This past weekend, we embarked on a little road trip to Sweet Home Alabama to visit my Mamaw and meet our new niece. Fueled by iced coffee and the Love Does book on audio (me being the audio), we made the trek to Leeds, Alabama, a small town just north of Birmingham. My grandparents have lived in the house my Papaw built since the day they were married, and my mom spent her entire childhood in this home. My Papaw went to be with Jesus almost five years ago, but his fingerprints are all over this home and this land.
So many of my childhood memories are on that farm. The golden sun breaking through the blinds, the smell of sausage and biscuits wafting from the kitchen, the sound of the train rumbling across the tracks just over the highway. Mornings spent in the garden where I would play underneath the trees bursting with apples, pears and figs. And where I secretly wondered how that odd looking fruit came to resemble the Fig Newtons Papaw would keep in the pantry for an afternoon treat.
After Mamaw finished picking the ripe vegetables, we would head inside. Some days we shelled peas. Some days we snapped beans. But whenever we were done, I would assemble my grocery store on the wooden table in the dining room. I would drag out Papaw’s old scale and separate everything into baskets. The plump eggplants were my favorite, weighty with waxy skin the color of a moonless night. Once I had everything just right, I would invite Mamaw to come shop at my grocery store. As she made her selections, I tallied up her total on a yellow notepad. A few years ago, we came across a small stack of these now-wrinkled and faded receipts. She had kept them all those years.
In the late afternoon, I would go out to the pasture with Papaw to check on the cows. I loved sitting on the tractor with him and hearing all his stories about his beloved bovine friends. He would tell me how each one came to the farm, its age and its personality. He would tell me about the bull too and how he had to be careful with that one. We would ride past the salt lick (which I know from experience is quite salty) and make sure the cows had plenty of fresh water. Papaw used an old bath tub for their water trough. I would run around the pasture while the water ran, Papaw warning me to watch out for “fresh patties” and to never ever touch the electric fence. Even though I knew he’d already checked it a half dozen times to be sure it was off.
At night Mamaw and I would make lemon ice box pies, two at a time, and watch I Love Lucy marathons. And I would always sneak out to the back porch where Papaw would be reading his Bible. Every Christmas he had only one request, a new Bible. Because his one from the previous year would no longer be attached to the binding and the pages would be falling out from being read so often.
And every time I had to leave to go home, they would stand on that porch and wave goodbye. They tried to cover their tears, but I knew they were there. I didn’t even try to cover mine. I would look out the back window down the long driveway, waving one last time and at the top of the hill we would enter the highway, giving a little honk and a last goodbye.
My Papaw went to be with Jesus November 2008. A few months later on January 17th, his birthday, the first one he wouldn’t be here to celebrate, I found out I was pregnant. That baby would join him in heaven a month later and then another baby would join them both later that summer. But as I watched Lydia running and Charlotte crawling on the lawn in front of that porch, I smiled. The same patch of grass my Papaw once mowed. The same patch of grass my mom played in as a child and then me and my siblings a few decades later. And now my two girls enjoying the magic of that farm, lost in the sweet smell of country air and a lifetime of treasured memories.