Learn to be Still
Posted on June 8, 2009
I wonder now if she was ever referred to as Katie? Kate was her name…Kate Doherty and she was my grandmother. I only knew her for seventeen years, while I was a child mostly, but even then I knew she was invincible. If you looked at her, you might deceptively think her frail or weak. Although tall, she was lanky. I think life had worn her lankiness smoothly into a frail look – more rounded corners, less angles. She wore it well and she was a graceful woman. It was mostly around her eyes that I noticed it – that “I’ve seen too much look.” I realize now that I will never know what she’d seen to do that to her, but I reckon that is not what is important – it’s how she went on that is.
She married my grandfather, whose first and middle names were Warren Wadsworth – he was twenty years her senior. His family had come from Copiah County in Mississippi after the Civil War in 1872. I am not certain of the whys exactly, but I just have a strong feeling it had to do with being stubborn . . . they were a long line of stubborn sons- of- a – guns. W. W. was one of a family of 13. Additionally- because of deaths of a some of their own children or those of other close relatives – Doc and Eliza, who were W. W.’s parents, took in 13 others to rear them until maturity.
Most of them had moved on to their own lives before W. W. and Eliza married, but not all. Additionally, Doc had been widowed and was quite hard of hearing. W. W. was the dutiful son – he and Kate lived there on the farm, caring for one another and for those others with whom they shared the big house.
Doesn’t seem much like the setting for romantic happily-ever-afters to me. I would, in fact, say it was not had it not been for seeing the look in Kate’s eyes when she touched his pictures or his violin or guitar or smoothed the covers on the big feather bed they had shared. Then, I saw a love that passed by the conditions it lived under and transcended time. Yes, she loved him and not past tense.
I loved to visit her on that farm. The house sat under a host of oak and pecan trees to the north and the west. In the morning, the sun came streaming in the windows and in the afternoon, you could sit on the porch in the comfort of their shade. There was no air conditioner there…no heaters. It was all about fans and fireplaces. You slept with the windows open in the heat and the shades up once the lights were out…the smell of honeysuckle and jasmine floating in and enveloping your senses like no candles or perfumed oil lamp can do. The bed you slept in had a feather mattress and feather pillows. There was running water and indoor plumbing and electricity. There was no television – one radio. Kate was not prone much to being in contact with the rapidly advancing world. She kept busy in the garden, pickling, canning, cleaning. Then, there was porch-sitting. Now, there’s an art that has gone by the wayside. You sit out on the porch in the shade of the afternoon or in the evening by lamplight and rock – either in a rocking chair or on a glider or hammock. Just rock. If there are guests with you, they rock also. Conversation is strictly optional…and not necessary. It’s like a communion of the spirit in 4:4 time. The song is in the rhythm – not the melody. People don’t do that anymore and I think that is part of the reason they all feel so at odds and disconnected from one another. Kate knew how to porch sit and to rock. We’d sit there together on the glider no matter the season, just staring off into space reflecting. Sometimes we’d hold hands and when some particularly poignant memory or thought so stirred one’s heart, the other knew because of the squeeze of the hand and responded the same. We just “knew”. Perhaps I should have broken the silence more often – I’d know more about her than I do – or would I?
They had only one child – and I don’t know the story behind that one either. Perhaps it had to do with W. W. being so much older. Perhaps it was because the one child they had came at home as a breeched birth and nearly cost her life. No one ever said why – and I – being too young to understand – would not have known what to ask. It just was. I know that she’d endured breast cancer and had a breast removed. That was not what took her life, though – so she was a survivor. W. W. had also suffered cancer – first on his skin, then in an eye, which was removed and sewn shut. Later, the cancer spread all over him and finally to his brain. She had to care for him for a really long time by herself, then with help from her son. She never grumbled, never fell short of doing what she must. She just persevered. She was indomitable.
I know she loved me beyond reason as well. She was one of the few in my life who have tolerated me so well. No matter what I did or wanted to do – she just stood there watching me beaming with amusement and love. God, everyone should have that from at least one person in their life! It is so reassuring and makes you feel so grounded. I came up with hair-brained things, I guarantee you that. When I was probably only 8 or 9, I wanted to be able to ride the bus to her house alone…I did not want someone to bring me – I wanted to travel by myself. This went over like a lead zeppelin with my mother. My father was more like Kate, his mother. They pinned a tag to me saying at which stop in the country I was to be left off – like a parcel package! He also gave instructions to the bus driver before I got on, which humiliated me greatly. Travelers were not supposed to have Papas who lectured the bus driver about their destinations! That’s how I embarked on my first great adventure alone – in a Greyhound bus bound for Carey’s Lane.
