Posts made in November, 2006

MY GRANDMOTHER”S IRON BED

Posted by on Nov 7, 2006 in My father's mom, Spirit | 0 comments

The man’s name was Hardin Porter and he was suppose to be a cousin to my Dad’s mother, but I have searched the family tree and have yet to shake out a Porter from its branches. I know he existed, because I have an article about him rafting logs down the Rough River in Grayson County, a dangerous and highly skilled job. The article mentions his sons, Harvey and Mike, who remembered their Dad … careening downstream at the rear of a 200-foot log raft, yelling orders to the oarsmen: “A lick to the left! Two licks to the right! Half a lick to the left!” It was a tough and rowdy bunch, and I think I might hesitate in suggesting any kinship to them if they were alive today, but times were different in Kentucky at the turn of the century. The newspaper article I have came from the Courier-Journal about 24 years ago, and Hardin’s son Mike was 78, his father long dead. It was a great story that told about a way of life wilder and more grueling than I can imagine.

In between times of rolling logs down the river, Hardin was a farmer and raised cattle. I do not know if it was a common occurrence, but the facts passed down to me were that on at least one occasion he took a trip to Louisville on the train to sell a load of livestock. He returned without mentioned anything of his adventures to his family, but when a train car full of furniture arrived for him the next month, his sons questioned their Dad about the extraordinary event. He had to admit that he had gotten drunk in the big city and did vaguely recall buying the things. Having no storage for the items, he was forced to sell them off at a discount to family and friends. My Grandmother bought a beautiful iron bed for the princely sum of two dollars cash, or perhaps $1.50, depending on whether my sister or I have the better memory.

I don’t know what color it was in the beginning, but I recall it in my grandmother’s house painted a ghastly shade of dark brown. Perhaps because of the cheap price, they did not value the massive thing, and were trying to make it look like wood. As all members of the family can attest, it is a solid piece of furniture, possibly indestructible, so I imagine all of it’s friends from the freight car are still around the country somewhere, unless they were melted down during the war to make tanks. My sister was in possession of it after my grandmother died, but she graciously passed it on to me when Eva was born. It came over the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia in a u-haul trailer with other assorted pieces, to furnish her then empty room in our first suburban home. The trip was memorable because it’s when my husband and I confirmed some fundamental things about our children and Pontiac products. Two facts were crystal clear as we pulled into a mountain gas station at 3 in the morning, with steam pouring out from under the hood, and hysterically tired children in the back seat. Since it was our fifth, or perhaps sixth stop to fill up the radiator, we were quite sure that our babies really, really, did not sleep in cars, and the cooling systems of Pontiac station wagons are really, really, not designed for hauling trailers.

There was a lot of cursing and grumbling as we hauled the heavy frame up the stairs late the next day, but I have a feeling the bed has heard it all over the years. It looked innocent enough, decked out with a coat of white paint and adorned with an antique quilt made by a great, great, aunt. You would never know by looking that it had lived such an exciting life. In many ghost stories, pieces of furniture hold memories from long ago, and I like to think that some part of my grandparent’s energy is somehow tied to the bed. I remember sleeping in it when I stayed overnight at Mamaw’s house when I was a child, bundled under homemade quilts on a feather mattress. Eva was never really fond of the bed, because it provided no soft, cozy, resting spot for her back. I also fussed with her often about the two tiny brass balls that were screwed onto the ironwork as finials. Evidently the desire to unscrew them was unbearable, and I would have to crawl around under the bed to search for them frequently. Because it is one of the few physical links I have to fond memories of my grandmother, plus the fact that the grandfather I never met slept in this very bed, it will continue to be a part of my family as long as I live.

So I am grateful to Hardin Porter, a man I never met, but have tried to imagine from the first time I learned about the bed as a child. His story was a bit risqué when I was young, what with the drinking and all, but as I have grown older, I view it in a different light. I doubt that Hardin traveled as far in his lifetime as the bed has, and I picture him in the unaccustomed bright lights of Louisville, tempted to check out one of the establishments where you could actually go in and order a drink from the bar. I like to think he stayed in a hotel, had a bath in a big claw foot tub, and dressed in his cleanest duds to go out and do the town with his cattle money. If he had been a hard drinking man, he would have been more cautious, but unaccustomed to spirits, he quickly became drunk and was vulnerable to whatever shyster took him in. I have no idea if that’s how it happened, but I enjoy the false memory of him waking bleary eyed and puzzled the next day, checking out of his hotel, wondering where his money went, then catching the train home. My children, who are exhausted from my constant probing curiosity, will be amazed that I never asked more about Hardin years ago when his sons were living.

While others study the great tides of history, I find myself drawn to these trivial rivulets that are rarely recorded. The human equation tells us why, not just what and when, and even though we know mortal weakness all too well, it is somehow comforting to know we didn’t invent folly. The bed sits solid and substantial, and for me, a tangible symbol of both abiding love and reckless behavior, the kind of conduct we all say is idiotic, but that we secretly find intriguing. I hope the bed, along with the story, will pass down in the family, and that unscrewing the brass finials will fascinate some future grandchild, or great grandchild.

p.s. Lulu Estelle Renfrow Crume, my grandmother, was born April 1, 1882 and died September 1, 1970

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Dreams

Posted by on Nov 7, 2006 in Poetry | 0 comments

In dreams I spoke,

and the words flowed so achingly sweet and clear,

that angels waited by my side with their soft mouths open,

their terrifying eyes focused most dreadfully on my face.

I woke from the nightmare with a start, alone.

I spoke, talking to myself,

my voice a pale shadow of that remembered brilliance

And though a million words could not suffice to tell even one from my dream,

clumsy, halting, with all my soul laid bare

the words course on

telling tales from heaven and hell and all the strange lands in between

and all the joys that mortals still can share.

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