Pecan Trees and Snapping Turtles Too

Uncle Bus cranked
His flat-bottomed skiff
Onto his rusted old heap
With a jury-rigged pulley
Mounted on the roof of the car,
And drove us slow and low to the ground
Out to the creek.

He showed us how to catch
Snapping turtles,
And the bend in the creek
Where he lost part of his thumb
To an ornery one.

Buster lived alone in those days,
In a cabin with a potbelly stove
And a well out front for water.

He was my father's uncle
But I called him Uncle too.
Mostly I remember him
From that trip we made one summer.

We went to the tin-roof shack
My father was born in
And stood in the front yard,
Which was nothing but a patch of weeds
Set down in a bigger patch
That spread for miles around.

There were some trees,
And a fresh-water spring,
And some distant relatives
Still living in the hills.
They had an antenna on their roof—
It looked out of place to me.

Grace came, too, and Grand-dad—
My father's parents.

Grace grew up in the country.
Her daddy had a farm
And a blacksmith's trade.
She played in the fields
With her brothers and sisters;
They made up their own games.

Grand-dad grew up there too.
He could shoot a pistol
When he was thirteen,
And he knew a thing or two
About getting a horse to move.

Grace said `hit' for `it'
And took snuff
In the side of her mouth.
Grand-dad sat out back
Under the shade of the pecan trees
And claimed that being poor
Was no disgrace—
`inconvenient' was what he called it.

We stayed in their small apartment
In Statesville, North Carolina.
It was warm most of the time.
Quiet, too,
Except for the odd car
Racing by on the small town street.
My grandfather called them cowboys.

My sister and I
Walked two blocks to the main square
And stared at the bronze statue;
There wasn't much else to do.
That kind of life
Is something you've got to be born into—
Otherwise, it just doesn't take.

You have to grow up in some such place
To know the heat
And the glazed expressions
And the smells rising from the baked ground.
The people there
Don't come out
With what they're about easy—
They keep it to themselves.

No skinny-ass Yankee's
Gonna come down there
And be welcomed with open arms.
I came with Grace's boy,
And that made all the difference.

When nothing ever happens,
Or it happens so slowly
The magnolias blossom
And the Spanish moss spreads
From one patch of trees to the next,
Moments of true action stand out.

My daddy took us for a pony ride
On Uncle Ray's farm.
That old pony was part mule—
Not what you'd call frisky.

They put my sister in the saddle
And he proceeded to crib on the fence,
Stubbornly glued to the spot.

I got my turn
And he took me for a leisurely stroll
Over to his favourite plot of grass.
He bent down and chomped on big clumps;
I was wrapped around his neck at the time,
And sort of slid off
Head first to the ground.

Then Grand-dad got in the saddle
And kindled a spark of horsiness—
They shot out of the corral
And galloped across the field.
The old man and the pony
Found a use for each other
And it was stirring to see.

No one ever made lemonade
The way Grace did,
And I guess they never will,
But I can taste
The sweetly sour flavour of it now.

She spoke to me
In a language I could understand—
Cooking up a big pot full of gravy
With pieces of tender chicken
And dumplings that gave off steam
When you broke into the fluffy white centre.

Pan-fried bread
Stacked on my plate
Tasted great with butter and jam,
And everyone said, `The boy doesn't eat enough!'

She knew her Bible well,
But she didn't abide
Holier-than-thou types,
And she taught me how to braid
The long grass growing out back.

Always start with the middle strand
And wrap it over the outside.
First left, then right, then left again.
You could say that was my rosary—
Those three strands
Were Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Mingled in her competent hands.

It was instructive to a boy of ten
To see such big old hands
With yellowed, thickened fingernails
Make light work of the task at hand.

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't bring those two back again...

They're resting in a country churchyard,
And to get there
I would have to cross
The Blue Ridge mountains,
Shedding my city habits along the way,
Trading concrete for clean dirt.

But I hear it ticking,
The brass and glass alarm clock
With two bells on top
That set the pace for their lives.

They wound it each night
And rose in the morning
To the ringing of those bells.

©2016 Michael Fraley

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