Copyright
Sam Elmore

IT'S A WONDER.---


My family were share-croppers, on small farms in southwest Arkansas, all the way back into the century before last. Coming from that background, with Papa and the other eleven brothers and sisters playing instruments and singing at our house, it's only natural that I would take to country music right off...and I haven't changed any.

Over the years, a long string of family tales have been passed down the line. Most of them are funny, and accepted as such; primarily because we, the survivors, are still around to tell 'em. On the other hand, some of the tales are not so humorous; especially those which tell about epidemics of cholera or rabies; the struggle through the Great Depression; devastating twisters; terrible crop failures, and many other close encounters with disaster.

Funny or scary, the stories all seem to comment along these lines:

"It's a wonder how we ever lived to be...." (plug in any age you choose).

We laugh (now) about all the 'patent medicines' Mama used for tending to our numerous, but mostly minor, ailments as we grew up. She got most of her 'cure-all' potions from the itinerant Watkin's peddler. If he didn't have what Mama deemed to be a 'fix for what ails you', she'd concoct the obnoxious nostrum her-own-self; using wild herbs, and salves she made up from whatever repugnant materials were on hand.

Those old stories are still being passed along to the younger folks. But don't sell the younger generations short; they will have their own "it's a wonder" stories to pass along, when their time comes. I'll give you an example of one that's fairly modern:

When my first grand-daughter was about three years old, I was beginning to worry whether or not she would ever learn to talk. Overnight, it seems, my concerns were not only put to rest---they were totally reversed! Since then, I've wondered if she'll ever hush.

About the time she started her perpetual 'chin music', I was building planter boxes for flower beds, and putting up a grape arbor in the front yard. A local hauler had delivered the nine cubic yards of top-soil I'd ordered, for use in the planter boxes. Based on the wealth of expertise (?) I had learn't from bein' raised on a farm, I decided the top-soil needed some sand mixed in with it. I have no idy why; I just did.

As I was diggin' in the yard, my wife came out to say that she and the grand-baby's mama wanted to drive into the city to do some shopping, and wondered if I could "manage to keep an eye on" the little girl while they were gone. I come real close't to bein' insulted!

I quick-stepped them two wimmin to the car, with a John Wayne grip on their elbow, as I reminded them, in no uncertain terms, that I was trained by the New-nited States Navy to cope with ever'thang from Fire-fighting to Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare, as well as Survival, Evasion, Resistance to Interrogation, and Escape.

On top of that (I went on), I had completed a Navy correspondence course on Wardroom Management, Food Requisitioning, and Menu Preparation. With that kind-a training, I felt fairly certain that I could 'keep an eye on' my own dad-gum grand-daughter! I allowed as to how they must have a pretty low opinion of me if....(they drove off before I got through.)

So there I was; home alone with one, constantly chatterin', absolute sweetheart of a grand-child...and nine cubic yards of dirt to shovel. The girl played in the yard, always within my sight, as I dug holes for plantin' boxes. She was forever-more askin' things:

"Pap-paw, why you diggin' dirt out-a that hole?"

I have always believed that, no matter what the question, a child deserves an honest answer from a grown-up.

"Uhhh...so I can put other dirt in 'ere, punkin." C

That made about as much sense to me as it did to her, once't I thought on it some. She looked at me like I'd been out in the sun too long, but went on about her rat-killin'. I soon found out she didn't care whether I answered her questions or not; so I just grunted ever once't in a while. That seemed to satisfy her.

We broke for a snack about mid-morning. After we finished, I tried to get the kid to take a nap---a natural follow-up to sand-wiches and milk. That didn't fit her plans a-tall. The more I tried to persuade the kid that a nap was good for her, the more a little nap appealed to me. When I saw I'd lost the battle of the naps, I sat her up on pick-up truck seat, buckled her in, th'owed the shovel in the truck bed, and took off to get some mixin' sand.

A few miles down the road, a big sand quarry was in operation, with dump-trucks going in and out like it was a bee-hive. They had a portable truck scale set up, on the quarry exit road. The loaded trucks would be pulled up on the scales and, if overweight, the drivers would shovel off sand until they met the highway load limits. As a result, there was a dozen or more piles of dry, white, sand alongside the quarry road. I inquired, and the manager told me to take all the sand I wanted; no charge. I parked my pick-up beside a big pile, and started shoveling.

The grand-kid commenced to caterwaulin'. I was so intent on shoveling sand, I'd forgot she was still strapped in the truck seat. I lifted her out and set her up on a big sand pile. She was playing and chattering away like she owned the world---but she was gettin' on my nerves a little bit, askin' all 'em questions an' not payin' no 'tention to my well-considered answers.

After loading half a pick-up load of sand, I was plumb tuckered. I figgered that was enough sand; I knew it was enough shoveling. The girl kicked up a huge fuss when I told her she had to quit playin' and get back in the truck. She wanted to ride in the back, where her sand pile was at! By the time I got her buckled in, me'n her both was pretty hot under the collar.

I tried to concentrate on my driving, but couldn't help thinking that it'd be a lot easier if she'd just hush for a few minutes. But she was yammering away like one 'em high-speed Teletype machines. Hoping for a little distraction, I fumbled under the truck seat and found one of my country music tapes.

Eddy Arnold's "Bouquet of Roses" soon filled the ambiance of the truck cab. I took a deep breath, sighed, and thought to my-se'f: 'Man, there ain't nothin' in the world as soothin' as a good ol'---'

"Who's that, Pap-paw?", the kid screeched. Right in my ear! I winced, and told her:

"That's Eddy Arnold, honey. He sangs real good. Set back now....an' hush."

"I don't like that!"

I bit back a few choice words I'd learn't in the Navy, fumbled around some more, and dredged up another cassette. I took out Eddy Arnold and, without even looking to see what it was, shoved the other tape in and poked the 'play' button. All of a sudden, the truck was reverberatin' with the nimble-fingered licks of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins (his-own-s'ef) pickin' and a-grinnin'!

"Eeeeuu! That's awful! Play sump'm else, Pap-paw."

I want-a tell you folks something right now: I ain't one to go pushin' my druthers off on nobody else; I wasn't raised like that. But, I ain't partial to somebody else shootin' down my druthers, neither! But (as I kept remindin' myse'f over an' over ag'in) 'she's jest a little girl...don't let it bother you.' I fished another tape from under the seat, plugged it in, and nervously jabbed at the play button.

'Don't look so sad, I know it's over---'

Great googa-mooga! I forgot I even had that tape! Ray Price's clear-ringing voice come waftin' out-a them door speakers, an' I was grinnin' from ear to ear, rememberin' when he first come out with "For The Good Times", back in the early '70's. (Ever since then, I've been trying to find, on my git-tar, that particular note the band hits just before Ray sings the words "...for the good times". I ain't found it yet.) There's one thang fer certain---no other country singer can even tote Ray Price's lunch bucket! He's my all-time favori---

"Pap-paw, that's icky!"

Wa'al, that tore it! My wherewithall had already been curry-combed down to the quick, and now she don't like Ray Price? I aimed the truck into the break-down lane, stomped on the brakes, and turned to give her my best John Wayne glare.

"All right, dern it! Whatta you wanta hear?"

Like I said before, the younger generations will have their own stories to relate, about their 'close encounters with disaster'. I know my grand-daughter (who is voting age now) will have at least one close encounter story to pass along when it comes her turn.

But right now, it's still my turn, and I'm tellin' ye', "it's a wonder that girl ever lived to be...." after she said:

"I wanna hear Michael Jackson!"