I entered the world of people. In 1955 we moved from Pineville to Marianna Fla. I don't remember the move except for a sense of excitement: we're going on a trip! Road trips were a feature of family life, and I was always eager to go. I got fussy as hell in the car. I was a spoiled brat, so that was my job. It's a good 8 hour drive, so I had time to do my duty. It was a big move for me. I moved from an isolated life on our farm with just my family to a suburban neighborhood with people. I went from staying home all the time to Mrs. Rhine's kindergarten, then Riverside Elementary.
His patent certificate was up on the wall in his study, and his Chief Forester nameplate was on his desk. My father was justifiably proud of his work in the reforestation of the South in the 1940s and 1950s. When I was living in Tallahassee in the early 70s I went to visit them at Suwannee Riverhaven every other weekend for several years (this was before Sally). I'd get up at dawn when he did so I could have that quiet time with him while Mom slept in. We'd sip the notably strong coffee he made (you could stand a spoon in it, as Mom would say) in an old-fashion Revere Ware dripolator that did the job without filters. It was a sweet time we shared; sometimes the conversation got deep. One time I got him talking about his life in the Forest Service. There were tears in his eyes as he talked about reforestation. In Louisiana he invented a tree planter that was pulled by the kind of small tractor common on farms back then.
Tree planting by hand is a job I'm intimately familiar with: one person carries and places the tree seedlings, and the other uses a heavy steel planting dibble to open the ground then close it back up again around the baby tree roots, finishing the job with a boot stomp that firms up the disturbed soil. My brother & I planted a shitload of seedlings; on a good Saturday morning we'd plant several thousand in four hours. Dad paid me a whopping 25¢ per hour, so I'd come away with a whole greenback dollar; real money! He paid us by the hour to plant trees that would become our inheritance.
I suspect this invention helped him get a promotion. My dad's invention also used two workers. One drove the tractor and the other sat on the implement he invented. It had two blades: one opened a furrow and the other closed it back up again; the rear wheels firmed the soil up. The worker sat in the middle, between the two blades, placing seedlings in the briefly opened furrow. My job.
Westmanor. We lived at 510 Westmanor Dr; here's what it looks like recently. Westmanor used to go a block further west; Mowrey Elevator gobbled that up. The house looks the same; the garage was a carport when we lived there. The live oak my dad once tied the wheelbarrow to is gone. We had a lawn my poor brother had to mow with a push mower. Lawns are a pain in the butt. The wild area we had in the back yard is also gone. That's what we called a sizable irregularly shaped bed anchored by longleaf pines, with azaleas, camellias, and smaller perennials in the understory.
I got to watch it grow up. One day when I was 6 my dad took me for a walk to the river and back. We walked a loop: to the river at the Highway 90 bridge, turn left along the river, back home. Near the river I spotted a red cedar a few inches tall. As I examine my tiny tree, Dad asks me if I want to take it home and plant it in the wild area out back. Well duh, bring it! He pulls out his pocket knife and cuts around the little tree, lifting it out and wrapping the root ball with some tinfoil he found in the litter (we were close to Highway 90). We took my tiny tree home (he must've carried it, since we did in fact get it home) and planted it in the wild area. It was a sturdy young tree by the time we left for Asheville in '61. Not so tiny, either; it had grown to be many times taller than I was.
In the process learning something about what parts of what kinds of plants liked to root. One day I was watching my dad trim a shrub, and he started telling me about rooting. I was skeptical; just stick it in wet sand? Does not sound legit. So once he was done with that shrub, he told me to grab some trimmings and we went to the garden annex. I didn't know that word back then, but it fits. There was a tool shed already there. He built a sturdy lean-to onto the outside of that. Its outside wall was made out of some kind of translucent corrugated sheet, plastic or fiberglass. There was a table in there that served as a potting bench, and it now became the site of our rooting experiment. He filled a small tray with sharp sand and wet it down good, then he had me stick some trimmings into the sand. Easygoing and informal; no retrimming the bottoms, no root growth hormones. He told me it was important to keep the sand wet. That was my job. There was a watering can that made a gentle shower, and a stool I could stand on to water. He said three times a day at least, and to keep an eye on the sand if it got hot. In Florida? I suspect he quietly made up for any lapses in my memory, but I felt like I was doing it myself. After a couple of weeks, we assessed our experiment. The leaves of several of the twigs had withered, but most of them still looked fine. He had me carefully dig one of these out with a spoon and rinse the sand off; dang if it hadn't sprouted roots! I went rooting crazy and stuck all kinds of unlikely suspects in sand along with some winners. It's no wonder I wanted to be like my dad when I grew up.
Mom. While Dad was helping me forge a healthy vision of the future, Mom was teaching me how to cook. Check out what I've written about eggs, pizza, green bean mushroom soup casserole, and buttermilk biscuits.
Mom was a tea drinker all her life; "hot tea," as it's known in the South. Tea meant ice tea. Then there was sweet tea, ice tea that was good & sweet. You had to sweeten the tea while it was hot or you could never get enough sugar to dissolve; trying to sweeten the thin bitter ice tea served in restaurants by dumping sugar into it was an exercise in frustration; you never got anything better than half-assed. Mom's sweet tea was our all day every day family beverage. She made sweet tea in a Coffee Mate jar: brown glass, straight-sided, almost a foot tall. She stirred in the sugar with a wooden spoon that gradually took on a deep tannic stain, like the cypress pond water at that secret beach near Destin. I inherited that spoon. Now I use a battery operated milk frother to stir my sugar in.
Fresh ground fennel seed for cooling; fresh ground Ceylon cinnamon for warming. Mom made herself a cup of tea as a break. I wanted to have tea with her. She made me kettle tea. She poured hot water in a cup, added milk so it wouldn't scald me, and sweetened it with sugar. I still make a version of it: sweet warm milk with spice, like chai.
There was much screaming and sobbing, a call to the doctor, and an Rx to sip real milk, slowly. Mom gave me my first experience of poisonous plants, so popular in warmer climates. She planted a bed of colorful caladiums, expanding on the theme of the closely related elephant ears that had already been growing there when we moved in. Elephant ears are rudely invasive. They had to be cut back frequently so they wouldn't crowd out the more mannerly and delicate caladiums. I loved to watch her work in the garden, so I was there one day when she did an elephant ear cutback. She gathered her prunings, perhaps so I wouldn't get into them, but the stubs where they'd been cut off remained. I went exploring after she left, and saw milky sap oozing from the stubs. It looked like cream, so I had a taste. Don't try this at home, kids. My mouth was on fire; it was like sticking a live wire in my mouth. The oxalate crystals stung and burned at the same time.