summers of my dreams

If you’ve been reading here recently, I made reference to this song and said i *might* explain what it means to me. After thinking about it, I decided that it was a project worth doing. So, here goes……a real life fairy tale.

Back in the days when I was young and innocent, I was blessed to have four grandmothers. On mom’s side, there was my Grandma Ruth, my great-grandma Lena Pearl, and my great-great-grandma Horton. Then on dad’s side there was my step-grandma Irene. Amazingly enough, I lost my last remaining grandma, great-grandma Lena Pearl, in 2004,  shortly after she celebrated her 100th birthday. She died peacefully, in her sleep,  just as she wished.

From about the age of seven, I would spend a week each summer with Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Clayton, then another week with great-Grandma Lena Pearl and great-grandpa David Ed. Then around Labor Day we would head to step-grandma’s VERY rustic cabin in eastern Virginia, on the banks of Saluda creek, which empties into the Rappahannock River. For any of you who were educated in Virginia during the late 60’s or early 70’s then you should recognize the Rappahannock as one of the four tidal rivers that enter into the Chesapeake Bay, as described in our 4th grade Virginia History and Geaography textbook, which I still have. A cookie to anyone who can name the other three….ok, I have no cookies. They are the Potomac, the York, and the James. (One thing I do remember learning in 4th grade from the teacher with green hair.)

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the wind blows
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green in the summer of my dreams

Great-grandma Pearl lived in the Blue Ridge mountains, very close to the NC/VA state line. Her original home place is now a part of I-77 Southbound. She lived in a two-story farmhouse with a creek running behind it. On the other side of the creek was the general store that great-grandpa Ed ran up until the early 70’s. When he finally closed the place down, gas was selling for $0.33 / gallon, and if you know where to find the remains of the store, you might still be able to see the remains of those gas pumps. The store sold everything from food to farm implements, clothes, shoes, candy…everything a little girl could ever want. The counter had on old, push button cash register, a large jar of pickles, pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet. There was a chest cooler with soda pop. My favorite was Dr. Pepper, to be consumed with a bag of salted peanuts that was poured into the bottle before drinking commenced. There was a pot-bellied stove in the center of the store, and a bench on the front porch where the old farmers would gather on a warm summer afternoon and discuss the weather, their crops and cattle, and life and death in their small community.

The farmhouse had a porch that wrapped around two sides, with a porch swing at the corner. There was a root cellar under the side porch. She also had an enclosed back porch with a spring house. Cold water was always available, dipped by a dried gourd that hung above the spring. There were usually fresh vegetables from the garden in the spring house water sink, cooling for dinner. Grandma had a freezer on the back porch that usually contained frozen meats, processed from animals they raised themselves. She had two milk cows that were faithfully milked morning and evening, with any surplus milk placed in a milk can and then placed in another spring fed cooler in the front yard, where the milk truck would pick it up and return the empty milk cans the next day.

Grandma’s garden was across the creek, behind the store. She tried to teach me how to recognize the vegetables from their greenery. Once, after spending a day picking green beans, we went back to the garden where grandma Pearl showed me rows of plants and asked me what they were. Pushing the green leaves back and finding nothing that looked like anything edible, I replied, “I don’t know what it is, but it sure has been picked clean!” It was potatoes. Hey, I was seven, remember?

Grandma Horton would usually come for a visit. She would spend time traveling from one child’s home to another, staying a few days at each one. She was almost blind, wore dark glasses and dressed like Grandma Walton, complete with apron. She called me “Bernice”.

We used to play in the creek, chasing fish and crawdads, and if we were lucky enough to catch anything we would take our captives from the creek and place them in the milk can cooler where we could observe them up close.

There was a cherry tree that grew at the riverbank. We would eat cherries until our tummies ached.

