My favorite memory of my father is one when he wasn’t telling the truth. . . Ironic isn’t it? He was a man who valued honesty, and gave me a supreme sense of respect for that quality. He was always talking to us about telling the truth; many of the spankings we received were not for the “infractions” we committed but for not telling the truth about those minor deeds. In fact I remember one spanking which I received because he thought Jeff and I told a lie about smoking in the basement of our house in Labrador. When he later learned that the cigarette butts were from the men who worked on the furnace, he apologized but didn’t even feel so bad about spanking us unjustly, because I think he thought we would remember it and not even consider smoking or lying about anything in the future. But that is not my favorite memory. As I said, in this memory, he was practicing the art of deception.
One summer when we went home very early—it was the end of May, first of June—the summer had not come yet, and the chill was still in the air. We had taken with us only warm weather clothes, and had to buy a jogging suit, and borrow jackets, for the mornings were cold, night having taken animals back into their winter lairs and threatening even late frost. The corn was up high in the back field, my mother’s father’s favorite field for corn and Daddy, living there now with his new wife honored the country wisdom of his deceased and ex-father-in-law. Each night Daddy worried about the corn and the beans and the potatoes he had planted, almost as if his livelihood depended on it, I’m sure remembering that early time in his life when it did.
But it did not frost, and we picked plums, and looked at his watermelons which were the size of cantaloupes, and heard how the Stone Mountain variety was going to beat all of the others. Did we want to come back in August when the watermelons would be ripe, did we want to stay all summer, when were we moving back home? How I wish I had been able to do what he wanted.
We also had to contend with rain. And one of the things he had promised us we could do is look for arrow heads. There was a field back to the left (I think north, but I never could figure out the directions at home) behind the house near the land that belonged to Grandaddy’s brother, John Will Glover, parceled out to his children by that time, and used for hunting by my cousin Ricky. Even though the field was on Grandaddy’s land, we all knew that we had to be careful. Deer season was over, but I wasn’t sure about turkeys, and squirrels were always in season. We didn’t want anyone to be shot. We knew all the stories on both sides of the family—Joy and Jesse’s daughter, Uncle John Will’s daughter, even Dirk had shot Keith and by the grace of God Almighty, the bullet had missed the jugular vein by a fraction of an inch. We didn’t want to take any chances about people hunting and shooting us when we came to a field to find the artifact treasures.
The field had been plowed; but Daddy said it needed to rain, so we waited, and waited. Any other year it would have rained constantly, but this year, the colder weather seemed to have been a barrier between heaven and earth. Finally at the end of the first week, it rained and Daddy said we could look for the arrowheads the next day, if it stopped and if it dried out. But it didn’t dry out; it then decided to make up for the dry spell, and every morning, I’d go to the back porch, look out through the holes in the plastic covering the screen, and try to see some break in the clouds that might signal the opportunity to spend the afternoon looking for what had come to be almost a spiritual find for me.
You see, I had spent many, many hours, days at a time, traipsing around fields, along creek beds, up and down red clay roads, looking for the tips of an arrow head sticking out of the high embankments rising up with plum trees, blackberry bushes, and all the accompanying animal life that gave both pleasure and fear to these outings. And never, not once, had I found an arrowhead in tact. I had found chips, pieces of rust and white colored flint, m a y b e (Daddy would say) a piece of pottery, but never an arrowhead in its complete glory. I had even become an extremely well-trained and educated amateur archeologist in the Arkansas Archeological Society, working two-full weeks from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Toltec Mounds east of Little Rock, watching the pit next to us uncover a historical burial ground and stop progress until the bones could be evaluated by the National Native American Tribunal and re-interred elsewhere on the complex through the eloquence of a Cedar Smoke Ceremony. I knew all the procedures for preservation, knew that removal of an artifact was actually the last thing a true archeologist would do, for the placements of the artifacts, the conjunction of them with other objects and land formations told us millions more that the simple artifact itself. I know all it took to value the cultures from which these artifacts came; I told myself I knew so much more about how to appreciate the whole of history of the objects and their people. And as Daddy always said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Only thing is, I didn’t present much of a danger to other arrowhead collectors. Oh, I wanted to find them—even after my great educational enlightening. But I had never found one. Not one. Not even the year before when we were cruising the road over near the area of the county people call the Duck Roost. I think that’s part of the Sun Hill/La Grange road. Again, those long short cuts Daddy always took kept me from ever believing that I could figure out my way around Washington and the adjoining counties. One day, after fishing a little at the Ohoopee River, we drove the dry, dusty red-roaded afternoon into the far reaches of the county. I was at the wheel—for some odd reason, because Daddy always thought he should drive whenever he was in a vehicle. We—I thought—were looking for a path into the woods which went to a field that he had permission to walk in and look for arrowheads. We were going 35-40 miles an hour when Daddy yelled “Slow down, slow down.” I did. He said, “Stop.” I did. (I’m the one of the four kids who did what she was told, usually!) He said, “Back up, back up.” I did. I backed until he told me to stop, probably 1000 to 1500 yards. He opened the door, got out, reached down, and picked up a beautiful, perfect spearpoint. Til the day he died, he said he had seen it as we were driving by. You ask me, I think the ghost of Jeronimo was pointing from behind the tangled woods.
