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When I was a kid, summers and family meant one thing–swimming.  Aunts and uncles and cousins left town and drove the forty miles to my grandmother’s, the last leg, five miles of gravel and dust road.  When everyone was there, we’d shoehorn into two or three cars and drive back down the five miles of gravel to the cleanest, coldest creek in Tennessee.  We would splash with the minnows until we began to turn blue around the edges, then crawl out onto the limestone shelf bank and bake in the sun until we were ready to start over again.
When we were exhausted, cranky, and starving, we’d pile back into the cars and head back up the hill.  And on those days when God was smiling on us, when we got back to my grandmother’s, there would be banana pudding.  An enormous bowl of warm, wonderful banana pudding made from scratch and vanilla wafers.


I am by nature acquisitive, an indiscriminate lover of things.  Imagine an avio-reptilian totem:  a dragon, a magpie, and topping it all, Scrooge MacDuck in his coin-filled bathtub.  It isn’t the money itself–it’s the having that counts.  If the Duck put his money away in honest, hard-working FICA approved accounts, he would sit around all day, playing with his myriad passbooks.  Or jewelled bank card holders.  It’s all about the loot.  The stuff.  The junk.  The trash.

Guess there was a false alarm back there somewhere. Or a miscarriage never mentioned later. I have a definite memory of my mother asking me if I would like to have a little brother or sister. And my excitement. That, I remember clearly. Of course, what I really wanted was an older brother, but even at four or five there are some things that you cannot help but understand. That, no matter how much I wished it, I could not be an Indian when I grew up. That there was not really a fairy on the toilet paper roll (often). Still, if Mama asked me if I wanted something…

I kept waiting. Nothing happened. For years. Got my brother eventually, to such rejoicing you would not believe.

Yea Glenn!


Sunday, September 04, 2005
Labor Day Weekend–Dickson, Tennessee

There are some times more than others when I miss family. Labor Day weekend is one. Funny that it’s not the Forth. They were both big Yates family get-together days, probably still are, just I haven’t been to anything since Daddy died. I got asked to Uncle Tom and Aunt Dot’s anniversary a few years back but I was in one of my intend-well, do nothing modes and not only didn’t do the gift thing I had planned, I didn’t even RSVP when I realized there was no way I could manage it all. I know why I am all family fractured. Don’t know why Glenn doesn’t keep up with anybody but Aunt Harriet.

Still, I miss them all now, or maybe miss the people we used to be.

We would run around acting crazy and generally making nuisances of ourselves. We’d chase each other around and over the loose hay and baled in the barn loft and sit there with daring, dangling our feet out the wide loft window. There were tadpoles in the pond to catch and kittens to scratch the daylights out of us when we tried. Green persimmons were for shoving onto the end of sticks and flinging as far as we could.

After we ate, in the long afternoon’s heat, there was Yellow Creek to go to. Clear as pale green glass, sparkling with minnows, and fed by springs said to be 52 degrees the year round. I couldn’t swear to the temperature, only know that the first dip in would take your breath and there wasn’t anyone, man, woman or child who didn’t have to climb, blue-lipped and shivering, out onto the rock to thaw in the hot sun. And repeat until exhaustion made us cross and we were hauled back up to the house to shuck out of wet bathing suits in the hot, tin-roofed attic with its blue-black dirt daubers. We would collapse up there. I could still feel the movement of the water around me in my sleep.

My Grandparents. I’m not sure of the date, but believe the building behind them was the “old house”. When my father and his brothers came back from WWII, they built them a new one. James and Mary. To me they were Mamaw and Papaw Yates, and if he looks less than cheerful to you, that’s the only way I ever saw him. By the time I was old enough to notice, he rarely spoke, ate little more than cornbread soaked in buttermilk, and had violent spells. Truth to tell, no one seemed heartbroken when he passed, least of all my grandmother, who had been putting up with it for too long.
My grandmother was very short and round with thin hair she never cut
yates-cake-sm.jpg because “hair is woman’s crown and glory”. She always said she was Dutch, but even excluding the wars with the Deutsch folk, there is a lot of variation among the people labeled Dutch. She worked. Hard. Liked to read when she could. There were always farm magazines around, and Reader’s Digests and the Digest joke books, but she stashed novels in her little bedroom off the back porch. Named her two daughters Carmen and Harriet Arlena Maria. She milked by hand, churned, cooked on a wood stove, drew all her water from a well in the front yard, gardened and canned, raised and killed and plucked her own chickens, and would make a special jam cake for me in a little heart-shaped pan–no icing. The cake in her lap is probably coconut.