On a few occasions while my granddad Keathley was alive, I drove him around the dirt roads of Mount Vernon, Arkansas in my four-wheel drive. We would wander up and down old rutted dirt roads that were no longer passable by regular cars and through narrow trails in the woods that would scratch up the paint. I’m not sure how many times we did this, but it wasn’t enough. Sometimes we talked, in the sense of him telling me where to turn and whose property we were crossing and us wondering together if they would see us and shoot or not. Sometimes we rode in silence, except for the sound of saplings going down in front of us and the occasional loss of traction and resulting fishtail or wheel spin. I have no doubt that in those silent periods his brain was flooded with memories – some good, some bad – of which he was not speaking.
Raymond Keathley had many a story to tell, but it was a rare occasion such as this, that he did.
Sadly, I don’t remember the specific stories, but on one occasion, we drove through an area of woods littered with old cars and farm implements. He had a story or explanation for each car or truck or implement. As far as I can remember he always drove a red and white pickup with junk in the back, and for a kid that junk was the material for millions of things I could build in my imagination.
I remember stories of burning fields and giving medicine to cattle (the hard way), and picking cotton. He was a landlord, and would sometimes rent to rough characters, so I remember when he kept a baseball bat near his door to scare off troublemakers; and then when he was less energetic he switched to a pistol, and in his older age he had a shotgun. The last weapon he had to scare off potential threats, when he was old and a little shaky, was an M16. He kept it under his bed and I, as a kid, was therefore not allowed in that room by myself. But it was certainly cool, as was he.
I wish I could remember the stories: the depression, world wars, the assassinations of JFK and MLK. One of us should have written them down, but he was too old and I was too young. But we were both the right ages to watch The Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings, and we were both the right ages to visit Clawson’s truck stop or Ed’s Bakery when the Lone Ranger went off.
I wish he was still around, or maybe more so, I wish I would have taken those rides more often, and listened more carefully or even taken notes. All I have now are memories and his old hat. I don’t think we will see a generation that lived through that type of depression and war again. Even without that richness of good and bad times, our elderly friends and family are under-appreciated, much like the “chirpers” of my last post.
We should take the time to find someone, and listen to them ramble without being rushed. We just might catch a gold nugget or two if we’re patient. And they will feel loved by someone willing to listen.