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James R. Stout

Today Is Yesterday's Tomorrows

            Summer is really heating up this week. Here in East Texas the highs are forecasted to be in the upper 90’s while the lows will be in the upper 70’s. It’s the time of year that mowing the yard is best done early in the morning. I went for a little drive earlier this evening on the country roads near my home. At 9:30 p.m. it was 82 degrees according to the temperature gage in my truck. With the windows rolled down it was actually quite pleasant. I found myself thinking back to summer days and summer nights of my youth when I would visit my grandparents here. What follows will be a few short vignettes of what those days were like.

            I generally slept on what we called the “sleeping porch”. It was a bedroom added to the original house sometime in the 1930’s. There were 9 windows in that room. At bedtime all of the windows would be open (there were screens to keep out bugs) which created a cross breeze if we were lucky enough to have a breeze. If not, then there was a small oscillating desk fan on the bedside table that was put to work. When the lights were turned off and the house became quiet, I would lay there and listen to the night sounds. There were the rustlings of nocturnal wildlife, the lowing of the cattle with an occasional bellering cow, the sound of wind in the trees on nights with a breeze, a hoot owl and sometimes a screech owl to give me a start, the chiming of the grandmother clock on the mantle in the next room, and the rare scream of a bobcat or a pack of coyotes yipping at each other down by the creek.

            I would awake with the gray of morning as the sun readied itself to rise and fill the skies with streaks of pink, red, gold, yellow, and orange. Laying there waiting on the sun I would hear the sounds of my grandmother in the kitchen preparing a breakfast fit for a king. Soon the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits, and pancakes would prompt me to get dressed and make my way into the kitchen. I usually timed this to accompany the announcement from my grandmother that breakfast was ready. Grandpa would have been up since before the sun and would come into the house with sweat on his brow and under his arms from chores that required doing before breakfast. We would all sit down at the breakfast table with Grandpa on one end of the table and Dad at the other end. Mom sat beside Dad on an adjacent corner and Grandma did the same at the other end of the table next to Grandpa. With any luck there would be a breeze coming in through the windows behind the table on the side where my sisters and I would sit on a long bench that came from Alabama by way of covered wagon sometime in the 1850’s. I have that bench now and it’s as sturdy as it was 170 years ago. I plan on sanding it down and painting it so that my granddaughters can sit on it for meals when they visit. Oh, the breakfasts that we enjoyed. Scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, pancakes, and milk. The sound of the handle of the tin can clanging against the can that held the homemade sorghum syrup after pouring out its sweetness onto the pancakes still fills my ears and makes me yearn for buttered pancakes and syrup. We were required to carry our dirty dishes to the sink and I usually got the duty of cleaning off the table lightly littered with crumbs and fingerprints of sticky little fingers. Usually mine!

            After playing outside during the morning and making sure there would be a ring around my collar by noon, I would open the screen door to the sound of the spring creaking and make my way into the kitchen for a glass of cold water. We would have two pitchers of water getting cold in the Kelvinator and woe to the child that didn’t refill a pitcher when it got low on water! Grandma and Grandpa had two very heavy floor fans to create a draft and keep the house from being too hot. These were large round fans made of steel by a company known as “Vornado”. They could be fairly loud when on high and they were on high most of the time. I would plop down in front of one of those fans and let the fan and my sweat cool me off as God intended. I would get up close to the fan and say “ahhhhhh, ohhhhhh, oohhhhh” and marvel at what the fan would do with those sounds. But too much of that would illicit a “that’s enough, Randy” from one of the grown-ups.

            Late in the afternoon Grandpa would let us ride on the tailgate of the truck to go over to feed the cattle or pick ripe veggies in the garden. Riding on that tailgate was great fun. Grandpa didn’t drive fast and was always careful with us back there. Sometimes we would stand up behind the cab and balance ourselves and look at what lay ahead down the road. The sound of “three on the tree” was mingled with the crunching of the gravel and the clickity-clack of the wooden bridges as we crossed several creeks along the way.

            In the evening we would sit out on the porch and wave at the occasional neighbor driving by. After the sun went down it was time to watch the lighting bugs and listen to the talk of my parents and grandparents about things remembered or current events. Before long we were summoned into the house to get our baths. On those summer nights we would often take a bath in a big tin wash tub outside the back door. Once I was clean with my hair plastered down on my head and wearing a pair of lightweight short pajamas that Grandma had made for me, I would join the rest of the family in the living room. Grandma and Grandpa owned an old black and white TV and they could only get two stations. Channel 3 in Bryan, Texas and Channel 9 in Lufkin, Texas were the two channels and as luck would have it, they were both affiliated with the same network. So, the pickings were slim. But on a Saturday night there was “Gunsmoke” at 9 p.m. and my Dad and Grandpa enjoyed that show immensely. Grandpa would get up and get a glass of buttermilk which would cause my father to do the same. We usually could talk Grandma into a glass of Tang and while Matt Dillon and Chester drank a cold one with Miss Kitty serving, we would drink our own kind of cold ones.

            After “Gunsmoke” we would watch the local news out of Lufkin and then it was time for bed again. All of this probably sounds pretty simple to people born and raised in the city after about 1960, but it was a great way of life. We didn’t have cell phones, game systems, 300 cable channels with flat screen TV’s, Facebook, Twitter, computers of any kind, and most of the things that people under 50 today consider indispensable. But I wouldn’t trade those days for all the technology in the world. We talked to each other and knew each other in those days. We looked each other in the eyes when we talked instead of at a cell phone screen. We were a family that lived together, played together, went to church together, prayed together, dreamed together, and loved each other. That kind of life can’t be replaced with something better because there is nothing better. Time marched on and now I live alone. My parents and grandparents and one of my sisters are all gone now. My children live 60 miles from me, but the infernal cell phone and email has made it too easy for them to not visit the old man the way that our family visited my grandparents. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just the life that they live in the year 2019. Perhaps one thing that makes me sad is the knowledge that my children and grandchildren will never have the experiences that I did. Oh, I’ll give them a taste of it when they visit, but it’s not the same. Even when they visit, they have their cell phones and iPads to divert their attention. But you know what? Most likely my grandparents thought similar thoughts about my generation. When my grandparents were children, they didn’t have electricity, indoor bathrooms, television, radio, and most of the things that my generation believed were indispensable. Life goes on, generations come and go, and too many things are lost to time. That’s one of the reasons I write about my past and the world that I grew up in. Today we live yesterday’s tomorrows and tomorrows yesterdays. Let’s take a little time to remember that we should treasure yesterday, dream of tomorrow, and by all means, live today.

My sister's and I playing dominoes at the farm circa 1961-1962.

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