Monday, February 14, 2011


You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If one carries many such memories into life, one is safe to the end of one's days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may be the means of saving us.

***From The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

I recently fell in love with singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell's book Chinaberry Sidewalks. I knew I was under the book's sway when I found myself reading passages aloud, so that could hear the music of his words. I rationed the last 50 pages of the book, so I could milk the affair. Alas it came to an end, but I plan on revisiting it one a regular basis.

The book is a memoir of Mr. Crowell's experiences growing up in Houston. Much of the book explores the turbulent relationship of his parents. At times it's a heartbreaking book, but it's told with love and grace. The following passage is one such example of the beauty that can be found inside this book:

As a boy my favorite place in the world was my grandmother's apron-covered lap. Her favorite place in the world was the tiny bedroom where she kept her Bible, a wicker rocking chair, and an old tube radio tuned to the hundred-thousand-watt radio station KXEG in Del Rio, Texas. Lost in the scent of her leather-covered Bible and the overheated transformers, we went places, met people, and saw things that would shape the remainder of our lives. Rocking on her lap and listening to a live Carter Family performance, I remember knowing for the first time that I was loved. In time I came to understand the nature of her love as being part of an even greater love, one that loved my grandmother for loving me.

One day I asked if she had anything to do with this God I'd been hearing about. Without pause or condescension she answered, "Why, yes, child, I do, but no more than you or your momma or a rank stranger on the street. Some say God's sittin' up in heaven mad as a hornet 'bout how we actin' down here, but I don't think he's mad at all. Ain't nobody mad coulda ever made somebody half as special as you." She was the enlightened enchantress of my childhood. I was, and still am, very much in love with Grandma Katie.

All these years later, the smell of burning leaves often transports me to the tiny front yard on Avenue P, where on an autumn day in 1954 my grandmother buried me up to the neck in freshly fallen post-oak leaves. Like every great adult playmate, she knew the value of repetition and, for my please alone, spent the entire afternoon re-raking leaves in an attempt to create the perfect pile. More than just that, she created the perfect day. Then, when the daylight and my interest in being buried alive began to wane, she raked the pile high one last time. "Why, I do believe a fine young man like you should do the honors," she said, ceremoniously handing me a lit kitchen match.

From the blaze, sparks sprang like newborn shooting stars in reverse, defying gravity and rising far above our heads. A hoot owl on the telephone pole harrumphed his approval. Trees leaned in for a closer look. house kept a respectful distance. But the wind couldn't resist the urge to see what it could do, hence more sparks. The pyromaniac in me today can be traced to the moment Grandma Katie passed me that match.

Before long, our roaring fire gave way to a smoldering glow, and eventually, the pitch-black darkness of another star-studded witching hour. It was, after all, Halloween season, when the blurred edges of blue shadows, the coolness of day's end, and my encroaching bedtime normally put me in mind of ghosts and their attendant hobgoblins. Not on this evening. Backed by my grandmother's fierce innocence, the chains of my four-year-old imagination refused to be rattled. To be well loved is to be free of the evil lurking around the next darkened corner. Every child should know that feeling.

Later on, after I'd played in the bathtub until my fingers and toes were nearly purple as prunes, she read my favorite Unclue Remus story - the one where Br'er Rabbit gets in a jam with the Tar Baby. I was fast asleep before B'rer Fox could outline, for the hapless Br'er Bear, his plan to snare Br'er Rabbbit. My life since has been ongoing search for the stillness that marked the end of that one perfect day.

This passage reaffirms my belief that love never dies. Even after a loved one passes, the love they created lives in memories and stories. Their love lives in us, and we have an obligation to perpetuate that love by passing our stories on.

dreaming under moonbeams,


Jenni said...

Beautiful. Must. Find. Kleenex. Now. Doggone you, Muddy!

Nella said...

Okay, all the talk of whiskey, beer, travels, fun food, and music....then, you throw this into the mix! I'm sitting here wiping a tear from my eye.

Thanks for sharing such good writing. Both yours and Crowell's.

Anonymous said...

Grandmothers should be put in charge of everything.