Sunday, September 28, 2014

A ball and a basket

Her colors were purple and gold. She wore a short skirt and short-sleeved, V-neck shirt. Her knee socks hugged her legs and her shoes had so many holes for the laces that I lost count. My mother was a basketball player when Franklin Monroe was just Franklin. 

Women's basketball in the high schools was fairly new when Mom came onto the scene. Organized basketball for high school girls came to be in early 1920 (from what I can find in the online history of the sport). For young women modestly dressed, this was quite a change. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, these athletic youth would be running down the floor twisting, turning, sometimes landing on the floor. It was a new age for young women. Would it be too dangerous for them to be in such a rough sport? Would it compromise their modesty? Without researching this topic of women in sports, I know for a fact that farm women are made of pretty sturdy stock. They learn to do hard work at a young age. When it came time to play, they played with equal gusto.

According to Wikipedia, the game of basketball began when Dr. James Naismith (in 1891) placed fruit baskets nailed to a low rail of the gym balcony where his players could toss their basketball. Whenever a point was scored, the game stopped so the janitor could bring out a ladder and retrieve the ball. Somewhere along the way, someone (I am thinking it was probably the janitor) suggested that they might like to cut the bottom of the basket out so the ball would fall through. Needless to say, the game picked up speed.

Well, all farm kids have tossed everything from corn to potatoes into a basket as far back as we can remember. Eggs in a basket, tomatoes in a basket, tobacco plants in a basket, on and on it goes. No wonder most farms had a basketball hoop on the end of the barn. Ours certainly did. When the farm hands took a break from field work, they tossed a ball into the hoop. Basketball players, both male and female, were raised as readily on the farm as were the stalks of corn.

According to Timothy Hudak of Sports Heritage Specialty Publication, in 1939 a referendum was submitted to Ohio schools to decide if basketball would be continued as a girls' sport. The voting schools opted to discontinue interscholastic basketball and other sports for girls as of 1940.  Twenty-five years later interscholastic athletics for girls would begin again. My great grandnieces who live in Indiana were both on state champion teams when in high school. Even as recent as last year, they were coaching the same sport.

Mom never got any basketball players out of her three daughters.  We all seemed to head more to the artsy side of the family. But basketball gave my mother a place to learn what it was to be part of a team, a place to excel, a time in her life when women were moving into their own. Her successes inspired her daughters.

My cousin Gene Johnson played basketball when he was in high school. After he returned from the service, he kept stats for the FM basketball games. Something he would continue to do for many, many years.  I would like to think that perhaps he and his Aunt Ruth tossed a few balls through a hoop when he was a boy. Perhaps Mom's stories of her days dribbling that ball influenced her nephew. Perhaps it was nothing more than farm kids who learned to toss things at an early age.

The bucket hung on the back door handle. My two-year-old son lifted the little ball above his head and toss it. I required no ladder to assist me in emptying the bucket. Some things just come naturally.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

No discord

We didn't know where the notes would leave. Sometimes they even left the page. Still we followed. We followed and knew exactly what would happen next. Not a day passed when either Mom or Dad didn't break into song. More times than not, it ended in a duet. Mom and Dad's marriage was a duet. They new the music and passed through each day singing it together. We learned life by the sound of invisible notes.

I do not know how to explain this thing called music. I do not know why when we dance, we seem to know which way to go to follow our partner's steps. I do not know how we find the notes to harmonize or the way we improvise. If you did not grow up back the lane on Neff Road, this might all sound strange to you, but to the Loxley girls, this was our growing up. This was our way of life.

Working on a farm takes more than dirt beneath the nails and sweat on the brow. Farming has a rhythm. It sings in nature and in the love that tends the earth. The hum of the tractor, the rhythm of the planter, the birds that sing, and the crunch of gravel beneath your feet. Sounds we know from birth. Sounds that carry forward in all we do.

