Sadly, I don't have many fond childhood memories, after a certain period of my life, but the ones that I do have I have always treasured and protected. Most of them took place during the six years that I lived with my grandmother and the respective summers thereafter.
My family originally resided in South Carolina. It was where I was born as well. I left South Carolina a few weeks before my sixth birthday and would go on to grow up in Chicago Illinois. I remember most of the happiness and safety that I felt disappearing shortly following this move.But that's another story....
In South Carolina there were cousins and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and great-grandmothers providing direction, love, and needed discipline. There were gardens and red clay dirt, and memories that were formed in the kitchen and many meals that came out of those kitchens. Neighbors still looked out for you and were considered "Extended families". You knew that even if your own grandmother didn't see you doing something she would know by the time that you got home because the "Surrogate grandmothers" made sure she got the information. It was double for me because my grandfather's sisters lived right up the lane from us, so there was no hiding for me.
There wasn't a lot of money in the beginning and I remember times when my grandmother would drink coffee so that I could have whatever there was for breakfast. I remember having a bottle fashioned out of a coca-cola bottle and a nipple, filled with coffee. I remember taking baths in the tin tubs now used for feed. There were kerosene lamps and for a while an outhouse. Those were lean times, but I still never, ever, remember feeling like I did without. I only remember being happy.
I remember my great-aunt having my cousins and I pick beans and okra and tomatoes and greens from her garden to have for dinner. I remember the chickens that ran around the yard, the big black cauldron that was used to boil water for washing clothes. I remember feeling sad when great-grandma caught a chicken and either rang his neck or chopped his neck off with her small hatchet. I remeber a pot of boiling water,and feathers all over the kitchen. I forgot my sadness when said chicken filled my stomach at dinnertime.
The sheer quality of the fresh, homemade food was a delight in and of itself. To this day I can still remember the aromas, the tastes, and the absolute love that went into the preparation of those meals.
My grandmother and her mother were maids by trade. Over time, other family members became Educators, Principals, there was a Lawyer, some worked for factories, Coca-Cola, and other trades. Most of those relatives migrated North. My grandfather was one of the first Entrepreneurs in that little town that I grew up in. Eventually, he owned a laundromat, construction company,and was part owner of a funeral home. Unfortunately, he and my grandmother did not make it as a couple and she did not share in his eventual good fortune. Still, he always made sure that if we needed anything, we received it.
As I got older, I never understood why my grandmother and great-grandmother never got upset because they had to work as maids and clean and cook for others. As I matured, I understood that they did what was required of them to take care of us. Pride had its place, but family, family was priority!!! Still, I cannot remember one time when I heard either of them complain. They were a STRONG bunch of women in those days and I always admired that.
My great-grandfather had passed on before my birth, and my great-aunt moved back to South Carolina to live and helped my great-grandmother pay for the two tract houses and the parcel of land that they sat on. This aunt was a FIERCE saver and planner. She always extoled to us the need to save and prepare ahead. She and my great-grandmother took the back house and the front house was given to my grandmother and their brother, who was paralyzed. My aunt, a cousin and myself, were the other occupants. Everyone worked together to make sure that we had a decent life. We would converge to the back house for meals and afterwards, my great-grandmother would sit in her rocking chair and smoke her pipe. My grandmother was a quilter, and my great-aunt would regale us with stories of her life in the "Big City". God, how safe I felt in those days!!! This instilled in me an INTENSE love for family and a misguided expectation that EVERYONE else would have this same love for family as well. I would learn this wasn't so.
I remember Monday morning clothes washing which has ingrained in me a love of hanging my clothes outside to dry. I remember the time that my grandmother and her mother would put into cooking which has developed in me my own love of cooking. I remember being in the kitchen with them and taking in the sights and the smells and watching how they did what they did. Just thinking about it makes me well up. It is that part of my life that shapes the "authentic" person that I am. I know that I cannot duplicate the past, nor do I want to. But I do want to take those memories and use them as the diagram for my life now. They are memories that I cherish and have always loved.
I want to take the values and the wealth of information from those times and imbed them as a part of my life today. I won't do it the same way they did, because times have changed, and we have to move on, progress. Still, those things will be my foundation and will be a huge factor in the choices that I make in my present life.
It's good to be Nostalgic from time to time, but we still have to live in the present. I know that. We have to be realistic, we have to remember ALL that was involved, not just the good things. I know that too. But deep, deep, within me lies the base of my love for the unadorned, the natural, the simple things of life. This is who I am.
For me, those things aren't just a bit of nostalgia, they are home. Till next time...