Wineskins Archive

January 15, 2014

Memories of Promise Land (Mar – Jun 1994)

Filed under: — @ 4:16 pm and

by Carmen Perry Beaubeaux
March – August, 1994

Ever wonder why everyone says the moon is full when it looks so empty—empty as a big, lit-up stadium the night before the game? Gramps told me that’s what the moon is for—to make us wonder. Folks who remember Gramps say that I am an awful lot like him. And sometimes they don’t mean so well by that. You see, Gramps was peculiar. Some even say he may have been, well… sort of crazy. I asked Grandma about that talk. She laughed, “Well, Jake, I don’t reckon he’s crazy but I do have my suspicions that he’s been tetched by the hand of God.”

The fishermen agree with Grandma. On the summer of my twelfth birthday and the last I would spend with Gramps, he made a clean sweep at the county fishing contest for the tenth straight year. I held on to his gear so he could go down to the dock to accept the trophy and pose for photos. But while I stood watching all of the fuss, I began to feel crowded. Pressing around me were dozens of fishermen breathing over my shoulders, even hunkered down on their knees trying to sneak a glimpse of the legendary “secret lure” that Gramps supposedly kept hidden in the depths of his tackle box! Gus Peterson, a local and one of the hunkered, stood up saying, “Now, you can’t blame us Jake! You know this here tackle box is the fisherman’s Ark of the Covenant in these parts!” Now, Gramps taught me everything I know about fishing, which to this day isn’t much, so don’t think that I didn’t have hopes that this birthday of mine might be the occasion he would reveal to me his mysterious and highly prized “secret lure.”

Then later, at home, when we stood back to see how the new trophy looked perched on the mantle with the others, Gramps laid his hand firm on my shoulder. I knew my moment had come. “Jake, I suspect that digging through my tackle is wearing you out, so here’s my secret. Some folks say that any fool can catch a fish. Well, I take that advice as inspiration. So, all of these trophies you see assembled here are bonifide proof of my position as the greatest fool in four counties.” That’s it, boy. That is the hook! Then he laughed the way he did—big and rough—like when you ride your bike on the railroad tracks. It shakes you up and pulls you in and there’s no turning back. We laughed till our bellies hurt!

“Crazy” or “tetched” didn’t seem to scare off folks any more than fish. On warm summer evenings Gramps told stories from the front porch to anyone who wanted to stop by and listen. Most of his stories were funny, some were sad—it all depended on the weather. Gramps said, “The tale should suit the climate so the hearers will remember.” But I think he just meant to be hospitable. The elements were always the guests of honor in Gramps’ mind. He knew them like family. He knew what they were doing and where they were going before they were even there. That left cause for some irritation among the neighboring farmers. The same storms that came through and beat down their crops never touched his own. During times of widespread drought, tiny rain clouds formed over his fields, filled his furrows and cisterns and then vanished. As a result he never had to replant a crop, stump out a tornado-ravaged orchard, or haul water to parched corn. “Promise Land” as Gramps called his farm, almost ran itself. Mom told me that when she was a little girl walking down the dirt road on her way to school, each farmer would stop his work in the fields to see what she wore as she passed by. If she carried an umbrella they would cover their haystacks. If she had a slicker, galoshes, and an umbrella they would cover their haystacks and gather the livestock into their barns.

Gramps loved the rain best. As often as it came to visit he would sit on the front porch as it thundered from the clouds, gurgled along the gutters, and drizzled down the lattice, listening in a manner most folks reserve for church. One such time, he sat in his bentwood rocker with his eyes closed and hands still and folded round his harmonica. Suddenly he leaned forward as if he were expecting someone. “You hear him, Jake?” I shrugged, “Hear who? Opening one eye, he gave me a sideways glance that made me feel young. Then he grinned and settled back into his former position and almost whispered, “The path of water is holy ground. Listen…the footsteps of God.”

So it came as no surprise that on the night of the day of his death, the rain came to pay respects. As the big, quiet party wound down and the rest of the family helped the church folks gather up the last of their empty pie pans and well-meaning sentiments, I went off to my room, pulled the covers over my head, and tried not to cry. But the rain tapping at the window brought to me Gramps’ whispered voice…you-can-cry-you-can-cry-you-can-cry. “You can cry for her,” he said, kneeling beside me in the cornfield where I buried my rabbit, Gomer.´ “If you can’t let your soul run naked down the street once in a while, folks might forget that you have one. You can cry, boy.” Silent hot tears ran down my face and neck into my pillow and into my prayers.

Being a godly man, Gramps honored the Word by giving Bible names to most everything. The old, run-down Ford he christened Methuselah; the chicken coop he called Babel; and the old rooster who waged a war with Grandma, spurring her leg, he cursed with the name of Satan (who remains the only living thing he ever really took a shot at. The old oak tree he named Moses because “The Lord placed it in the center of Promise Land.” Grandma argued that one with him because, she said, “Moses never set foot into the promised land.” Gramps dished back that he thought Moses should have been allowed into the promised land and this was his humble way of protesting that point with the Almighty.

And so, on restless summer nights folks drove in from all over to gather beneath Moses. Draped in half-melted corn-starched babies, they came for a cool rest on the white porch steps. They came to listen to a barnyard story or about the condition of the skies—to laugh and clap when Gramps lured the young ‘ns to dance over the lawn like sweaty marionettes clumsily strung to the tune of his harmonica. When finally exhausted, they curled up in bundles on the porch boards and wearily rode into slumber on the rumble of familiar voices and clattering crickets chanting in unison their wonder of the moon. What else is there to do in the company of one who had been “tetched by the hand of God?”Wineskins Magazine

Carmen Perry Beaubeaux

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