(audio of me telling the story you can also read below – my first try at this. Not a perfect recording, but then it is done and done is better than perfect! Audio file added 2/24/2023)
“Maylie, what would you like to know about Grandma Carol when she was a little girl?” Without missing a beat she replies, “Did you get splinters?” She’s been telling me about her splinters. It makes sense she wants to know.
My current writing project centers around questions my grandchildren and their parents have chosen for me. (more about that in another post). While they pore over the list, six-year-old Maylie wanders over. As I write these stories, I’ll share some of them here from time to time, after I have shared them with my family first. Each story has a “grownup me” reflection at the end.
Did you get splinters? (The Alabama Years; 1952-1958)
Yes, my Beautiful Little Butterfly, I got splinters. Getting splinters is what happens when kids run barefoot all day. My cousins and I hardly ever wear shoes here in south Alabama, once it gets warm in the spring.
Shoes are for church, school and being invited over to Miz Suggs’ house for fried chicken, biscuits, and sweet iced tea. (You can see her in the photo above, a tiny little lady who could cook the best southern meal for miles around. The title, “Miz,” was a southerner’s way of saying “Mrs.” ) And in case you ever need to know, there is a right way to serve sweet, iced, tea. Fill the glass with ice cubes first, as many as it will hold. Then pour the tea over the ice. It’s not right to serve sweet, iced tea with only one or two ice cubes, at least not in the south.
Back to splinters. . . Splinters come from stepping on a twig, walking through the grass (sand burs growing in the yard are the worst), walking on dirt driveways and roads, and climbing trees. They come from the wood floors in our house. Most of the time splinters can be pulled out with a tweezers or a little poking around with a needle, but when that doesn’t work, my mother has her own remedy that she learned from her mother. Placing a piece of bacon fat over the place where the splinter entered, she bandages it for the night, and tells me to wait till morning. She says the bacon fat will draw out the splinter. And by the next morning that’s often what happens. If it doesn’t , she gets a new piece of bacon fat and tries again. It usually works.
There isn’t a tree I won’t try to climb. If I can find another safe branch to step on, I keep climbing until there’s no place to go.
One Sunday after the fried chicken, biscuits, and tall glasses of sweet, iced tea at Miz Suggs’s house, I wander outside, looking for something to do while the grownups visit after dinner, as grownups often do. With no other children around, I am left to entertain myself. The friendly, tall pine tree right by the front porch seems to be saying, “Climb me. Up I go until I can see down on the roof of the house where all the grownups are still talking around the table and probably having more sweet, iced tea. After a while, my mother comes looking for me. Unable to see me anywhere, she calls my name and is startled to hear my voice coming from the top of the tall pine tree under which she is standing. “Up here, I reply.
The Tree that Moved
(1953 at our house on Ellis Griggs Road, Andalusia, AL)
We have a few trees at our house on Ellis Griggs Road. Just to the east of our home is is a single tree with close-together, sprawling, perfect-for-climbing branches. I find the perfect place to settle my small five-year-old self. Suddenly, I feel a sharp poke. I look down. Blood is running down my leg. Hurt and scared, I run back to the house crying. In answer to their question “What happened?” I answer, “The tree moved and hurt my leg.
“The tree moved?”
“Yes, it moved. I was just sitting there, and it moved.”
“I think you are the one that moved,” they try to tell me. I continue to insist the tree moved. Giving up, they clean up the scrape on my leg, letting me blame the tree for my mishap, although I can tell they don’t believe me.
A week later, my leg is still sore and getting red. A trip to the doctor confirms there is an infection and while he is examining my leg, out pops a piece of bark the size of my pinky fingernail. After removing the offending piece of wood bark, he prescribes Penicillin antibiotic to make sure my leg heals.
I get quite a bit of attention as I tell my friends about the wood chip in my leg, especially when I tell them how big it is. A few days later, I wake up feeling itchy all over with blotchy red marks on my skin. I have broken out in hives because of a reaction to the Penicillin. Back to the doctor we go who gives me another antibiotic, telling me to never take penicillin again because another reaction could be much more serious.
Here I am all these many years later, still telling doctors I am allergic to penicillin. I even have scar on my left leg right below my knee from that silly piece of bark from the tree that moved while I sat there quietly. I wonder if the bacon fat would have worked, but I guess we didn’t try, because we didn’t know there was a splinter. (Just for fun, I did a bit of research to see why it works. I didn’t find any good reason, except it seems to soften the skin around it. So if you ever have a bad splinter, you try might try a bit of bacon fat.)
I wonder if my mother was fearful of me climbing high into trees. I never asked her. She never tried to get me to stop, for which I am grateful. It’s why I did not try to keep my boys from climbing trees. I had to be careful I didn’t spend too much time thinking about the BBQ grill right under the tree they climbed in our back yard. Falling out of the tree on that thing . . . well, I just couldn’t think about that. Most of the time I looked away and remembered how much I loved my own tree-climbing adventures, thankful my mother allowed me the joy and freedom experienced from a perch up in a tree.
The little girl inside of me still thinks it was the tree (limb) that moved.
And now Dear Readers, take a bit of time to think of what story you can tell the younger humans who love you. Help them learn about the “you” other than the one they see now.