When I was a small girl, I learned to harmonize when my family sang. No one taught the high notes to me or the way they wrapped around the notes the rest of my family sang. No one taught me to find the patterns of notes as they climbed and fell. There was no map that lead me to the notes I should sing. The rhythm and the sound just were. Had I been raised in a different household, I might not have had the time to listen. If I did not have parents who only knew the music that captured them in everything they did, I might not hear the song that runs through all mankind.

discord  [n. dis-kawrd; v. dis-kawrd]

1. lack of concord or harmony between persons or things
Not a new word. One that covers the pages of newspapers, invades homes and threatens the very core of society. Discord. There is a meshing that needs to happen in order for people to live and work together. A rhythm. A need for everyone to try to blend in harmony. That way of knowing how to enhance one another, encourage, working to live peacefully. It is in us all. I know it is. If we try hard enough, we can find that thread that ties us together. I see it every day. Someone comes into the store sad or even angry. Find the right notes and doors open. A connection is made. And....just maybe...a heart is warmed. Harmony.

We never had a singing lesson. We did not need someone to show us how to do it. Harmony was the heart of our lives on Neff Road. We grew from it. It embraced us. Sometimes the notes even left the page.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A birthday toast

Judy posted the picture. A group of friends celebrating her twelfth birthday in 1959. I couldn't help but smile. Vivian's reddish hair stood up in curls. Mary wore her usual pony tail. In fact, I don't think I ever saw Mary with her hair down. Marilyn was laughing and as pretty as ever. Judy, the birthday girl, had pin curls, and thankfully, my face was hidden by Donna's sweet face. Best friends all through our few years of elementary school. However, it wasn't the face of my friends that caused me to pause. No, it was what we were holding in our hands. A birthday toast with bottles of Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi-Cola in the round bottle with the square label on the front. Confession: I loved Pepsi. Still do.

I might be getting up there in years, but Pepsi-Cola was around before my time.  Caleb Davis Bradham from Chinquapin, North Carolina, was a teacher turned drug store owner. His drug store was on the corner of Middle and Pollock Streets in New Bern. Like many of the drug stores back then he had a soda fountain. It was in 1893 that Brad's Drink was first blended. In 1898 he renamed is drink Pepsi-Cola. The Pepsi-Cola Company was launched out of the pharmacy backroom where it took off, and in 1902, the company was incorporated in the state of North Carolina. Now it is interesting that on June 16, 1903, Pepsi was officially registered with the US Patent Office. Of course, it is probably only interesting to me since my birthday is June 16....not 1903.

When I first began drinking Pepsi-Cola, it had a square label on a round bottle. I liked the 'P' on the Pepsi and copied it when I signed my name. We loved Pepsi-Cola at our house. On grocery runs, Dad would pick up an entire case of Pepsi-Cola with the bottles lined up in their own little section in the wooden box. Those boxes now hang on walls or sit in the corners of antique lovers' homes. We certainly helped the environment every time we returned the wooden box and empty bottles to the store then picked up the next round. Didn't even need a deposit back then.

When I was in high school, the bottle changed. A new, more contemporary design chased the round bottles away. The bottle now swirled and the name was shorted to Pepsi. I kept the 'P' but lost interest in drinking the beverage. I think perhaps it tasted better in the old bottles. Maybe it was better because it came home in a wooden box and not a cardboard holder. Perhaps with my sister gone from home and me looking to my future, the family nights of Pepsi-Cola and popcorn had changed.

The old Pepsi-Cola bottle, the wooden box and the memories of a once twelve-year-old girl.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

When you move away

Something happens when you move away. The going home is sweeter, I think. Perhaps because when I returned home, I stayed there in that same house for several nights. Saying good night to Mom and Dad was even more comforting than when I was a kid. Yes, something happens when you move away.

