Photo by Freeda Baker Nichols
Photo by Freeda Baker Nichols
From my journal: “It is raining very hard. The sky is dark and heavy with clouds full of water. It is a day in which I am usually lonely, but today my heart is filled with joy that is lasting over into this dark and rainy day.”
I am a writer and I must write. Often, I wonder what is new to write? Even if, like Hemingway, I should begin with one true sentence, how would I complete a work that I haven’t even thought about? It’s amazing how sometimes my words and phrases tumble over each other to crowd the page, and other times, the page remains blank because a long, dry spell has control of my sub-conscious. Writer’s block is for real from time to time in a writer’s life. And it’s to be expected. As far as I can tell, there’s no quick cure for it.
Journal entry: “I have no creative thoughts but I feel compelled to write something. Drove out to Banner Mountain. Enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods. I always like to go back there.”
Going back to Banner Mountain is like going back home–the place I left at the age of barely nineteen. On an autumn day following our wedding and honeymoon, my husband and I loaded our wedding gifts into the car he had borrowed from an Air Force buddy and we began our journey in life together. A couple of days later, we arrived at Smoky Hill Air Force Base out on the Kansas plains–the countryside so different from my beloved Banner Mountain, with its woodlands, its songbirds, and its kind and gentle people. I would meet other wonderful people as we followed my husband’s military career. I would live in other states in the United States and in one foreign country before my husband retired. After his retirement we moved back to Arkansas, back to the Ozarks to live not very far from Banner Mountain. © Freeda Baker Nichols
Fireflies and Memories
When lightning bugs turn on their blinking lights
that signal sweaty, little hands to try
to catch them on the muggy, summer nights,
my memories slip in to make me cry.
I squeeze my eyelids tight to stop
the moisture forming there.
The fireflies take me back to childhood, free
as hummingbirds that sipped pink four o’clocks,
and apple blossoms from the twisted tree
that Mama planted deep beside the rocks.
As whippoorwills called to each other
and June bugs buzzed by the lilacs,
my mama, dad, and all the children sat
on edge of porch to watch the daylight fade.
We laughed and played. What fun it was to chat,
with voices joining evening serenade,
and splash our feet with cold water
from an old enamel pan!
My tears are falling freely now in spurts.
That last reflection is the one that hurts.
© Copyright, Freeda Baker Nichols
Her name was Laura Sephrona. She was my mama. I am the sixth of her seven children. Four girls and three boys. Her grandchildren called her Granny.
She braided her black silken hair and wound it around and around her head. Her eyes were blue-bonnet gray. She was short and plumpish when I knew her. In a photo, on a yellowed postcard with crinkled corners, she was dressed in a white blouse, trimmed with tatted lace and a long, black cotton skirt with a small waistband. She wore high top lace-up leather shoes.
She fell in love with daddy the first time she looked into his blue eyes.
In spring, she tended to corn, okra, and other vegetables in the meadow garden. She stored fresh red, round tomatoes in a lard bucket and hung it on a prong of the cedar post that cornered the back porch. The tomatoes were juicy and good, she said, sprinkled with salt.
Her tanned, wrinkled fingers once picked soft gray-white feathers from ducks squawking in rhythm to each yank of snowy down. The feathers made their way into the pillows that we slept on at night.
Mama milked “Ole Jerse” and placed the fluffy foam on pink tongues of orphaned kittens.
Sometimes she doctored me and my siblings with castor oil and she said, “Swallow this. It tastes good with sugar on it.”
I said nothing to disagree with her opinion because the weathered oak bench we were sitting on was beneath Mama’s blooming peach tree.
Mama quilted the quilts for our beds with fingers tender from being stuck by the sharp needles.
She built a fire in the wood stove to cook our meals. She wore an apron made from flour sacks. She wrung the necks of chickens to prepare our Sunday dinners. Sometimes the preacher came for dinner and she always served fried chicken.
She taught her daughters how to become keepers of our homes. By following her example and with the grace of God, the four of us maintained stable homes.
She showed us the milky way and taught us nursery rhymes about starlight.
