This weekend we are going to my Dad’s family reunion in the small town of Seymour, Texas. It’s a place we all love to go; where we can soak up the nostalgia and history of our ancestors. It always makes me imagine how my Dad must have grown up, as I drive down the streets he used to walk and past the school where he learned to read and write. We have heard his stories so many times of the first grade teacher who drove him home the day the school bus left without him. We know well where his father, who he now calls Pappy, ended up the day Nanny sent him for bread early one morning. Hours later when my Dad was sent to find him, there he sat in the domino hall, loaf of bread under his chair. He knew when my Dad walked in the door, just what he was going to say, “Momma said get home, ” and he did.
We drive through the center of town, past the old car dealership where little is left aside from a vacant parking lot to give you any idea of what once was, but my Dad knows. He tells of the time he and a friend stole hub caps from that lot when he was 10 or so. Then went down the block to try to sell them to the junk man who knew good and well those were brand new and not for sale. Back then kids were sent to return the things they had taken. Reluctantly they did what they were told because they had respect for their elders. All it took was the thought of a switch from the tree in the yard for them to obey.
There’s a story of bees my Dad and Pappy tried to smoke out of someone’s house, but ended up catching it on fire and running from the swarm instead. There’s a well they dug, higher than my Daddy’s head, at the house next to the cemetery where Nanny and her siblings were born. There’s the cactus covering the ground at the farm out on Throckmorton Highway where Nanny helped raise her younger brothers as well as her own children for a time. I think of the way fresh laundry must have smelled in the wind as it hung on the lines there in the yard, and the work Nanny must have put in to scrubbing the stains off her brother’s and husband’s clothing after a hard days work.
I think of a time when things were hard, but they were simple. It was a time when expectations were implied, but they were met. There was no question who wore the pants in the family and everyone answered with a yes, sir or yes, ma’am. No one was disrespected and children were allowed to be children, playing on the old see-saw in the park that still stands today.
The park is where we all gather these days as a family and have for as long as I can remember. Many of the sights and smells are the same, but many have also changed. Plants have been added around the creek where we fish nearly every year. The water dissipates some years and rises in others. There are always tadpoles, but fish are never a guarantee. The water is murky and surrounded by slimy rocks along the bank. My brother, nephews and cousins fished there when they were little and now their children and nephews too. I imagine my Dad did as well when he was a boy.
The cemetery sounds like the wrong place for fond memories, but they are there as well. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles all reside in a better place these days, but the cemetery is a reminder of what made them who they were and why they will always be in our hearts. There are monuments to their love for each other, their families, and distant kin. These monuments tell us not only when they began and when life in this temporary home ended, but also gives a glimpse into what the years in between meant to them. My Daddy’s headstone is there, with just a beginning date. We know, but don’t want to believe there will ever be an ending date. In the mean time we soak up his stories that we’ve heard every year since I can remember and my children as well . We look forward to him sharing them with our grandchildren himself, but make mental notes and pictures for those not born soon enough to hear them first hand. Forever in my heart and mind will live my Daddy’s memories of his childhood in this small town, carrying his legacy into a future beyond his years, but not without his love and tears to carry them every step of the way.