Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homeward Bound

My father was already the late Gordon Smith Ford when I drew my first breath on a crisp December morning in north Louisiana. His ruptured appendix left my mother a very pregnant widow who had a son 19, a daughter 15 and a son five. The older son soon went into the service and flew B-17s in World War II. The older daughter experienced a failed marriage and then served in the Women’s Army Corps. Mother was left with a 40-acre farm with mortgaged crops, my brother Curtis and me.

Mother loved the country very much, but, even with the help of elderly neighbors and distant kin, she couldn’t make a go of it, and eventually got a job in El Dorado, Arkansas, some 50 miles north of the farm. She rented the Louisiana shanty out for almost nothing and rented us a similar dwelling place in El Dorado. Every chance she got, she would take us back down to the farm to visit, to reminisce, to stop by the cemetery, to spend time with Gordon Smith Ford’s sister, Sister. Sister had a little store and gas station in nearby Cooktown. She was married to Clarence Cook.

She was always so glad to see Curtis and me. When we drove up in the old Chevrolet sedan, she would cry out, for all in Cooktown to hear, “Oh, there are my chillun!” Far from the accent most people associate with the South, her talk was rapid-fire and crisp. She sounded almost Scottish. (Sister lived to be almost 100 and had the fortunate genes that would not allow her hair, which she never cut but kept balled up, to turn gray). She didn’t marry Clarence until after child-bearing age, so she had to heap her maternal affection on other people’s children—and she did that wholeheartedly. Curtis and I always left Sister’s with a bag of candy from her store and a deep conviction that we were loved.

Because of Mother’s love for the old farm place, I venerated it as well—Curtis somehow didn’t. When I got to be old enough to stay away from home for awhile, I would go visit Donny at the farm neighboring ours. Donny neither had the loquacity nor the imagination of El Dorado boys. He confined his remarks to “sure is” or “yep.” When he did volunteer an utterance, it would be something like “I like sugarcane, myself.” Or, “I know where we can get us a melon.” On one of my solitary summer visits, I got very homesick, longing for Mother, movies, my bicycle, my dog Fuzzy and the familiarity of urban life. I was supposed to be down there for a week. Three days after my arrival, conversations with my laconic companion grew intolerable, so I told Aunt Sarah (the “aunt” was a designation of affection rather than kinship) with whom I was staying, that I wanted to go home. They didn’t have a telephone. She simply had Uncle Curt (some kin, but not an uncle; Curtis was named for him) drive me to the bus station in Ruston, Louisiana.

As Mother drove back to work from lunch that day, she was astonished to discover me lugging my suitcase towards home from the El Dorado bus station. She never did understand why I cut my vacation in paradise short to return to city life.

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