“Get up if you’re going with me.”
As I rolled my sleepy 10-year-old head out of bed, I could barely contain my excitement! It was always fun to go to the river and run our trot lines, do some fishing with hand poles, maybe shoot our .22 rifle a little- all things that 10-yr-old southern boys like to do.
I dressed quickly and quietly. In the back of my mind was the fear that I would be too slow or forget something or otherwise be the cause of us leaving late, and my dad would not let me go with him anymore. Years later, Dad told me how he enjoyed those times with me. Well, most of them.
I entered the kitchen in sock feet (my worn boots were kept by the kitchen door) to the smell of fried bacon and the sound of a fork scrambling eggs in an iron skillet. “Can’t find the pepper”, my Dad said, with that early morning ‘don’t-wake-the-girls’ whisper. I didn’t know where the pepper was, either, so Dad reached for his outdoors lunchbox- the big, grey, heavy-duty plastic boxes reserved only for high in the sky steel construction workers or trucking company employees, and pulled out his emergency supply of pepper. He doused a generous supply of pepper on our eggs, and an odd thing happened. The eggs turned a funny caramel color, and smelled burnt. I glanced up at Dad, but he was busy scrambling, and either didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t show it.
Once the eggs were cooked, he piled them on the plate with our bacon and white bread, a bountiful 4:00 am feast. I sucked down the eggs, which had a foul, bitter taste, but I would not let my face show its displeasure. I watched as he ate, stern jaw set with age and hard work, and to my surprise, I watched a knowing smile grow across his stubbly face. Suddenly, he laughed out loud as the realization of his mistake dawned. You see, dad kept shakers of salt and pepper- and coffee- in his lunchbox. It was coffee that he had heaped on our eggs that morning. We ate in silence, each wearing a grin that said “this ain’t good, but it’s all we’ll get for a while, so we gotta eat it”. And gone was the hurried sense of urgency to get to the river before the sun came up. The pace of the morning seemed to relax as father and son cleared the table of the breakfast dishes, laced up our matching boots, and quietly locked away the worries of the day inside the kitchen door. Whether or not we caught any fish at all, it would be a good day.
There were to be lots of good days, growing up in the cotton fields and river bottoms of West Tennessee. We lived indoors and outdoors, went to school and work and church and didn’t hunt or fish on Sundays. My hometown was small, and every parent parented everyone else’s kids, with many thanks. Every kid should be so privileged to grow up in a small town. Even more, every kid should grow up in my family.