Saturday, August 11, 2007


Saturday Night on the Miles Farm
8.5" x 11" pencil
I wanted to go home, as usual. I wanted to be in my own house, with all the family that I was around daily. But, sometimes, we had to go visit my mother's family who lived on a farm in Navarro county.
There were times when we only went for the day on Sunday, when Daddy was off work. The stores were all closed on Sundays, including Uncle Tom's grocery store, where Daddy worked, and the adjoining drygoods store, owned by my grandparents. Other times, Mama and I would stay for a week or so, while Daddy stayed home to work and have his meals with his relatives. He said that he didn't even know how to boil water. So, he would make the rounds of all the relatives, friends, and even some people in town, who offered him food when Mama couldn't be there to cook for him.
I wanted to be at home around the stores, "helping" a little, but playing a lot in the mirrors, the show windows, on the counters, and getting lots of attention. Going to the picture show, getting ice cream or Cokes at the drugstore. Listening to the radio, playing on the school playground, or in the park with my friends. Going to the neighbors' houses. Going to organ and choir practice with Mama, then Sunday School and church at the Methodist Church with all the family on Sunday. Going to parties and "lunches", or meetings in the afternoon with Mama. And days of just playing outside, making mudpies, or going to play paperdolls or coloring with a friend, playing out the latest movie, making the rounds to neighbors to see what they were doing, and watching during wash day, ironing day, cleaning day, and all those normal things. I wanted to be where I could walk around town by myself, if I wanted to, feeling safe and secure in my little adventures and play. Most of the time, I was glad to escape my mother's piano pupils, though. The piano, by itself, especially for those just learning to play, just hurt my ears!
When we went to the farm to visit, we didn't leave the farm. Mama and Grandma just seemed to cook and then everyone would eat. The men would go back out to work outdoors, while Mama and Grandma would sit at the table and talk. They encouraged me to go outside and play, but there was nothing to do. Grandma sometimes gave me several jar lids and a spoon so I could make mudpies. But, then, there was no faucet. I would have to get water from the well and I couldn't reach that. I would go inside and get a little water with the dipper from the drinking bucket hanging by the door. But I didn't want to get mud on it, so I thought that was a little risky to try. There wasn't a really good place to make mudpies, although I did try it a few times, and left my "pies" on the steps to bake. No toys to play with, no swing, no dolls, and no other kids to play with. Usually, I would go outside, kick the dirt a little, walk around the outside of the house, look for kittens, then just sit on the steps, or go back inside the house. Occasionally, Grandpa would take me to see inside the smokehouse or the barn when he had to get something there. They didn't want me to risk scaring the chickens or the cows and I was scared of the big mules. I was also concerned that there might be a snake around since I had heard them talk about chicken snakes.
We never went into town, to see a movie, or to go to church. I don't remember that they had a car. They probably did, but I just remember a wagon. In those days, that was probably all they needed. Any town seemed a million miles away, over the low hills of black dirt and a faint line of trees on the horizon.
Sometimes my mothers sister would drive from where she was teaching to meet my mother and visit with her parents. My mother and her sister started taking paino lessons when they were about 3 years old. Both continued to study music and my mother planned to be a concert pianist. Instead, she married before she graduated from high school. My aunt went on to get a degree in music, taught school, and taught private piano lessons. Both of them played for their churches and learned to play organ when the churches bought organs, and they played for civic events in their respective communities. When those two got together, and there was a piano, people could count on them playing individually and duets. They were really good, and popular.
I was probably age 3 or younger, when we were visiting on the farm. My sister had not been born yet, so I had to be very young. My aunt was there to visit. And, I was bored. I wanted to go to the Saturday picture show, to choir practice, or the drugstore. I probably would have been happy if there had been another child to play with.
Evening arrived, supper was over, and everyone moved from the table to a sitting room, where there was a piano. I whined and wanted to at least listen to the radio. It seemed like they only turned it on for farm reports, news, one soap opera that Grandma liked, and "The Grand Ole Opry" on Saturday nights. (Grandma said that Tennessee Ernie Ford was our cousin, and talked about some of the people on the program as if they were old family friends. I don't know if that was true, but she was from Tennessee. ) It was too early for that program.
