|Pondering a Heritage of Hard Work . . . and Christmas Trees|
What is wrong with hard work these days?
My solidly-built kitchen cabinets were custom-built for this house when my mama and dad built it back in 1965 when I was an eighth grader.
When we bought this farm in the late 1980s after my dad died, of course, the kitchen cabinets were included——by then with several coats of blue and yellow paint.
So being the obedient daughter, I immediately painted them a shade of blue I liked!
Years of wear and tear (and a few more coats of paint!) and a propane stove that wasn’t properly vented left a cabinet mess.
Since I generally have more time than money, about three weeks ago I began stripping the cabinets down to bare wood, sanding them (sanding takes at least one hour on both sides of the big doors!) and staining them pecan.
It’s been a slow, messy process.
The stripper works great! While I don’t usually like any type of chemicals, this strong stripper has saved me hours of work.
The cabinets are turning out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. They’re not perfect, but I like the woodsy look. As of this writing, I’ll be working on them about seven or eight more days.
I shouldn’t really be surprised at the comments I’ve received, but it has amazed me at times.
Many folks visit the farm, primarily to buy my "farm fresh eggs from happy chickens" and other items like goat milk soap. Since my little farm "store" is just off my carport, they’ve been able to see my progress from week to week.
I cannot count how many times I’ve heard "why don’t you just buy new cabinet doors" or "it would be a lot easier just to have those cabinets replaced" or various other comments on that same theme.
Why is it so strange to see a graying woman outside actually doing physical labor? I come from a long line of hardy women who realized husbands were usually working hard either on the farm or at off-farm jobs to support their families.
The grandmother I look like, but never actually knew, was known throughout the community to "wait on no man." "Why she’d just hitch the horses up to the buggy whenever she got ready to go anywhere. She didn’t wait on the men," one elderly cousin told me years ago after telling me about my granny’s farm store where SHE sold free range eggs, cheese and butter!
The women worked hard in my family—and the men sure carried their loads, too.
I can remember my daddy strapping on a back brace of harsh leather and steel back in the late 1950s so he could go on to his carpentry jobs. Stay home on "sick leave?" There wasn’t such a thing.
He had to provide for his family.
Uncle Claude helped raise my husband, as his daddy "left the scene" early on for "greener pastures" out west.
Uncle Claude Houtten had that same work ethic. He worked so hard as a youth supporting his mother and Roy’s family that Uncle Claude didn’t have time to date….I guess following the rear end of a mule all day in rough Cullman and Morgan Counties sod didn’t leave much time for romantic thoughts or prankish young-men-type escapades.
Birthdays and even Christmases came and went with usually only an exchange of cards among the adults, and since Uncle Claude did a man’s work even back then, he was considered an adult way too soon.
Daddy and Uncle Claude have both been gone many years now. But as I’ve worked on those cabinets, I’ve had ample time to think back on their lives.
My daddy died suddenly of a heart attack in his huge garden picking green beans.
Since I was a "daddy’s girl," the fact I was grown and had kids of my own did not soften the blow.
That first Christmas seemed insurmountable without him.
I looked around and saw Christmas decorations, poinsettias and even small, decorated Christmas trees on graves surrounding his.
I could feel all those other families’ losses at Christmas. But I could also hear my daddy’s words to me if I spent "good hard-earned money" on something like a tree to put on his grave!
So I drove away with my then-carload of kids…
But my husband always says he can tell when those little wheels start turning in my brain!
The kids and I bought a small Christmas tree about two feet high. We wrapped two strands of twinkling Christmas lights around it and dug into our box of decorations for several that were small but had plenty of sparkle.
Roy said Uncle Claude had likely never had a Christmas tree and wouldn’t know what to do with that one.
But I reloaded the car with kids and the tree, and off we went.
Uncle Claude liked to watch out the big picture window in front of his modest rented house and watch the folks in Murphrees Valley go about their Blount County business.
So we situated the little tree in that window and plugged it in.
Uncle Claude, a man of very few words, just grinned that slight grin of his and patted Nathan on the head.
Roy doubted he’d ever plug it back up…
But we had practice for the Christmas program so we drove by nearly every night on our way to church.
And guess what? Every night, knowing just when we’d be driving by, Uncle Claude had the Christmas tree lit in all its tiny glory! And he would always be standing by it in the big picture window to wave as we went by.
I couldn’t always see his face, but the kids and I KNEW he had that little grin!
The kids and I felt like we had bought daddy a Christmas tree that year—but we didn’t carry it to the grave where only his shell now lies.
So this year while I’m sanding and scrubbing, those little wheels in my mind are turning again…I don’t have a lot of money and we don’t "do" credit cards…but I know some former hard working country folk this year who will appreciate some homemade jelly and maybe some goat milk soap shaped like little Christmas trees….
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer who lives on a Blount County farm. You can reach her through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.