weeks there before Turner (who still practiced medicine when he chose, but without an office or hospital privileges) could remove the five sutures, though he did change the dressing a few times before.
. . . . . . . It was outside their wonderful home where we had the most memorable family reunion of my life, and I wish to blazes I had taken pictures. Mom’s brother Johnny was a Buick dealer in Jonesboro, Georgia just outside Atlanta, and he had married a woman I fell “in love with” (I was in 8th grade) on sight. Today I don’t even remember her name. She was blonde, had a southern accent — down there they ALL had southern accents! — as soft as mom’s but sweeter somehow, and for all I know, she had been a model. Their kids were my cousins — Brock and Scott if I remember right — nice guys, a little older than me. None of my war regard for Brock & Scott’s mother was apparent during the reunion picnic on long granite slabs of tables mounted on mortared brick pedistals, in aunt and uncle’s back yard.
. . . . . . . I hope the entire Jones family could know how much I loved them and how I wish I had known them better. Johnny Jones was a great fellow. The whole family were great people!
. . . . . . During our stay, we visited world’s largest granite mine, a big quarry with water God only knows how deep in the bottom. The afore-mentioned granite museum was part of a giant plant covered with corrugated galvanized steel, processed granite for shipping to suppliers all over the world. cutting, polishing and sometimes engraving it for cemetery head stone wholesalers . We purchased small souvenir pieces of phished granite with stickers on them that read “Souvenir of World’s Largest Granite Mine, Elberton, Georgia. I kept mine for many years after in dresser drawers and junk boxes. Today I work for a granite fabricator. Small world.
. . . . . . . .l Dad gave me my first driving lessons along Georgia blacktop during the visit. I was permitted to practice in the long driveway that lead from the blacktop into Stelle and Turner’s house. It was good fun and made me pretty confident about learning how to drive in Springfield when I became old enough.
. . . . . Near Elberton was a stream that wasn’t deep enough to navigate by boat, but was a natural theme park ride with its fast-moving water and gentle rapids that flowed over algae- (or some green plant) covered rocks. there were places where locals could park, picnic and swim in the calm parts of the stream and ride sitting down, pushed along by the stream, dow the rapids, descending probably 20 feet in a quarter-mile part of the stream and then walking back along the bank. In some places the water was deep enough we’d fully submerge but quickly surface as we were pushed along mid-stream. On the three occasions when Bill and I did this, my recently-stitched and bandaged hand was protected by a big reen dishwashing glove with a rubber band almost at the elbow sealing the arm and keeping the water out mostly. Even when my hand got wet, there were no complications.
. . . . . . . About half-way through our stay with aunt and uncle, Turner removed my stitches and pronounced me fit to continue living. He also prdicted that based on the size of my head, I would grow to 6 feet, 4 inches in height. I was pretty proud, considering I was years away from the age where, according to Turner, I would reach that lofty altitude. As things turned out, I reached about 6 feet one inch and felt fine at that height. I will always remember and respect Uncle Turner’s cool confidence and competence and rock-solid composure. He was so much like the actor who played Paladin in the TV show “Have Gun; Will Travel — Richard Boone, I believe – with the same eyes and pencil-thin mustache. The voice was sparkling gravel: arresting and music to the ears, as much as Stelle’s was whipped sweet cream to the ears.
. . . . . . . Aunt, uncle, mom and Bill loved to fish. Dad and I were part of the process because we enjoyed being outdoors. Even dad fished. I did not. A dam was being built by the US Army Corps of Engineers near the border of Georgia and South Carolina, an hour away from home base. We journeyed there once to fish in an area that was gradually filling with water held by the new dam. It would become a new, large lake. There was a crushed white rock road off a two-lane road that descended gently to a gravel-covered parking area, and we walked from there, probably 3/4 of a mile, though waist-high reeds into water deep enough for fishing. After an hour of this, I returned to the car and watched the dusk arrive. It was a beautiful part of the country, and the sky was incredible.
. . . . . . When my family departed Elberton for home by way of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, I didn’t know, but it was the last time I’d see Uncle Turner. I had not had a particularly wonderful time during that visit, but I look back on it as the vacation trip I would most like to do again as an adult with the same wonderful people.
Coming next — Ninth Grade
Live long . . . . . . and proper.
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