Tuesday, March 1, 2011

3-1-11 Finding Shan

see the resemblance?

I was trying to fill in some additional dates on the ancestry.com family tree last night and it occurred to me that I hadn't searched Facebook for my cousin Shan in a good while. (Several years ago when I first got to facebook I looked for lots of people who have since come to the party.)

And then, there he was. 

I uploaded an album this morning for him with all the old pictures I currently have digitized of his side of the family, many from when his mom and my mom were younger. We share the same great-grandparents in John and Maudie Dean Holt. His grandmother was my great-aunt Tina, half-sister to my Mammammy, known to the rest of the world as Jewel. Theirs, like the L.F. Saltsman family (see yesterday's post), was a blended family of a widower and widow each with their own children. John's kids were Gene, Stella, and Aubrey. Maudie's children were Beulah and Tina. And together John and Maudie had Jewel and Ed, the baby of the family.

Many summers I would get woken far before the crack of dawn, usually by 3:30 a.m., to crawl into the back seat of my grandparents' Oldsmobile. The interior was a plush red velour with these hard as rock buttons in the cushions. I'd watch my parents wave to us as we pulled out of the driveway, shed a few tears because I was going to miss them, and then fall back asleep as Grandaddy drove us across Houston at 4:00 a.m. in order to "beat the traffic." 

By 5:30 I would be woken again, this time with impressions of hard buttons on one side of my face, to stop in for breakfast at the Red Onion diner in Huntsville. I would always get a big mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top and a plate of biscuits and gravy.

The rest of the day would be the deadly boring drive across Texas to get to Antlers, Oklahoma where my Aunt Tina and Uncle Bill would be waiting for us. I-45 stretched forever: From Huntsville to Madisonville to Centerville to Buffalo to Fairfield to Corsicana, when we finally got off of the Interstate and took back roads through Athens to Tyler, where we hooked a left and headed north through Sulphur Springs, Paris, and finally over the border to Hugo and onto Antlers via the Indian Nation Turnpike, which I always thought sounded so cool. Looking at the map, I realize now this route added some two hours to our total travel time versus the most expedient way. Had I been privy to this information as a kid, you can bet I would have made a federal case out of it. By the time we reached the main street of Antlers I would have been happy to walk the rest of the way if it meant getting out of that backseat. 

Shan's folks, Bob and Linda, owned the furniture store on the main drag, right next to the drug store where I bought notebooks with Pigs in Space on the cover and other treasures from the small toy and notebook section, especially hot wheels and, one thrilling year, four or five cars you could pull backward to wind them up and race them against one another. Mainly, as a tomboy, I was intent on proving to Shan and everyone else I could do anything he could do.

(including wearing bad 70s pants)

Aunt Tina's trailer was only a couple of turns away from there so by the time we hit elementary age, Shan and I would have the luxury of walking around town during the day, stopping in to cool off in the stores. When we were older, there was a little pizza joint to hang out at as well.

Across the street from Aunt Tina's was the elementary school and its playground, so we whiled away many long hot summer hours there, too. Meanwhile, Aunt Tina and Mammammy would sit and talk and talk and sit, and get up to make something to eat, and then sit and talk some more. Oh, and there were the soap operas. I first got hooked on All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital one brutally hot summer when it was unbearable to be outdoors in the afternoons. The small trailer was equipped only with one window unit in the narrow hall. I remembering standing directly in front of it, breathing in the ozone, desperate to cool off. 

Shan probably doesn't remember one visit when we had just arrived and he and I set off across the street to play when we ran into a couple of boys already playing in "our" spot. I don't remember what Shan yelled at them (I have wisely blocked it out) but they set off towards us, fists clenched. And we, like all sensible kids, took off in the other direction like our hair was on fire. They cornered us at one point and Shan told them I was the one who yelled. I don't think I talked to him for two days after that.

One trip, when I was pretty little, Uncle Bill (who passed away when I was 13) and my granddad went out squirrel hunting. I watched, horrified, as they cleaned and skinned them on the front steps. And I must have been about eye level to the counter, because I have the most vivid memory of seeing those squirrel carcass silhouettes floating in a large tupperware container by the sink.

More often, though, the midday dinner (not lunch) was huge platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and plates of her tomatoes from the garden.

I also spent plenty of time with my head in Aunt Tina's fridge, again, trying to cool off. And I fell in love with her food assistance program cheese. It was nothing but off-brand Velveeta, but it was the first time I'd ever tasted that rubbery processed goodness. I think I ate an entire 5 pound brick of the stuff over the course of our two week stay.

On really special days, we'd take a drive out to their childhood stomping grounds, at Little Cedar, just a few miles outside of Antlers. I'd always ask Mammammy to recount her childhood story of the exciting time she had walked the couple of miles to the mailboxes to discover someone had sent the family a whole bushel of apples, which meant she had to cart the heavy thing uphill all the way back with her baby brother Ed refusing to help. I loved hearing that story as we strode along the road she'd walked as a kid herself, barefoot in the sand like we were. We'd spend time in the shade along the creek turning over rocks and trying to find as many crawdads as possible, skipping a million rocks, and playing with the old water pump along the road that still worked, spraying out rusty water.

in between crawdads and skipping rocks

Sometimes I would get invited out to Shan's house to stay the night. One year the highlight was their pony. Another year, it was four wheelers. When we were little, there were campfires and roasting marshmallows. There was always fishing. Plus, Shan's house had a cellar, one of those Wizard of Oz ones outside the house with the dark stairs leading underground. It freaked me out.
um, a little to the left...

I remember returning home and getting my little roll of film developed only to discover Aunt Linda hadn't quite gotten the hang of taking pictures with my camera. Me, Shan, and a horse's rear end. . . 

It's funny what sticks in your memory. I remember sitting on the floor of Aunt Tina's place and crying over the finale of M*A*S*H. I remember trying to go to sleep on the fold out bed in the same room while the adults were at the kitchen table, the clicking sound of dominoes keeping me awake. Everyone smoked, but I don't ever recall being bothered by it. Around age 12, I remember crawling around the outdoor shed where Aunt Tina kept stacks and stacks of books and sneaking the steamy romances out of there to pour over in private. I remember getting back from playing in the fields and having to submit to a bath and tick search each night, and letting mammammy dig them out when she found one.

And I remember fighting with Shan all the time. We were the same age, both bull-headed, both only children surrounded by grandparents. He was as close to a brother as I would ever have. Our last visit there for the two week trip was in 1985, when we were both shocked to realize that we really didn't have much to fight over any more. It was only two weeks out of the year, but somehow we'd grown up together all along. 


Post a Comment