By the banks of this old stream in the summer of my dreams
By the deep pool where the fish wait for the old fool with the wrong bait
There’s a field of purple clover there’s a small cloud passing over
And the rain comes washing clean on the summer of my dreams

One of my cousins would come down to visit whenever I was there. He was maybe three or four years older than me, and I had a terrible crush on him. He used to push me on the porch swing. Grandma had pots of flowers covering her front and side porches. It was beautiful.

Grandma Pearl’s house was not built with indoor plumbing. By the time I came along they had built a single bathroom that took up the back of the side porch. The door to the bathroom was in the kitchen, a bit awkward. She kept a small bottle of turpentine, closed with a cork stopper, that was used to cure any major injury that came up: bee stings, poison oak, mosquito bites. She had a wringer washing  machine. I was helping her do laundry one day and as I fed the clothes into the wringer, my fingers were caught between the rollers and my hand went through the wringer, all the way up to my elbow. Scared Grandma Pearl half to death.

I was there when Pearl and Ed got their first telephone, a party line. Grandpa would NOT answer the phone. Period. There was this one day when Grandma needed to call someone and two other ladies had the line tied up, so to speak. One of them kept saying that she needed to get off the phone and check the beans she’d left cooking on the stove. After about an hour of this, Grandma Pearl picked up the phone, listened in for a second, and said “Lady, them beans is burned by now!” She got the line freed up to make her call.

See the raindrops on the grass now just like diamonds lying there
By the old road where I pass now there’s a twilight in the air
And as the sun sets down before me I see my true love waiting for me
Standing by the back porch screen in the summer of my dreams

Staying with Grandma Ruth was different. My grandpa Clayton also ran a local grocery store, and he was the butcher. In addition, he raised sheep and beef cattle, which also meant he raised corn and alfalfa. I remember the first summer I stayed with them and was expected to WORK on the farm. Grandma took me to Roses and bought me a pair of Levi straight leg jeans, very unfashionable for 1973. Bell bottoms, 20 inches minimum…now THAT was a pair of jeans. She also bought me a sleeveless t-shirt and sturdy shoes, sent me out on the farm with my uncle and his farm hands to bail and put up hay. Grandma would supervise, her main job was to look for and exterminate any snakes that dared show up in the hay field or barn.

After a long day of working the fields, we would peel off our sticky jeans, throw on a bathing suit and head for the lake for some cooling off and water-skiing. My uncle taught me to ski, and he always had his farm hand buddies with us. I remember falling once, hard, and the impact yanked my bathing suit top right off. It was a good thing that I had decided to wear a life jacket instead of a ski belt (can you even BUY a ski belt anymore?) Otherwise I would have been forever dead of embarrassment. Sometimes it would rain in the afternoon and we’d all jump in the water to “keep from getting wet”.  I also wished that one of my uncle’s farmhands would notice me, but I was maybe thirteen and they were much older, like sixteen or seventeen.

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the beans grow
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

When I listen to the words now, I remember not only the long past: the cherry tree, the creek, the gardens and green fields, the summer lightning and refreshing rain, but also the more recent loveliness of summers spent on the New River with my parents, and my then-boyfriend/now-hubby, walking the dirt road down to the river, getting caught in afternoon thunder storms. I remember my dad, sitting on the dock at his sister’s lake house, a cane fishing pole in his hand, whistling  poorly and watching the sun go down.

As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

And my step-grandmother Irene? That’s a whole other story.

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5 responses to “summers of my dreams

  1. I like “forever dead”!!!

  2. Cute, huh? My tribute to BooJoo

  3. real, not cute. Although I might have been embarrassed, I would not have been forever dead with it. You would have been. I love the South’s descriptive language.

  4. I love Lena Pearl. And I CANNOT believe you put your freaking arm through that wringer.

  5. Well, I most certainly did put my hand through that wringer. Hurt very much bad, and scared Grandma Pearl half to death.

    BTW if she’s still hanging out in your car, could you stop feeding her snuff and send her home long enough to influence me to finish that quilted wall hanging thingy?

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