I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately; trying to figure out how to raise children in challenging times. The way I remember it, growing up was so much simpler than it is today. And with every generation that ticks by, we lose even more of an appreciation for the smaller, quieter things in life. To me, innocence is becoming as fleeting and as fine as the white blur of the blown dandelion weed.
I have, and take with me always, the sweetest recollections of my youth. But if I am honest, I’ve let the bad memories fall to the wayside and held on tight to the good for dear life. I was thinking about the simple pleasures of small-town living the other day.
See, most of my early memories involve spending summers at my grandparents’ house in Colbert 15 miles short of Athens. Many are postcard picture-perfect: seeking shade under the leaves of a giant Magnolia tree, thick as molasses and smelling just as sweet; trapping fireflies in Mason jars at dusk; picking collards and corn straight out from the dirt of Papa’s garden.
There are some memories that are quite opposite. They’re what bad dreams are made of: my brother catching my thigh instead of a bass with a triple hook near the neighbors pond; my Mama coming at me with the angry, hot tip of a match in one hand and a pair of rusty old tweezers in the other as she extracts a tick the size of a ripe blackberry from my sunburned skin.
Mainly, I remember the unyielding heat that seemed to seep directly up from the stubborn red Georgia clay, wrap itself around me and then stick like Cling wrap all day without a hint of relief.
The only time I would find any respite was when my Mama would send me down to the basement.
This is a huge testament to how badly I wanted to escape the heat because I was deathly scared of that dark, musty hole that held up the house. It was bottomline-Hitchcock-scary down there. Mildewed, damp mattresses crept out from dark corners, and Vidalia onions swung at your head from pantyhose like gauntlets on your way to the avocado green deep freezer shoved in the way, way back.
I guess living through the Great Depression is enough to convince someone never to throw anything away. And this includes various items like heads of cabbage, bags of sheered corn, Cool-Whip containers filled with whatnots. But what I was looking for was usually located to the right and stacked up like a silver gem of a holy offering. There they were in all of their crystallized, frozen, frosty glory. Stacks upon stacks of old aluminum ice trays filled with frozen water.
I’m not sure my grandparents ever got a freezer with an ice-maker before they passed. I’d like to think it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d still take those dreaded, cautious steps down to the basement and bring up a few trays on a hazy, humid, hot day.
Now that we’re a little bit older, all of our memories, even exploring creepy family cemeteries and scary dark basements, are just as sacred as the good ones. They’ve now bled, blended and run together to form more of a feeling – an essence – that cannot be defined.
I want that for my girls.
I want a lot of things for them, actually.
I want to teach them to be kind and real.
Not hard and always right.
I want them to ask questions, not assume answers.
I want them to listen, really listen, to others and always have an open mind.
I want a lot of things for them that are increasingly more difficult in a world where bigger is better, faster is key and empathy, a true understanding of our place in the human world, takes a back seat.
It seems lately, as I try and find that delicate balance between sheltering and teaching, I have been thinking a lot about Eudora Welty. She left for NYC as a young woman – pencil in one hand, camera in the other – but didn’t stay for very long.
She came back home to Jackson when her father died and did not leave until she drew her very last breath.
I think that is how most of us think of her. A Pulitzer-winning Southern author who loved, wrote and immortalized the small town South. But what she struggled with and wrote about is still
relevant today, especially as we try and guide our children through a world that isn’t similar to the one we were nurtured in.
Can a person be daring and fulfilled living a sheltered and simple life?
She answered this best in her book, On Writing:
“I am a writer who came from a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life. For all serious daring starts from within.”
I love that. Daring comes from within.
See, Eudora Welty spent a lot of time writing about place. One quote that resonates with me is, “People give pain, are callous and insensitive, empty and cruel but place heals the hurt and soothes the outrage and fills the terrible vacuum that these human beings make.”
Seek a place, not people, not things, I will tell them when they are hurt or questioning or feeling alone in a world that is moving by them at a faster pace. Listen, observe and find peace in that place you will carve out for yourself when it’s time.
We do live in one of the most wondrous places of all.
And it’s called, quite simply, home.
Above: Eudora Welty at home in Jackson, Mississippi
Laura Packard recently moved to Beaufort from Saint Simons Island, GA where she still pens a humor column for Coastal Illustrated/Brunswick News. She has brought along her 2 daughters, 3 dogs, 4 cats and one husband. They sometimes let her write. You can learn more about Laura and her writing at www.lauraleighpackard.com. And don’t forget, if you can’t make fun of yourself, someone else will surely do it for you. For Laura, someone else is usually her kids… and her dog, Atlas who she swears is John Candy reincarnate, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.