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    growin' up southern

    Listen My Children and You Shall Hear…

    by | 16 | Jul 17, 2015

    When I was eight years old, about the same year, more or less, that the mule stepped on my toes, we went to visit my country kinfolk up in west Randolph County at Christmas. Some of them lived sho’ ’nuff in the sticks, if that is not a redundancy.

    One of my mother’s cousins lived near the Tallapoosa River, down a narrow, rutted dirt road, in the deep woods, in an old unpainted house, not much more than a cabin. It didn’t have a porch, or running water or electricity. She had five kids. There was another cramped hovel within yards of that dwelling that was identical. Another cousin lived in it with her family, consisting of several more kids about my age.

    We didn’t see this branch of the family often, but one of the women had recently given birth to a new baby and my mother brought a baby gift. It was a cold, overcast winter’s day. Despite the misting, icy rain, we young’uns were sent outside so the grown folks could visit. Since they had few toys or possessions, the kids’ games consisted of mostly running and chasing, hitting each other with sweet-gum balls and pine cones, and a lot of insults, rough-housing, and angry threats– in much the same fashion as Yvonne and I entertain ourselves today.

    Other than the small area the two low houses sat on, the woods had not been cleared, and trees grew right up to the cabins on all sides. This left the ground covered with a thick, crunchy carpet of twigs, dead leaves and pine needles. As I was running through the trees with that rowdy gang, I stepped into a deep, rotted stump hole that was hidden beneath the leaves, sinking up to my knee and twisting my ankle. It hurt like pure-tee hell. I was sunk so deep I couldn’t pull my foot out until my older cousin, Lynwood, helped me get loose.

    Here I am wearing the aforementioned boots – and corduroy riding britches, no less. I wore these boots until they wore slap out.

    Here I am wearing the aforementioned boots – and
    corduroy riding britches, no less.
    I wore these boots until they wore slap out.

    (A favorite mill-village neighbor of ours, a disabled veteran named Bud Carmichael, usually wore high leather boots laced up to his knee, with his pant legs tucked inside them. I always liked the way Bud looked, and Santa Claus had brought me a similar, but smaller, pair of boots. I was wearing those new boots that dreary day, laced up to the knee, with my pants tucked inside. I’m convinced those boots kept my ankle from being snapped in half, but it was still bad enough. It hurt so badly I felt like busting out squalling – and probably did!)

    Some of the girls ran back inside and told the adults what had happened. My mother and her cousin, Avis, came out and got me and took me in the house. They sat me on the worn pine-floor by the fire and removed the boot from my injured right foot; the same foot the mule had danced on. In the flickering firelight, my pale Scotch-Irish foot looked like a white peeled potato; like it was lit from inside. The pain was agonizing.

    My ankle was already twice normal size. Someone recommended that they wash my foot in kerosene, which was immediately done without discussion. Mind you, this kerosene was applied liberally, right in front of a roaring open fire. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem to be the wisest therapy. Avis got some rags, which she cut into bandages, and they wrapped my foot and ankle so tightly my toes turned blue. There was no mention of a doctor. The nearest doctor was in Lineville or Roanoke, about the same distance from that location. After all, there didn’t seem to be broken bone sticking through the skin.

    Avis’s lanky, bewhiskered husband, Jack Edmonson, my moonshine-drinking, banjo-picking cousin, was sitting in a straight-chair by the fire watching them minister to my injury. As I sat there, wincing and writhing, while they vigorously swabbed me with splashes of icy kerosene, Jack struck several loud, ringing warm-up chords on his banjo – “thrum, thrum, thrum” — and ripped into a sprightly tune. It was a surreal moment and is still a surreal memory. Five-string banjo music and searing, tear-inducing pain all blended together in a weird, kerosene-perfumed, oak-fire scented mosaic. My ankle still hurts every time I hear five-string banjo music.

    So I made the trip back home in my daddy’s old black Chevy, with my new boot laying on the backseat beside me, and my foot and ankle throbbing like a toothache–a big toothache. I was still hobbling days later when school started in January, and well into the spring.

    I couldn’t sleep that first night because of the pain. At some point in the wee hours, my daddy, who had a headache every day of his life, made a pot of coffee and got out his Standback’s. You knew you were in dire straits if he gave you a Standback washed down with black coffee. But it helped — after you stopped gagging and ignored the heartburn.

    I never saw a doctor for the Christmas injury. In fact, I never saw a doctor anytime unless they thought I was in danger of imminent death — and this was open to discussion. This wasn’t neglect on my family’s part. They practiced this same behavior with their own health problems, too. A doctor was the last resort. Just one peg above a mortician.

    Health care has always been a problem for po’ folks. They handled it back in the day by not seeking any professional medical assistance, as a rule. When people visited a sick relative in the hospital back in those years, it was because they wanted to see their loved ones before the sick person died. The patient had usually waited until the Grim Reaper was sitting on the front porch swing, waiting impatiently, before they saw a doctor.

    In their lives, a doctor was a just a blocking tackle for the undertaker, a temporary delaying action. You knew the end was near.