“Wish I may, wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight.”
She wrote in my diary that “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Beside that, she added the Golden Rule. “Always do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
She taught us the Bible in many ways. By example and by a game she played with us by asking what our dreams were and then opening up the worn leather cover of our family Bible to find these words “and it came to pass.”
And my dreams did “Come to pass.”
I became a writer, a wife, mother, grandmother and now a great grandmother.
My mama was the very best! I loved her with all my heart and I cherish her memory!
BANNER MOUNTAIN GIRL#29 “Orders: Torrejon Air Base, Spain”
My series of short works will not always be in chronological order. With this one I will share my experience of leaving Banner Mountain.
I was nineteen on that October Saturday in 1953 when I married my sweetheart. He was also nineteen and in the U.S. Air Force. I went with him to live in Kansas where he was stationed at Smoky Hill Air Force Base, which later was named Schilling Air Force Base. In 1956, my husband got out of the Air Force and enrolled in college. In 1958, he reenlisted in the Air Force and in less than a year, he received orders to go to Torrejon Air Base, Spain. By this time, we had a four-year-old son and an eighteen-month-old daughter.
Our parents had been tearful when they said goodbye to us, especially when they hugged their grandchildren. Later, I was told that a few days after we’d left, my dad had erased our baby’s footprints in the sand because when he looked at them, her absence was too painful. How sad that life must be like that. Life happens one day at a time. One. Day. At. A. Time. “Lord, be with us. We are so far from all our relatives.” And I am so very far from my Banner Mountain . . .
We rented a house in Mirasierra, a suburb of Madrid. In my language, Mirasierra means “Look at the mountains.”
And so, the beauty of Spain’s countryside was comforting. We were a family happy to be together, though lonely for our own country and home folks.
A Family Bivouac
We went with him to Spain—the kids and I.
The Air Force sent him there to stay three years.
With aching heart, I hugged my folks good-bye
and climbed aboard a jet, eyes filled with tears.
As engines roared into the sky,
the landscape fell away.
I held our baby snugly on my lap,
and thought ‘my folks have never left their town.’
I’d watched them point to Spain upon the map,
saw Dad brush tears and hide a fearful frown.
Tending cows to supplement carpenter’s pay,
he and Mama had made a home for seven children.
Where is my home? I wondered briefly. Then,
my husband squeezed my hand, and I was quite
assured my home will be where he is when
our plane descended from its five-hour flight.
The children romped across a gray-tiled floor,
then fell asleep in beds that were not ours.
The house to which we moved our home was plain,
but peaceful like the turquoise skies of Spain.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
The house is empty now
and no one tends
the flowers, growing still
along the walk where once
I strolled with Mama.
My hand in hers, she walked
with me and talked about
the blue hydrangeas,
Phlox of pink,
daylilies red, and
golden black-eyed Susans,
dazzling at their peak
in the sun.
I walk along the
silent footpath now,
where only shadows move.
I miss Mama.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
I wandered far from Banner Mountain . . . far from the place where I was born.
. . . But never have I forgotten where I am from.
My folks were one of the families of the Banner Mountain community whose houses nestled along a road that still is hard dirt, clay and rocks. Our address once was Route 2 and we had a mailbox number, which does not immediately come to my mind.
A few years ago, when 911 maps were introduced, the road by my homeplace was named Silver Rock.
My grandparents lived along this road in a house with a breezeway. After my grandpa died, my folks with five children moved into the house with Grandma and my aunt. My grandma’s house with a breezeway is the place of my birth.
The breezeway was converted into more rooms and though no one lives in the house today, it still exists as the homestead of my grandparents.
While my parents were living with Grandma, my dad built our homeplace nearby. When I was about one year old, the family moved into our new frame house. So the house Daddy built became home to me and I never left until I married at age nineteen.
With my husband I moved far, far away from Banner Mountain . . . I followed my husband in his travels with the Air Force . . . but never have I forgotten where I am from.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
a painting of my homeplace by my sister, Yvonne Baker Hall. © copyright, Yvonne Hall.