Often I am asked how I can remember all the things that I carry around in this silly head. In my mind, I wonder why I would forget them. My days on the farm were each and every one a treasure....even in those days of holding my father's hand and saying good-bye for a final time. These memories are each and every one a gift. I did not notice them until I moved away.

"Mom, whatever happened to that old silhouette you had done of me when I was about nine?" I asked. Mom usually gave away the things that she considered useless even if they did belonged to one of her daughters.

"Go look for it," she answered. She told me that any time I came home I could look for any of my old treasures in the drawers and closets. It was then and always would be my home. Sometimes she joined me in the search. She knew that I cared for the past that she and Dad had given me and was delighted to know that I cared. Often our searches would end up with a big suitcase of old pictures. An hour would stretch into two with some of the pictures making their way to the kitchen table where Dad joined in. Mom would disappear and return with an old dress of mine or maybe one from her childhood. Memories that she held on to. Something happens when you move away.

In the forty-two years since I have been gone from that treasured place, I have found that the memories have not only followed me but have been increased layer upon layer. A dear friend passes, and the days of baseball in the meadow and the warm embrace that always greeted me wraps around me once more freshly remembered. So why remember? Hm. Good question, Pamela.

Perhaps if I had never moved away, I would not appreciate the little things that were part of your past and mine. Perhaps a blue bottle or a row of pignut hickory trees would mean little. Maybe I would walk down the streets of Greenville uncaring about the old millinery shop or the butcher shop with the winter coats hung by the freezer door. Maybe a plate of mush or a bag of cracklins would not sound nearly as good. Perhaps a woods full of trees would not seem nearly as important as the new homes built in that same woods. Maybe that old school that stood on the corner would not be nearly as missed as it is when you pass that corner on your way to the old homestead. Maybe that walk back a gravel lane to that lovely house on the rise would not be nearly as sweet. Perhaps the memories would fade.

Something happens when you move away. You just might write a column to keep the stories alive.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cobalt blue

The jar was blue. It came off the shelf whenever a Loxley girl had a stuffy nose or chest cold. Mom warmed the substance in a pan of hot water then held a towel over the head of the sick girl, allowing her to breathe in the vapors. For further healing, a warm cloth was placed across the sticky stuff when Mom slathered it on her child. Now I'm not saying this was awful. It was, in fact, soothing. Yes, like many of you, I grew up with Vicks in my life.

A customer came up to the counter where for some unknown reason a conversation ensued regarding the benefits of the little jar of Vicks. The healing powers of this gooey substance has more recently extended to spreading it on the bottom of feet to subdue a cough or spread on nail fungus to chase the nasty stuff away. We all had our positive stories about Vicks.

I only knew of a few things that came in that cobalt blue glass. Bromo Seltzer, Vicks and Noxema were on the pharmacy shelves. My friend Vivian wore Evening in Paris cologne which came in a cobalt blue bottle found in the makeup section. I didn't pay much attention to the glass back then, but now I love the color of the bottles sitting in a window with the sun shining through the blue glass. The product was successful enough to continue for generations with old bottles now prized by the collector.

We didn't have a medicine cabinet. As hazardous as it was, the meds all sat on a shelf at the side of the stairs to the basement. Everything from horse liniment to mineral oil lined up on that shelf. Further down on the shelf was a box of rollers and tissues in a Toni Permanent Wave box.The Vicks bottle always caught my eye when I opened that cellar door. That cobalt blue jar that offered comfort.

Back in 1890, pharmacist Lunsford Richardson developed a products that would provide relief without the use of plasters and poultices. He named it after his brother-in-law Dr. Joshua Vick. In 1898 he marketed the product along with other Vick products. I grew up with Vicks VapoRub and Vicks cough drops. A pungent salve soothed a cold and delicious cherry cough drops made a cold tolerable.

We talked about Vicks. A group of women ranging in age from 21 to 67. As the customer left the store, she turned back and said an absolutely wonderful thing, "I open the jar of and remember my mother." Thanks for the memories, Vicks.