Saturday, September 3, 2011

Origins: Another place, another time…

Flowers on the Fence Country is everywhere. It’s not limited in location and it’s not limited in the space-time continuum. Like Santa Claus, it’s everywhere. Always. For those who believe. And remember.

Take a journey with me, back to the early and mid-sixties. The South in the sixties, in which I spent my grammar school and early high school years, was in a state of flux. Many of the changes that were upon it were long overdue, but progress is a two-edged sword. The turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the vocal shouts of the country’s protestors and demonstrators would eventually drag every sleepy little Southern town kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.

However, even though Rowan & Martin regularly socked it to the country as Laugh-In looked at the news, while Simon & Garfunkel sang of their brother who had died so his brothers could be free, in my little world the projected high temperature for a summer’s day and price of milk – ninety-nine cents a gallon, as I recall – occupied more importance in daily life than did most of the revelations of Huntley & Brinkley.

By some quirk of heredity and temperament, I was truly “my Daddy’s child”. For this I’m thankful. In all honesty, my mother was at best bi-polar and at worst, sometimes frankly psychotic. And like Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m going to say about that. Consequently, I was Daddy’s shadow and had been since earliest memories, spending many delightful hours in his company. He was a construction foreman and a master carpenter. Weekends brought delightful inspections of the construction project he was supervising at the time. I walked on the long light poles of Macon’s Henderson Stadium while they were still lying on the ground and wrote on the chalkboards of many of the local schools long before students entered their doors.

We loved walking through the woods in late autumn and winter, when the air felt crisp and clean and snakes, though still possible, weren’t very probable. We loved to sit on the screened-in back porch and watch the lazy summer twilight come down over the back woods. Sometimes in the distance, the sound of the train whistles of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad cargo trains added to the magic. Those times were best of all when a sudden summer thunderstorm had cleared the heavy humidity from the air and given the hot, dusty ground a smell that no expensive cologne could ever hope to duplicate.

Our house was some miles outside of the mid-sized Middle Georgia city of Macon in a small country neighborhood of some four or five houses. We were perched on the banks of Stone Creek Swamp, and some half-mile or so behind the house ran beautiful Stone Creek. When I was about nine, a neighbor of ours, Mr. Emory Scoven, built a little dock over the spot where Stone Creek expanded into a small pond.

Mr. Emory was a retired railroad man and lived with his brother, sister, and sister-in-law, in the house next door to us, high up on a hill. I ran in and out of that house without knocking and with total impunity. Nobody knocked back then. Mr. Emory was a Pied Piper. Mine was an old neighborhood and though at one time it had been full of kids, I was now the only child in the immediate vicinity. My big sister told me that when she was little, her gang trailed after him like puppies as he worked in his yard and around the creek clearing. In my day, I followed him alone, but with no more devotion than had they. His railroad tales were as much a part of my heritage as the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.

In the late evenings, after Daddy came home from work, he and I joined Mr. Emory at the dock and cast our lines into the leaf-brown waters of the creek. The three of us sat for hours in perfect contentment, talking or not talking, as the case might be, while the corks from our fishing lines bobbed on the water, a shot-gun always ready beside them. Even in Eden, one must be on the look-out for snakes, and I never went out the door in the summer without a warning following behind – “Watch out for snakes!” This is, I think, the big-city equivalent of warning children to watch out for cars.

That dock is my childhood. Daddy and Mr. Emory always sat on the little wooden bench affixed to the dock, and I always sat cross-legged beside them on the bare planking, occasionally slapping mosquitoes as they discovered my bare arms and legs. Each of us held a cane pole, because rods and reels were useless in the close confines of the creek and its small pool and would only catch uselessly in the brush and undergrowth of the creek banks.

I remember the sound of the frogs as dusk fell, and birds flying low across the pond’s clearing. Sometimes you could see the head of a water moccasin swimming across the creek further downstream, crossing a safe distance from the intrusion of the dock upon their territory.

Nothing else on God’s green earth feels like late evening in the spring in the Deep South. The air feels like velvet, light trembles off the water, birds fly overhead. The sounds of the frogs and insects make their own symphony. I have no pictures of that creek and dock to post. Digital cameras were far into the future. Children don’t think of such things as recording special moments on film. No matter. There is no way that any camera could have properly recorded those moments, those men, that place, that time. The photographs are in my heart. They always will be.

I know somewhere out there, they’re still fishing together on the banks of Stone Creek. I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mr. Emory.


  1. Gail, you have such a way with words. You paint such a visual picture, I could actually feel myself sitting there with you on the dock, listening to the frogs and insects. I'm trying to put the image of the snake out of my mind. Again, thanks for sharing. You have beautiful childhood memories.

  2. The stories of your time with your Dad remind me of the times I spent with Nonnie, my grandmother. In the very first long novel I wrote I added her amazingl spirit as one of the main character's guardian spirits and reintroduced her in the sequel.

    You never stop sharing the person you are today with the person who shaped so much of the person you grew from.

    Love your images, Gail, and your willingness to share them with us.

  3. Perfect photographs.
    Not on celluloid, but real...
    Memories linger.

  4. When I read your lovely memories, I am reminded of the loved ones I've lost. Not only my much loved parents and grandparents but even those characters on the fringe of my childhood, like Mr Rosser the rag man and his tired old cart horse, Rosie. I tried to climb on her one day while she stood in the paddock, but she took a step forward and frightened the daylights out of me because I didn't know she could actually move. lol. Thank you, Gail. You brought a smile to my face.

  5. My goodness, Gail, this could be the start of a novel, it's so beautifully written. What an idyllic childhood! Except for the snakes :-) I'm so glad you have such pleasant memories to think back on, and I'm delighted that you shared them.

  6. What can I say? The others have said it all. Wonderful story. Really brings the scene to mind. I can see you as if I was looking over your shoulder at your bare knees.

  7. As all have said the images you paint here with your word pallette are so vivid! I could hear the frog soundsand feel the "velvet" of the summer air. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories with us!!!

  8. Beautiful post! Everything makes me cry these days but it made me feel teary-eyed for the past.

  9. Hi Gail! I have to say I agree with what everyone else has already said. You painted such vivid images for me. I felt like I was there. And yes, I also think this would be the start to a wonderful book. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories.

  10. Very nice memories, Gail. I felt like I was there with you.