My maternal grandfather taught me the magic of storytelling and the virtue of patience. PaPaw farmed acres and acres of land; up before dawn and resting after the noon meal. It was then we would cuddle on an old cot tucked in the corner of the dining room. I still feel the itch of the green wool blanket that covered the mattress. I listened to stories of Brer Fox, Brer Bear and Tar Baby…never the same tale twice and often involving antics with relatives I knew only through PaPaw’s words.
My first scribblings recounted similar tales in a notebook I found hidden in the wringer washer that sat on the screened-in back porch. MaMa, my grandmother, yelled at me when she discovered I had “the book,” a diary, so to speak, of people who bet on horses. That afternoon I walked out of the Ben Franklin 5 & 10-cent store with my arms brimming with pencils, notebooks and paper of every color of the rainbow. MaMa never again yelled at me, and I never again wrote in “the book.”
A drought coincided with the burgeoning Cold War and birth of the United States space program. PaPaw was convinced sending rocket ships to the moon had ruined his crops. I wrote about that in one of my new notebooks. I wrote about Martians. I wrote about the moon. I wrote about fishing with PaPaw. A green notebook filled with a child’s imagination and a teen-ager’s short stories vanished in the early 1990s during a move from one area of Virginia Beach to another. I miss that notebook.
Today I write stories for my grandchildren, and I take them on adventures.
Their 2018 Christmas present, Oh, the Places We Will Go: Adventures with MaMa Berry, is the inspiration for my work in progress: Adventures with Grammy: Let’s Explore Virginia!
I will consider myself successful if, when I am a memory, my grandchildren remember me with as much love as I remember PaPaw.
Side note: I was a sophomore in high school enrolled in a public speaking class when I learned of Joel Chandler Harris and the origin of Brer Fox and friends. I was so sure PaPaw had made up those stories and only he and I knew those characters that I almost told my teacher she was wrong. Something told me not to raise my hand. After school, I called PaPaw to tell him what my teacher had said. To my dismay, he told me she was correct. I went through a period of mourning before I could laugh about it. In college, one of my journalism professors assigned a story about a prominent newspaper publisher. I wrote about … you guessed it … Joel Chandler Harris!