Certain sounds and scents evoke my childhood memories. This morning, the rattling chirp of the cicadas took me back to summer mornings on my great-uncle’s farm in northeastern North Carolina.
I was about nine when we started visiting the farm. My maternal grandmother had moved to the farm, to live with her oldest brother, when my grandfather died. When my Dad was sent overseas, Mom and I settled near family in Virginia Beach. We would join aunts, uncles and cousins “in the country” for Sunday dinner. At some point, Mom and I started spending weekends with Granny and Uncle Sam. As we got older, my cousin and I would stay for the week.
It didn’t take me long to realize that country life was a lot different than suburban life. At home, I spent summer days bike-riding and playing in a friend’s pool. When it got too hot outside, we retreated to the cool indoors to play and watch TV.
But in the country…
There was limited TV reception. The black and white TV, with tinfoil on the rabbit ears, only offered up a couple channels. Even then, the picture was staticky.
There was no air conditioning. A large box fan hummed loudly in a window and another was strategically placed to circulate the air. I often sat in front of the fan to cool off, and when I did, I almost always talked into it, entertaining myself with the distorted sound of my voice.
There was no place to ride a bike. Since the only pavement was the two lane road in front of the house, often used by semi-trucks in route to Elizabeth City, we weren’t allowed to ride on the street. I think Uncle Sam felt sorry for us trying to pedal our bikes through the thick grass, so he showed us how to drive his small riding lawnmower. Cutting grass quickly became a favorite passtime. Uncle Sam soon bought a second mower. While he said he bought it for parts, I think he bought it so we would not have to take turns. When one mower eventually stopped running, he tied it to the back of functioning mower so we could tow each other.
There was no swimming pool. Instead, we were introduced to the Pasquotank River. For this pool-swimming gal, I had to summon up courage to venture into the murky river. I conquered my fear and carefully walked over the rusted hot metal grate on the boat ramp and waded into the brackish water. With every step, silt stuck to the bottom of my feet. Soon, I was waist-deep in the cool, dark waters. We played tag, dug for clams and skipped rocks until we were called to dry-off for the short ride home. As we dried, the river left a peculiar smell on our skin and swimsuits, which I now know was most likely attributed to where the riverhead begins: the great Dismal Swamp. We literally stunk like swamp kids, which explains why Granny marched us directly to the bathtub. Several years ago, when my cousin and I visited the river, the pungent smell prompted us both to turn up our noses; we swam in that?
There were chores. Unlike cleaning my bedroom, farm living required sweaty and dirty labor. While it never seemed like work, we fed the chickens, collected eggs, helped clean the chicken coop, and picked beans, corn and tomatoes and dug up potatoes. Nowadays, nothing says summer to me like a little sugar sprinkled on a vine-ripe tomato…something Uncle Sam taught me.
There was porch-sitting. I remember Granny coming in from the garden, wiping her face on her apron and making her way to the porch to stretch out on the metal glider for a midday nap. Late afternoons on the porch were spent snapping beans, shelling peas and shucking corn. After dinner, we would sit in the dark and listen to Uncle Sam tell stories about days-gone-by, as his rocking chair creaked in a steady rhythm. Sometimes, my cousin and I stayed out on the porch after Granny and Uncle Sam went to bed. Once we decided we were going to sleep on it. Perhaps it was all the spooky stories we had just made up, but we convinced ourselves the old, dilapidated house in the field across the street had disappeared; we scurried inside and locked the door behind us.
There were no inside dogs. Whenever Mom and I visited, my little Chihuahua, Cleo, stayed inside so she would not aggravate Uncle Sam’s outside dog. Ol’ Blackie didn’t have a defined pedigree and it was obvious she enjoyed a diet of table-food scraps. Her thick black fur, with hints of gray, was most often matted with dirt. She wasn’t a stick-fetching, kid-chasing dog and I don’t think I ever saw her run. Yet she was faithful to meet Uncle Sam at the door each morning, and together, they would mosey across the yard. Blackie tolerated us hugging on her, but when she was done with us, she would scooch her old body through the crawlspace opening and disappear under the house.
There was good sleeping. Even after a full day of being outside, catching frogs in the irrigation ditch, and acting out our own Daniel Boone adventures, we still grumbled about bedtime. However, bedtime brought a resurgence of silliness and giggles. Eventually, we would fall quiet and, if the fans were not humming, the night sounds would lull me to sleep.
The mornings came early. While Granny and Uncle Sam got up at the crack of dawn, they allowed us to sleep in. I usually woke up when I heard them moving around in the kitchen, but I would lay still and listen. Pots and pans rattled as Granny cooked breakfast. Soon the scent of biscuits and bacon would waft through the air into the bedroom. I’d hear muffled breakfast conversation and, shortly thereafter, the screen door would slam and Blackie would bark. Morning sunbeams streamed in the window ushering in a warm breeze. The birds sang, the crickets chirped and the wheels of a passing truck whined on the pavement. Then, as if on cue, from their hiding place in the dense vegetation, the cicadas would begin their high-pitch vibrating call. As their chorus rose to a crescendo, excitement stirred within me. It was as if the cicadas were waking the world, declaring their excitement about the start of a new day.
This morning the rattling chirp of the cicadas took me back to summer mornings on my great-uncle’s farm and, just as it has since that childhood summer morning five decades ago, excitement stirs within me and I anticipate what this new day will hold.
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness;
His mercies begin afresh each morning.
~ Lamentations 3:22-23