Carey’s Lane was the name given to that spot in the country where the farm was located. It was really just a “T” in the road – there were some houses about and a produce stand on the two lane highway – but nothing else. It wasn’t big enough to be termed a village even. I also have no idea who “Carey” was or why they named it that – but that it was called.
When we got to my destination – there she was – standing in the blowing red dust next to the highway with a parasol held over her head for shade. She had been waiting for me to arrive. We walked the half-mile back to her home with her shading us from the hot sun and me with a huge smile on my face…I was a ‘traveler’ now.
I was to make that trip so many times, I could have driven the bus blindfolded. If my Papa was too busy to bring me or have one of his ‘boys’ (employees) bring me – I happily rode the bus. I loved talking to the people on the bus and watching the fields with different plantings whiz by….but most of all I loved to go to the farm and be with Kate.
I had the run of the big house….many rooms to explore. I could sleep in a different bed every night of the week. There was a wonderful ‘sleeping porch’. This was for when it was very hot. The outside wall of this bedroom was only half a wall – the rest was screen. That way, all the delightful breezes and smells floated all about you when you were lying in that old iron feather bed. Even the feather mattress and pillows were ‘cool’ and seemed to draw the heat away from you. You could lie there and look past the screens right into the night and see the moon and the stars. To me, it was very close to heaven to be there. Once, Kate let it slip that her sister had died in the house….in the smaller bedroom next to her big one. I never, ever slept in that bed again and it took me a while before I would even go in the room to dig about in the closets and chest of drawers as I loved to do – exploring everything for sights, smells and sensations from the past of all who had lived there.
In the front hall was a picture of Kate’s mother – one of those old portraits that were done with the person looking ahead most sternly and solemnly. She was all dressed in black – I supposed she was in mourning. Trouble was – the eyes in her picture just seemed to ‘follow’ you around the hall or the adjoining living room. She was watching, watching every move you made. There was no television, but there was an old radio that even picked up short-wave and overseas channels on clear nights. I remember turning the knob, trying to see how many different languages I could pick up on the airwaves. Kate told me that on the day they attacked Pearl Harbor – they were all sitting around listening to that radio.
When I was younger, there were cows and chickens in a stable and chicken coop up nearer the house. Down past the little dirt road that lead to some old slave cabins on the bayou bank, was the big barn. My great-grandfather had been a blacksmith and that is where he did all his work. It’s also where they kept all the implements for farming.
Not far from the house was a long, one-story building with a porch. It was the old country store that they had once kept. There are some stories about that store – but they are really about ‘Dock” and will have to wait for another day.
When I stayed with Kate, our mornings were busy with gathering eggs, feeding the chickens, her milking the cows. I would not go near a cow. At home, a man who lived near us kept a couple of cows at his ‘city residence’. One day, he was letting me pet one and the filthy bovine up and rammed me, knocking me to the ground. I have never in my life been near a cow again and personally believe they are the spawn of Satan himself.
We also would pick vegetables from the large ‘truck garden’ of the man who did all the farming – he leased the acreage from her. She was allowed to pick all the vegetables she wanted and we always were having something fresh or she was canning things in jars. She also had fruit trees – figs, peaches, pears and persimmons to be picked, depending on the time of year.
The afternoons were just for fun. We’d lay in the featherbed on the sleeping porch and talk and laugh or take naps. We’d read, sitting on her large front porch. Sometimes, I’d dig around all the closets and chest of drawers, asking her questions about who was this dress or that suit for? Where were they now? What were they like – what did you all do when they lived here? I realize now that it must have been painful for her to speak of those she had loved and lost who had departed and left her alone, but she never let that on to me. She always answered every question I put to her, not like my parents, who most often said that I asked ‘too many questions’ and told me to ‘shush’.
If it was too hot, there was a rain barrel next to some steps coming off one of the bedrooms to the outside. I would just climb up on the edge and lower myself down into the cold rain water that was sitting in it to cool off, then lift myself back out onto the edge and back onto the steps when I was cool enough.
Later in the afternoons, we might walk down the lane to visit some of the people who lived within walking distance of her. She did not drive. On Sundays, we rode to church with some other people she knew. My Papa paid someone to bring her regular to the store in town for shopping, but mostly – she was self-sufficient.
Once we had supper, it was time for porch sitting – watching the fireflies, the stars and holding hands. I have never in my life ever felt so at peace anywhere or anytime before or since as I did with her sitting on that porch, or in her home. Somehow, just being with her made you know that no matter what – everything was as it should be and everything was going to be as it should be and it was enough….just to have learned to be still.
Last edited by katie on August 24, 2009, 8:27 am