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Posts Tagged ‘Appalachia’

I can’t remember a world without you. I toddled after you from babyhood, and you were my playmate, my confidant, and my friend. The same blood ran through our veins, and that connection was mystical and intense. Some part of each day was spent together until we became adults. You walked in rain or shine to catch the school bus with me in the mornings and returned to spend the evening after dinner. You were generous and indulgent, and if I cried over some small disappointment, you fished in your grubby, little-boy pockets to find something to make me smile. I wish you could do that now.

We crunched through russet leaves on windswept hills, exploring, playing follow-the leader, and gathering hickory nuts. We made up fantastic tales and executed dashing sword fights with sticks. Our pennies were saved to buy hot dogs to roast over an open fire, and you taught me to put peanuts in my RC cola. You invented a call known only to us, something between a Tarzan yell and a squeal. It was our secret code.

As we grew older, we would put my old record player between us and talk the evening away while we listened to scratchy 45’s. Your favorites were “Roses are Red” and “Rhythm of the Rain.” I hated the former, and you poked fun at my penchant for Cat Stevens. I looked up to you in a way that you never realized. Somewhere, I have a school photo of you on which I had written, “my hero” in my childish penmanship.

You became a bearded man with a family of your own, and we left that enchanted childhood behind us, but the chain was never broken. Sometimes circumstances tested it, but the bond held. Our telephone conversations were of Olympic proportions, and you always made me laugh. I shared a camaraderie with you that was unique and hard to find in this world. Now, I’m folding it away in a heart that feels like a bruised stone.

I saw you on Tuesday, and I knew it was goodbye. I patted your hand when I left and said, “I’ll see you again.” I’m counting on that.

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I am remembering my cousin, Steve Oakley, on this morning before Easter. Our coloring eggs together is a favorite memory of mine, and I have very few childhood reminiscences in which he did not have a significant role. We would sit at our kitchen table and joyfully transform the dull hen’s eggs into a rainbow of Easter eggs, making a most iridescent mess for my mother to clean up afterwards.

The odor of vinegar would pinch our noses as we concocted the dye in containers that we gleaned from who knows where. Paper or Styrofoam cups were not readily available to us then. We often tried to create exotic colors by mixing hues and double-dipping the eggs, an effort that was largely unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Steve always had some innovative idea for designing unusual eggs, despite past failures.

Steve and I both owned Daisy BB guns, and one Easter weekend, he was suffering from a very red and swollen eye, the result of a ricocheting BB, but he still arrived as usual to help me color eggs. I can see him as plainly as if happened yesterday, dipping eggs and doggedly “enjoying” the activity. I was so upset about his eye, but he would not let our tradition go unobserved.

On Easter after Sunday School, my mother would hide the eggs in the vacant lot across the road from our house, and several of us would run wild in the tangled vinca vines and tufts of spring green grass, gleefully searching for them. After all the eggs had been found, we’d often hide them again, but eventually, we’d loll in the grass, drape ourselves over the steps, or sit on the porch and peel the Easter from the eggs. My mother would give us all a cold bottle of RC Cola, and the finder of the lucky egg received a quarter.

We were fortunate to be happy and uncomplicated children, growing up in a quiet, close-knit community. One of my favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but as I remember those Easters, I am convinced that Jem and Scout had nothing on us.

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