But that was the year before, another year that I turned up no artifacts. And this time it was going to be different. This year I was determined that I would find one. I was more than thirty years old. I was going to find one.
The day came, and even though it was still a little cool, we started into the field. We walked up and down, up and down. Daddy, me, Taylor, and Brantley. The dirt was crusted up, and pebbles and stones were sitting on their own little crests. Daddy gave us the Excedrin lecture number five hundred thirty, the one about how we would probably find arrowheads on the top of one of these little crests. Then he found three or four himself, none of which were one the tops of the little crests. Which again made me suspicious of Daddy’s “teaching” us how to do it. After a few hours, Taylor sat down in the dirt and started making “muddy guddies” with an old coffee can full of water she found. Brantley was playing teenage mutant Ninja turtles with a pine limb he had found. Daddy kept trying to pump us up, “You have to remain diligent, Bud,” he said to Brantley. “How do you spell ‘diligent,’ Grandaddy,” Brantley said. Brantley was learning, but not the lesson Daddy had in mind.
After another hour or two, Brantley and Taylor went back to the house to watch cartoons. I kept after it. I was determined to find an arrowhead. I walked until my knees hurt. I thought my head would be permanently attached to my neck at a ninety-degree angle. I thought my eyes were going to completely useless for the rest of my life.
And then it happened. I sort of stumbled on a clump of dirt. Under it was a sort of strange looking piece of stone, about the size of a flat orange. The grayish, slate colored rock was tapered on one end to a fine point. AN ADZE! I had found an ax blade. I finally had found a real piece of worked stone. “Wow. Daddyyou’renotgoingtobelievewhatIfound.” I went yelling and running to him, talking as fast as my mouth could go. By the time I got to him, I was out of breath.
He looked at it. He turned it over. He held it up to the sun. The he looked at it and shook his head.
“What?” I said, incredulous.
“This wasn’t anything that was shaped or used.”
“What?!?!” I couldn’t believe it. “Look at it Daddy; look how it’s tapered.”
“It is just a rock that was hit by a plow blade, probably.”
“NO, IT’S NOT.” I was determined.
“You need to listen to me; it’s not an ax. It looks like the shape, but you could tell if it had been worked, because it would have a texture where it had been chipped.”
“It’s an ax, Daddy.” I was furious. He couldn’t stand that I had found such a great piece in a place where he had hunted for artifacts hundreds of times. I took my ax and walked straight to the house without saying goodbye, come eat supper or kiss my ax.
I was mad all night. He cleaned up his arrowheads and laid them next to the sink where I had to do the dishes that night. That made me madder; that was his object. The next day we had to go somewhere, and the following day we had to leave. So that was the end of that. There would be no more arrowhead hunting this trip home. I had carefully wrapped up my piece of stone, dreaming of its soon being displayed in the Smithsonian, I’m sure.
We made our little trip the next day. By the end of the day I was over being mad, but still determined that I had finally, for once, found an exquisite treasure. By the time we got home, Daddy and I were playfully teasing each other about the “great find” that the Indians had carved with their Massey Fergeson. I loaded the car with the endless bags, boxes, suitcases. Pack here, pull there. Daddy would bring out yet one more jar of jelly, or a few more packs of cream corn to stick into the already overfull cooler. Everything but the overnight case and the kids was in car, so we could pull out first thing the next morning.