My plane is airborne, headed south.
Memories march in and out of my mind–
like dogface soldiers.
I’d said goodbye to Mama, then Daddy,
who bent to hug my three year old son
not very long ago.
Emotion struck Daddy like blows.
He straightened, then turned too late
to hide moist eyes. His blue eyes had
laughed when I was my son’s age.
Youth disappears like the dandelion fuzz
on the face of the wind.
Adams Field is windy . . . but the
planes’ wheels touch the runway
in a smooth landing.
“No, son, Papa’s not here . . .
to meet us.”
Uncle Jim’s brown pickup needs washing.
“Your mama’s taking it bad, ” he tells me.
“Is the wake at the house?” I ask.
He nods. “Like your daddy wanted.”
At the doorway, someone takes my
little boy by the hand.
“The casket’s gray. I never saw Daddy
in a coat and tie before. He’s so cold-looking.
Her warm arms engulf me.
© 2017 Freeda Baker Nichols
Banner Mountain Girl #11
On Banner Mountain, I stand looking at the house, now empty, with brush around it, deserted, falling down. I see the well still covered. I listen for sounds of laughter. Echoing from the past, the sounds ring in my heart. In a flash of memory, someone’s drawing water from the well—and as I look at the house, I wish I could be a child again and put my bare feet into a creek. I wish that I could feel the sun upon my back as I walk barefoot down a dusty road. That I could touch velvety moss in the woods and hear dry leaves crackling.
And draw water from the well.
I wish that I could hear the whippoorwills across the hollow on a warm night. And that I could sit on the front porch again with Mama, Daddy, my sister Yvonne and my brother Bill. Just sit there, not talking much. Then wander into the yard, trying to stay cool. Wash my feet in a pan of cold water and go into the house and go to bed. And see again the morning sun on the tall, thick yard grass, and look at hollyhocks that Mama planted beside the fence.
Draw water from the well.
Watch Mama milk Old Jerse, and later help Mama churn butter in an old-fashioned churn with a dash. Watch Daddy plow the fields. I wish I could once again trade a warm egg to the peddler for bubble gum. Meet Piggy, the mailman, at the mailbox to see what delightful cards, catalogs and letters he would bring. Read again the letters from my best friend, Inez, that Piggy delivered the same day by hand-canceling the three-cent stamp. See Mama sitting in the shade of the peach tree, shelling beans, then stopping to read a letter from my brother when he was overseas during the war.
I remember growing up, and, with Inez, Doris, and Lois Jean, watching for the boys to go by. I remember pie suppers and boys collecting money to buy the cake for the prettiest girl. I recall dinners on the ground, the taste of coconut pies. People visiting. Children playing and laughing. Time unhurried. I cannot be a child again, but I’m thankful for Banner Mountain – whippoorwills, picking cotton and drawing water from the well.
~© Freeda Baker Nichols
Banner Mountain Girl # 10
Sometimes when snow fell at Banner Mountain, my mother would look out at the big, white snowflakes peppering down and she would tell us kids, “The old goose is losing her feathers.”
That expression coming from Mama was a pleasant thought but of course we kids were old enough to know it was a game Mama played – a game of make-believe. Why not just say, “Oh look! It’s snowing!”
A sky full of feathers falling off a goose nudged my imagination and gave me a reason to dream. That image was far more motivational than “Look at the big snowflakes.”
Perhaps Mama’s way of entertaining us was the beginning of my desire to become a writer. Mama herself was inspirational to me. She always said I was happy with a pencil in my hand and a tablet to write on.
My love for my mama and her love for me is the reason my first poem was written to her and about her. I wrote it at school in cursive on a page in my Big Chief tablet when I was nine years old. And then I shared it with Mama.
While I was not certain my little rhyming poem was as clear to Mama as it was to me, I’m thankful she was the first person, besides my teacher, to read my very first creative writing. At that time, there was no fridge in our house on which to pin up the poem, like parents can do today.
But Mama kept it for me, and I still have it somewhere in my files.
© 2017 Freeda Baker Nichols