Very few memories of when I was a toddler stuck, however, there is one that has remained constant since the fall after my second birthday. Mom, Dad and I were visiting my Grandfather (my father’s father) way down in the country in a rural Clay County, Alabama community called Shiloh.
My memory is restricted to a few animated night images in that old clapboard house, but what I remember is vivid. Having never slept in a house at night that had no electricity I was enthralled by the yellow glow of room from kerosene lamps and a bright fire burning in the fireplace. Both threw large shadows on the walls that seem to dance, especially when anyone moved around the room.
To this day I can tell you how the furniture was arranged in the room, what tables the lamps where on, where chairs were, which wall the door to the outside was located and even where the kitchen was. A hot coal popped out of the fireplace and I learned the hard way not to pick things like that. I guess I burned my finger a little, but only remember picking it up and not any pain from the experience.
Being there felt magical, as if I had entered some kingdom like I saw a few years later in “The Seven Dwarf’s” house in the woods. It never occurred until I was much older how poor the old man who lived in the little run down “shack” was.
While my Dad’s Father was grumpy a lot of the time, later he read the Bible to me sometimes in his room at night when I was five and six years old when he lived with us. I remember him as a quirky man who saved chicken feathers for some reason I never knew and preferred newspaper soaked in water to toilet paper. I can close my eyes even now and remember him walking through the back yard headed to the outhouse with an old pot under his arm, filled with strips of newspaper floating in warm water. Guess I shouldn’t knock it since I’ve never tried it.
We called my grandfather “Pawpaw”. Working he never amounted to much although he tried one money-making scheme after another. He tried selling books door to door unsuccessfully and tried to farm but was no good at it. He was in the army in World War I but spent his time in France in the hospital with dysentery. Essentially Pawpaw lived his adult life on a small pension from his military service and whatever he could scratch up buying and selling things. Looking back now I realize he was a sad man whose wife left him with two small boys (my father and uncle) who he raised. He made a mess of being a father, but I am certain he did the best he could.
The old man touches my heart to this day because of a lie he told in love each year around Christmas time. There were a lot of years growing I had no contact with my Father, but Pawpaw would just show up around holidays with gifts for my brother and I he said where from my Dad. I knew he had bought them because they were the sort of useful things a man of his depression generation might buy: handkerchiefs, a brush and comb set, a manicure set, notebook paper, pencils and such. I was grateful he remembered us, even if my father didn’t.
Pawpaw’s full name was Lovette Egbert Browning, born November 22, 1886 and died July 12, 1973. He was my grandfather and I will always remember him as a well-intended man who held my brother and I deep in his heart. He died when I was nineteen. I used the excuse that I lived a thousand miles away in Colorado and had almost no money as a reason not to go home for his funeral. That regret has lived long enough within. I am grateful to share it and release it on this page today.
We must all suffer from one of two pains:
the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.