    ###

     

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    • David

      Enjoyed your story. Some good images and a bit of homespun philosophy tossed in to make for a nice Sunday morning read. cheers

      • JL Strickland

        You da Man, David

    • Trevor Irvin

      Nothing like a good pair of boots.
      Regards,
      T

      • JL Strickland

        You’ve that right, Trevor

        • JL Strickland

          Or should I say, You’ve GOT that right, Trevor.

          (Who got the got?)

    • John Futch

      Great column — rang a lot of bells. But dude, it’s Stanback, not Standback. And yeah, it tastes like … never mind.

      John Futch
      Phnom Penh, Cambodia

      • JL Strickland

        Dude?

        How sweet — or something…

        • John Futch

          Hey, I left the Atlanta Journal in ’83 and spent around 30 years in Long Beach, California. Dude is the operative term for someone you like in SoCal; here in Cambodia I would call you bong, which is a term of great respect.

          Great column.

          • JL Strickland

            Bong? Okay.

            Evidently you go all the way when you go native. Commendable. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth giving it your all.

            Personally I am hesitant to use a word or phrase from another culture. It is so easy to get them wrong.

            For example, in Spanish-influenced societies, “Tonto” the name of the Lone Ranger’s beloved companion and sleeping bag partner, actually means “fool” or “idiot.” Kinda puts a new spin on that relationship, don’t it?

            And Yahweh only knows the real meaning of “Kemosabe.” You know ol’ Tonto hasn’t been taking this long-standing insult lying down — even if the Lone Ranger does see him as the village idiot.

            • John Futch

              Yeah, the Tonto thing always amused me, and I always thought the only person who knew what Kemosabe meant was Kemo. Who knows? Probably a Fran Striker play off ¿quién sabe?
              Not so native. The Khmer appreciate folks who at least try to deal with the language, and yes, bong means a respected friend, or the local equivalent of SoCal’s dude.

            • JL Strickland

              If it’s any of my business, what the heck are you doing in Cambodia? The only other person I know who spent time in Cambodia was my Valley childhood friend, Bill Whorton, who was the captain of an infantry raiding company during the Vietnam War.

              Despite the U.S. Army technically not being in Cambodia, Bill and friends, slept during the day and performed various annoying and lethal mischief on the VC at night.

              Though Bill eventually came home, his leg stayed behind. Not a pretty story. And not an unusual one during those sorry times, which have yet to be adequately explained.

            • John Futch

              Yeah, missed the fun and games in Cambodia but spent 10 months and 28 days in Vietnam in the Army back in those days. At least nobody seems to be trying to kill me now.

              Came back to Southeast Asia in December of 2013 for three weeks to see the work of a shoestring charity from Long Beach called Hearts Without Boundaries (you can see stuff about them, complete with some pictures of and by me on Facebook). HWB organizes annual visits by medical heart specialists to fix defective tickers of poor kids. Now I am a volunteer member of the HWB board.

              Fell in love (again) with southeast Asia and after almost 50 years of bleeding newspaper ink it is a great transition. Cost of living is next to nothing and with Kampuchea’s adventures and intrigue, it’s like living in the middle of a Graham Greene novel.

              Bounce around from Siem Reap up north (think Angkor Wat) to Sihanoukville and Kaeb on the coast and enjoy every minute.

              Best,

              JCF

            • JL Strickland

              Thanks for the backstory.

              It all sounds very interesting — and adventurous.

              Be mindful of poisonous serpents. They can’t help being snakes.

    • Will Cantrell

      Enjoyed this fine piece, JL. A long time ago, I once sustained a badly sprained ankle, similar to yours. The thing was swollen something ugly, was painful as bad sin and threatened my participation in an upcoming CYO League Basketball game. My Aunt Lula, who hails from your neck of the woods, recommended that my Mom dig up some Georgia red clay, mix it with apple cider vinegar and slap the stuff on my swollen ankle. She admonished my mother to “…make sure it was Georgia red clay, none of that Alabama dirt” since she said the kind of dirt made a big difference. I was skeptical but I was such pain, I was willing to try almost anything. Mom followed instructions and lo and behold my ankle ‘healed up’ in ‘nothing flat’. Lord love a duck, I was able to participate in the game from my customary seat on the far end of the bench just like always. My Alabama kin also believed in curative powers of Vick Salve which they all swore could heal anything from an ax wound to a flat tire. Nice, funny story JL. Will

      • JL Strickland

        Thanks, Will. If the kerosene,liniments, salves, clays, and arcane potions didn’t work, there was also the old standby of “working” medicine, which supposedly gave you a new lease on life. Evidently, there was some merit in these notions — we’re still here!

        • Will Cantrell

          JL, until now, I hadn’t heard the term “working” medicine since I was a small boy back in the Fifties. It took me a few minutes to figure what the hell you were talking about. Then I did! (LOL). Didn’t like at the time, but methinks you were right. It sure must have worked. It and “Vicksave” got us through childhood. And…we’re still here. Will

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