Mama and her sister sat at the piano and they started playing duets and talking about the latest songs. Grandpa sat in a little rocking chair, near a window and a door to the outside. Grandma sat in a chair across from Grandpa. In cold weather, there was a wood stove set up in that room. I sat on Grandpa's foot and we played "Ride The Horsey" and "Yankee Doodle", as my grandparents at home would do. I bounced around, imagining a beautiful horse I might have some day and thinking of a young patriot, riding his prancing steed. I jumped to the music as Grandpa sat on his rocking chair with his legs crossed.
As Mama and her sister played, Grandpa started playing his violin with them, while I sat on his foot and "rode" to the music. Soon, I was laughing away. I didn't know most of the songs, or I would have been singing, too. My mother told me that I knew every song in the Methodist Hymnal by the time I was two. And, I knew all the songs on the radio and in the musicals in the movies, along with the dance routines.
"Grandma, why don't you play anything?" I asked.
She went out the back door and returned with a saw and a little hammer. "This is some time for her to want Grandpa to cut some wood!" I thought.
"I'm going to play this," she smiled as she explained.
I thought she must be joking. "Grandma, no one can make music with a saw!" I sighed, sure that she was kidding me.
She sat down in her chair, draped her skirt, and put the saw across her lap. As she raised the saw and bent it, she hit it softly with the little hammer. I'm sure that my mouth must have dropped open. There were wavering tones tht matched what Grandpa and the sisters were playing.
"Now all we need is someone to play the jug and the spoons," Grandma grinned widely, which was unusual for her. Her dark eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief. Usually, she was stern and serious.
"Grandma," I said, disgusted that she would try to put one over on me.
She went to the kitchen and returned with a pair of metal spoons. She tried to show me how to play the spoons but my little hands couldn't manage that. She passed them to Grandpa and he played a bit, then passed them on to the sisters who showed that it could be done.
"Go get me that jug," Grandma pointed to the back door. There was a white pottery jug being used as a doorstop at the back door. I had seen jugs in the movies and I knew those related to whiskey. I wondered why there was a jug in this house because I knew that all my family was against drinking and lectured about it a lot. I hoped that Grandma, in her unusually happy mood wasn't about to lift the jug and take a swig of whiskey. Worse yet, I hoped that she wasn't going to have me carrying or drinking the stuff, too. I brought the empty jug to her and she told me to blow in it. I tried but the air just came back into my face. Then she showed me that she could blow into the jug and make deep, strong sounds and rhythm. The others took their turns at playing the jug as well.
"When you get a little bigger, you can probably do that, too." Grandma took up her saw again and they all started playing songs like "The Great Speckled Bird", "The Midnight Special", "Big Rock Candy Mountain", "Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair", "Froggy Went A Courtin' ", and many others. They never did turn on the radio to hear "The Grand Ole Opry" that night.
I got the feeling that, sometimes, they got together with neighbors and friends, and they had a jam session that included other instruments like the jug, spoons, bass fiddle, and guitar.
I never did learn to play those things. My grandparents moved from the farm about war time. I don't recall ever seeing the violin again. They sold or got rid of most of their things when they moved into a tiny little apartment and worked at the aircraft factory in the city. And, my mother wouldn't allow anything in the house except classical or church music, sometimes the better popular music. She didn't want us listening to "trash" she said. However, there were some Saturday nights, while she was cooking a roast for Sunday dinner, and Daddy was still working, when she would turn on the radio to a variety program or comedy, and then would listen to "The Grand Ole Opry".
Grandma was born in Tennessee, and said that her father was "a hillbilly doctor". Grandpa's father was born in Alabama. Grandma moved to Texas with her mother after her father died. Grandpa was born on that farm. So I could understand that they might like what we called "hillbilly music", back then. I guess that some of it must have been folk music. Times change.
"Jammin' " shows the family room in the farm house, with music on a Saturday night. The moon is out above the barn. In my drawing, I showed the barn much closer to the house than it actually was.
This pencil drawing is a memory from childhood. I hope that, on this Saturday night, and others, you are able to do a little jammin' of your own, and make some memories. Or that, at least, my memory has brought back some of your own memories.

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