Friday, March 26, 2010

Part Three - The tales of Childhood

So few things are memorable when you are little. Oh, I know we all THINK we truly remember things that happened to us when we were small - but few of us truly do. My earliest "memory" is that of a very large rattlesnake outside on our porch when I was but three. I was precariously perched on a chair with tiny fingers straining to reach the latch, when my mother, who was outside hanging clothes on the line, saw me and the snake - at the same time. 
As a mom, I can only imagine her horror as she saw her tiny girl about to make the mistake of her life. Mother screamed for my grandma, who had just walked into the kitchen to find me teetering on the brink of success in my escape. She snatched me off the chair as my mother burst through the front door in a panic. A snake on our back porch!!! She almost got out the door - that snake would kill her!
By this time of course my grandmother had already called daddy and papa home from the boat to deal with the miscreant snake who felt this was his new home. 
Fortunately for all us women folk, the dock was moments away and they arrived quickly. Granddaddy took his gun, and promptly made skin from the snake. Funny, it didn't look like a six foot western diamond back rattler... but it was. 
This is not a true memory - it's a story told over and over again, of which I have stored the details from each telling. It is my mothers memory, passed on to me. 
I could tell all sorts of fantastic tales of the sea from my grandfathers 25 year career as a shrimp boat captain - all lived through him by a very imaginative and thoughtful little girl, who thought catching shrimp in the ocean was the most fabulous job ever. Like the one about his mole...
My grandfather had a very prodigious mole on his forehead - I mean this thing had it's own eyes! I can vividly remember being about six when I first mustered the courage to ask him how it came to be there... Of course, NOW I know that he was likely born with it, and that it had probably caused him immense pain as a child. I also know that it was rude of me to ask about it... but hey, I was only six, and he was my papa nothing was remotely rude with him. The story he told was one of sea-faring adventure, which convinced me even further that he was a hero of the finest sort! 
The tale was that he was about 20  miles off the coast of Campeche, Mexico hauling a mother-lode of shrimp, when suddenly over the transom of the boat lept the largest shark eyes had ever seen. Well that shark didn't like his shrimp being harvested, and he had it in for my grandpa. So when it landed on the deck with a wet, slimy plop, grandpa decided the shark could not stay. 
He asked the shark why he was there...and the shark told him he was just following his dinner. The argument of old... just who do the riches of the sea belong to - the fishermen who depend upon it for life and sustenance, or the fish who depend upon it for life and sustenance? 
Well that old shark, according to my grandpa, sat there and discussed this age old conundrum with him. And they came to an agreement - if the shark could have just a little human intelligence, then he wouldn't have to work so hard to eat... and in return, my grandfather could keep all he caught, without fear of retribution from the shark population, with the understanding that if grandpa's feet ever touched the water, all bets were off. Well grandpa made that deal, and the shark reached up and touched his forehead, taking just enough intelligence to keep him from having to work too hard to eat, and leaving the rest behind. When the shark pulled away, granddaddy's forehead stretched out, and pop! out came the mole. 
What a story to grow up with. I believed that tale until I was about twelve, and learned from the movie Jaws, that sharks not only cannot talk, but if they could, man was the LAST thing they would talk to, much less make a deal with. 
But that story gave me so many years of wonderfully imaginative games to play. I was a captain in my own right, sailing the seas in a ship built from rock, wood, dirt, or gravel, depending on my location when the fantasy took hold. I sailed from Greece to Austraila, around the Cape and down the coast of Africa. I was an adventurer on the seas and the fish talked to me. We had a wonderful arrangement in which sharks brought me barrels of freshly caught shrimp, that were carefully steamed over the blow holes of whales passing by. 
Other stories, that were true, remind me of my father's childhood, and what it would be like to grow up with siblings, as I had none at that age. 
They all had one underlying theme - the ocean. As a family, we were bred to be on the water. Saltwater flowed through our veins, and still today I hear the call of the gull, no matter how far from the ocean I wander. 
I had a great-grandfather who was an author. For close to forty years, he wrote for Fur, fish, and Game magazine. His stories were about a pair of hunters named Charlie and Lew. Their adventures fueled even more fantasies in the woods behind our house. 
Growing up in the relative seclusion afforded in Tennessee in that time molded me into an independent thinking woman. It prepared me for the things to come in my life - and it was an experience every child should have. The experience of unbridled imagination, untamed by reality. The experience of a rich family history, embellished enough to make even the mundane seem exciting and adventurous. For those memories, and many others, I am grateful to my family - the made me who I am today!


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