The next morning, the house dark and everyone asleep, I got up very early, determined to take a short walk, just as the sun was coming up, back into the field where we looked for the arrowheads, back around the path/homemade road which led back to the highway by the spot that Daddy had had surveyed for the house he and Mama were going to build when we first moved back to Sandersville, where the stakes still stood, representing the dream abandoned when he bought the house on Meadow Drive. I started out down the highway, planning to go through the field last. My eyes stung when I saw the stakes from the survey, remembering how distraught I was when I found out I was not going to grow up a “country girl.” I walked on through the woods, listening for deer—which I never saw except on the highway.
I was quiet, barely moving. I looked into the clearing where the field was, and was shocked to see Daddy there, his back to me, the sun hitting spots on his back and then across the field. I saw him bend down and reach for something.
He doesn’t give up, I thought. No wonder he finds so many. He has the perseverance of Abraham Lincoln. He could walk a field, morning to night, a pack of crackers and a little water, arthritic knees, dead tired. There was no stopping this man. He was the king of artifact collecting. He was the man.
And then I watched him for a while longer, from behind the tree where I sort of hid. He reached into his pocket, pulled out an arrowhead, and placed it in the dirt, on top of a little crest. What was he doing? Was he crazy? He looked up, took a bearing from an oak tree or some other marker, counted out loud his steps, and placed another arrowhead from his pocket onto a crest of dirt. After six or eight repetitions of this, he headed back to the house, and I followed him, at a distance where he couldn’t see me.
When we finally did see each other (I sneaked around the front) he asked me where I was coming from.
“I went for a walk.”
“Up toward the garden?”
“Yes,” I lied. “You just get up?”
“Yeah,” he lied. “You get everything packed?”
“Yeah. I guess we’ll get off when I get the kids up.”
“You mean next week, when you go home?” We both laughed. “I got a few more things I want to do before you go.”
“Now Daddy, you know I have to go home today,” knowing that it was useless to argue with him.
“I want to take Brantley and Taylor back to the field. I just know there’s got to be more stuff back there. It rained a little bit last night, but the wind dried it out. I think that probably exposed some more stuff.”
I wasn’t going to make this easy. “Daddy, we really have to go.”
“It won’t take that long.” Famous (always the same) last words.
I probably don’t even need to finish this story. You know the kids found their arrowheads. It wasn’t for four or five years that they wondered and discovered that their Grandfather had played Hiawatha Klaus. By then they had found--on their own-- arrowheads in other places. And I had too.
By then, I knew a great number of other things. I knew why he had placed arrowheads for the grandkids, when I guess he would have let me get old enough to use a walker while looking for an arrowhead, before he would have planted one for me to find. Before he would lie to me about an ax blade that turned out to be a stone cut by a tractor blade, after all.
He knew from the look in my eyes that I was going to keep walking, keep reading, keep joining archeological societies, keep breaking my back until I found what I was looking for. He knew I didn’t need coaxing or prodding or tricking or pushing. The truth of the real world was that “finds” are rare, wisdom only hard come-by.
Brantley and Taylor were a different story. He had to make sure they took a little piece of himself with them, the little piece that he wasn’t sure they would have enough time to see. When he put fish on Drew’s fishing line, he was giving the same.
Somewhere in my psyche, he must have placed that artifact, and he was absolutely sure that I was going to keep on searching.
What a sneak; what a little lie! What a perfect wisdom for an earthly father.
The Third April 8th
Find a way to laugh, it seems
That’s always what you said without saying
A mockingbird would divebomb
The cat that kept turning over the garbage pail,
And you snickered at the justice.
The story your friend told
When he took his sons bass fishing:
A twelve-pounder they threw back. Incredulous, your laughter.
Another tale of pelleting the state patrol,
And hiding in the midnight cornfield,
Cold as a trout stream, your nervous chuckle.
Preacher man, Boudreaux humor, Watergate
the underdog winning, Grandmama’s Mr. Buz-zard punch line,
Soot on my nose, the night you scratched the screen--
How you loved the practical guffaw, the silence
Just before the silly which always gave you away,
But we played along just to see your mischief.
What would it have been watching you grow old,
Pain growing into pain, and your laugh line swallowed
In the wrinkled disappearing of what made you you?
So you sneaked away, in a day of sunshine, in a ray disappeared,
Figure-it-out, twinkle-eyes, catch-me-if-you-can, Houdini-you,
You tricked life and left on a punch line.
Even before you were gone, I laughed your laughter
With you and heard you say, “Your daddy won’t be around forever,”
And I hooted an arrogant refutation, yes you would.
I am glad you laughed through your suffering, for it does last,
Forever, so I can laugh and take in air and breathe one more time,
Even though you’re gone.
April 8, 2002