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Southern Feelings by Paul Peppers

My granddaddy was an original. I can picture him now in his liberty coveralls, shiny black shoes, and old felt hat. The grandfather stereotype was probably modeled after him. I will go so far as to say that if you saw another old man dressed similarly you’d say-“Hey isn’t that…”  Yep’! You would be reminded of my granddaddy.

He always had an old flyswatter handy too like a scepter of office. Like Solomon sitting in judgment over the Israelites, he was occasionally forced to administer justice; but, only when it was absolutely necessary.

“You know I’ve been around for a while now,” he said, “and it’s getting kind of hard to sort out dates.” He picked up a drink that was sitting on the window sill beside him and took a sip smacking his lips with evident pleasure. “Close as I can figure today is my wedding anniversary.” Least I hope I’m right.” He shuddered visibly. “Let’s see I’m eighty four years old now,” he continued like a dog worrying a bone. “Maybe I’m a little over eighty four… The years go by so fast since I retired, it’s hard to tell.… “

I cringed at the thought of what Merdle might say if the old man forgot their wedding anniversary. She gave me a whipping one time just for calling her grandma. She wouldn’t allow me to call her grandma, granny, grandmother or any other combination of words that made it sound like she was much over twenty five. Merdle was a mean old girl and she meant business.

Poppa was quiet for a while and I sat in silence enjoying the nice day. It seems like we had more than our share of nice weather back in the old days.  But, maybe it was just the way things looked before I got to be an old man myself. A cool breeze was blowing and the two of us swung lazily back and forth causing the porch swing chains to creak like rusty hinges.

Turning up his drink poppa drained the last of it. I detected the faint smell of alcohol.

“Life sometimes throws you for a loop,” poppa said. “You know when I was about your age I fell in love with a girl lived down the road from me. Her name was Doris. I know that sounds like a ‘plain jane’ sort of name but there was nothing plain about the girl. She was a looker in a wholesome sort of way; Lots of soap and water if you know what I mean.  Women didn’t wear makeup back then you know. All this makeup they wear now is a modern thing. She wouldn’t have spent money on something like that anyway. She wasn’t fixed up to look pretty, if you get my meaning John William, she was pretty.”

“I see what you’re getting at poppa.” I said.

Flashing his tobacco stained teeth he continued.

“The two of us were never able to go on a date or anything like that. Her daddy was strict as all get out. To be fair I guess the poor bastard had a right to be with four girls in the family. She was well into marrying age and her dad, old ‘Hump’, was trying to arrange a good match for her and you can bet I wasn’t included in the lineup. I know because I was dirt poor back then. When I say ‘dirt poor’ I aint joking. My home was on a small plot of ground that daddy called the three acre farm. He laughed when he said it but his laughter always sounded a little forced to me.

“Me and Doris were able to see each other from time to time but, we had to plan our accidental meetings carefully. I would just happen to ride up on old Buck when she was out hanging laundry or feeding the chickens. Sometimes I got lucky and could steal a kiss or two but, it was never enough and those few kisses only served to stoke the fire that burned in my heart for the girl.”

His voice grew a little quieter and I knew that he was gazing across the years seeing her again.

“She always wore those thin calico dresses,” he said.  “The colors and patterns changed from day to day but, the style and cut remained the same. Ladies made their own clothes, them days you see, with paper patterns they ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.  Those dresses clung to her full figure and I longed to … “

The old man stuttered to a halt.

“You’re getting on up in years now J.W.” he said clearing his throat, “and I know you understand what I’m talking about.”

Silence reigned, during which time we sat companionably, content with each other’s company.  After a little while he started up again.

“We tried our best to get together;”he said. “You know, you can’t stop love. We wanted to be together so, we kept on trying…. “

“She slipped off one time to see me but, we only had a minute or two before we heard her brother Roger yelling for her.”

“Were you able to see her at school?” I asked.

The old man fished a coil of twist tobacco out of the bib pocket of his coveralls cut himself a generous chew and tucked the course looking tobacco into his cheek.

“Neither me nor her got educated past the third grade John William,” he said. Our parents kept us home to work son. The world we live in now is a lot different from the one I grew up in. Well, things rocked on like that for a while until finally we just decided that we would have our time together come what may. The memory is so clear I can almost walk into it. A wind was blowing flapping the sheets on the line causing them to billow out like white sails against a blue sea. Leaves swirled around on the ground and wind devils danced in the green grass. In the midst of it our eyes met and we reached for each other; from my mount I lifted her up to sit in front of me.”

“There was an old track where horse teams once snaked pine logs from the woods and we took it into the shade of the trees.  There was a little natural clearing where we stopped and I looped the horse’s reins around a limb.”

“I was never able to find the spot again after that day; though I looked for it several times. “Flowers covered the ground, blue berry bushes fruited among the pines and a fairy ring of small mushrooms sprouted from the pine needle covered turf close to where we sat. The trees towered over our heads into a clear sky like watchful sentinels and for some reason I knew that we would not be disturbed.

People were superstitious in those days and the old folks still talked about ghosts and spirits. For the first time I understood why. The trees, the flowers, the very air of the place vibrated with the spirit of life and the joy of living.

Picking a small wild flower from the turf I presented it to her and she smiled. I was giving her my heart, to do with as she pleased, and she knew it.”

This was way more sentiment than I‘d ever heard out of poppa and I figured that he was sipping the Jack Daniels a little more than usual. He kept a bottle of the stuff hidden from Merdle. One time he showed me his hiding place and with a broad wink indicated that I should keep quiet about it.

“What happened afterwards poppa?” I asked.

“You know, I don’t remember taking her home- talking to her parents or, anything like that but, from then on they were watchful.  We were never able to get together again and not long after that she got married to one of the Crawford boys.

Her and old Eddie had a baby too-I went to the clinic to see the little dickens, of course I had hopes that I would be able to see her, but it didn’t happen that way. Still the trip wasn’t wasted,” he said. “I saw the baby and he was a fine healthy boy. Looked Just like his daddy.”

“You know how things go John William. Not long after that they moved away and I never saw her again. I don’t have any mementos to remind me of her, no pictures or anything, but, I do have the memory of that perfect day.”

“Poppa,” I asked, “how long was it from the day you two were together until she had the baby?”

“That’s a good question hoss,” he said. He was grinning like the cat that ate the canary. “But, that’s a story for another day.”

Paul Peppers is a diesel mechanic in Cartersville Georgia. He has an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Coosa Vally Technical college and is fifty-three years old.