I am, I am a journeyman.
I’ve happily lain my head many places. And hope to rest myself at many more.
I even claim the homes of those gone before. Stories passed on down and on down become real, like my own memories. That’s alright by me. Those places remain alive and well as long as we don’t forget.
What’s the point, if not the journey?
And then the landing.
And then the telling.
Daddy’s home was whatever ramshackle homestead HIS own daddy could negotiate for. Rent was a struggle, as Daddy’s daddy had many skills but never a real job. Rent payment was nearly always at risk, and always in arrears. More than once, Daddy and his daddy and mama and all the kids and cousins and hangers-on (and there were always hangers-on) would pack up and move on in the middle of the night. It was a troubled life. Daddy learned early wherever he found himself come night, that was home. Mama’d hang the same curtains, put out the same faded stiff black and white photos, make the same biscuits from the same cast iron skillet. So whether it was tumbledown shack, an abandoned hen-house, or the back of someone’s barn, it was home.
Daddy vowed he’d never live that way again.
Mama’s family, they were big business, at least in their neck of the woods. Why, they owned nearly one hundred fifty acres of the finest, blackest, most fertile farmland east of Kansas City, Missouri side. They raised livestock, even named a few, although Mama says she learned early on not to become too friendly, seeing as saying goodbye when they were hauled off to market was a tearful affair. Every year, a box of live baby chicks arrived via the U.S. Postal service. They had dogs, hunting dogs and lap dogs, and cats lived in the barn. Mama climbed trees and had Kool Aid stands to tempt the odd farmer passing along the dirt road out front. They got a new tractor every two or three years, but always longed for one with automatic transmission or a cab to keep out the rain. Settling for a sunfaded umbrella wasn’t, however, half bad. They had a big white barn with cartoon characters on horses painted on the rough-hewn insides by where the cows, always named Bessie, were milked. They had a smoke house and four chicken coops and a machine shed and circular grain bins of all heights. She played in the hot and dusty barn loft. She skated on frozen crystal ponds in winter, and swam in the same come the summer thaw. She and her sister walked the half mile to a one-room schoolhouse for their first eight years of schooling, and visiting the empty sagging building years later, she salvaged the blackboard where she had carved her name into the black slate.
Mama was a rapscallion.
Memories of my first home begin with a fire. A flu fire. It was dark, must have been nighttime. I remember the smell and some orange flames poking out from the black pipe snaking up the wall from the round black stove. Mama reminds me I was two years old when the place caught, so the visions burned across my mind (pardon the pun….came way too easy!) must be powerful ones. Our little community was out in the country, some distance from town. I recall being pulled quick from the bath by my mama, then wrapped tight like a sausage in a white towel with two big brown stripes. I remember the jogging, jostling run over my mama’s shoulder to the neighbors’, then being dried off on a chenille bedspread sprinkled with green and yellow fabric flowers by old Mrs Price. I remember peering through her side window when the firemen came and pumped the back of an old fire engine, then sprayed the blackening rooftop. I remember my daddy had a hose, too, and mama was running in and out of the back door, boxes and clothes, and funny, a cowboy hat sideways on her head.
Last I remember was Mama tucking me back in my own bed with the high wooded slatted sides. I still had the white towel with the big brown stripes around me.
Where that old towel got to, I don’t know, but I’d give my eye teeth to find it.
(Here’s where I’d gleefully add some comment about keeping “the home fires burning,” if only I’d the courage…)
And the voyage continues! Some like being planted, some revel in the trek.
Either way, what’s the point, if not the journey?
And then the landing.
And then the telling.