Southern Folks: Scrapbooks, pictures and memories

Bill Stamps
Bill Stamps

From as far back as I can remember, I've always paid attention to detail. I don't always recollect exact dates, but I can remember where I was, the weather and people from decades ago. Ask me what I did last week or yesterday, for that matter, and I haven't a clue.

I'm not paying attention to much of anything these days. There's not a lot out there that I feel a burning desire to place into memory. It's hard to remember something that's not worth remembering.

I look forward to America coming back to grips with who we really are. Sooner or later, we'll collectively decide to switch back to what got us started: Love for life and one another. Community. A strong belief in the Man Upstairs. We'll realize that all the bells and whistles aren't important in the grand scheme of things.

My grandmother, Miz Lena, had a great run in the farming business. Next up, she decided that she was going to build homes and sell them. It helped that Grand Dad was an accomplished architect. When the settlement check from the car accident came in, Grand Mom bought some land in town and began pouring concrete.

Miz Lena already had several of the prerequisites required to become a successful contractor. She was tenacious, watched her wallet and was a stickler for detail. Stickler is an understatement. She was a bona fide perfectionist. Grand Mom would walk into a place of business or someone's home and immediately see crooked picture frames on the wall. Sometimes, even before sitting down, she'd walk right over and straighten them.

My Uncle Watt, one of Grand Mom's younger brothers, who worked for her painting, said it best, "Give her enough time, and she can find somethin' wrong with purt' near anything."

What you're going to look like upon your arrival to this mortal world is already pretty much stamped by God. What you're going to be and how you're going to think is up to your parents. Off and on, I spent a lot of my young formative years with Miz Lena. I got my stickler gene from her. She made it her duty to see to it that I learned something every day.

Grand Mom was the one who got me on my way to developing my photographic memory. She, literally, would tell me to, "Take a pitcher." She meant picture.

She reminded me to take special notice of a situation, a scenario or setting. She'd say, "Honey Baby, they's a good chance yore gonna need some good memories someday. Yuh'll see. This right here and now is somethin' worth rememberin'. Look around and soak it in. Try to store up some good memories fer a rainy day. It's important to think good thoughts. They'll help to keep yore mind runnin' right."

Hands down, my favorite "pitcher" memories are of my childhood in the South. Simple but vivid remembrances, almost panoramic. A lot of them are from the times I lived way out in the country. I'm a believer that the closer you get to nature, the closer you get to God. After all, Mother Nature takes her marching orders direct from the Almighty.

I remember a blue-cold day and an orange-red fox running across an open field covered in white, white snow heading to the woods. He'd disappear and then reappear. The snow was deep, and he was just a little guy. It took him a while, but he got there.

I can close my eyes and picture childhood Tennessee sunrises and sunsets. The way ol' Sol popped up from out of nowhere into the early eastern sky and took his sweet time to melt back into the western Pacific waters. Birds overhead trying to get home. The wind. Then minutes later, day became night.

Trees of all seasons. Green in the warm months. Glorious and crimson colors in the fall. Stripped by the winds and turned skeletal through the long and cold months that start before Mr. Lincoln's birthday and last right on up to April.

In my younger mind's eye, I can see a small herd of soft mooing, cud-chewing, brown-eyed, golden cows down by the creek. Some of them with jangling bells on worn black leather collars hanging from their necks. An aura of peace and sway in their slow saunter across the creek and back up the hill.

Or lying on my back under the canopy of a weeping willow tree down by the second bridge, daydreaming about catching that big fish everybody called Walter. He was a slippery fellow. An old man landed him once. As soon as he took the hook out, Walter flipped and thrashed around so much that he got himself back into the water and was gone.

After that, there were Walter sightings up and down the creek, but he wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. No matter what bait you threw out there, he wouldn't bite. Mr. Vaughn, Catfish's daddy, used to say that Walter was a smart fish "cuz he keeps his mouth shut."

When I was a kid, I spent a good deal of time watching clouds gather up and parade across the sky in shapes of dogs and pirates and angels, then change back into clouds, those big fluffy white ones that take up most of the sky.

There was that day that my dog, Prince, and I were standing out in a lime green pasture, a light wind blowing my hair and watching a summer storm coming my way. Muffled thunder. With the first sign of lightning, I raced the storm back to the house. Thunder and the wind chasing after me. I didn't make it in time. Prince and I were soaked.

Running in the rain can be exhilarating. When you're a kid, you don't mind getting wet. You rather enjoy it. A winter's rain, cold as it is, makes getting home so much more rewarding. Strip off your wet clothes and go stand in front of the coiled, silver-plated wall heater and dry off.

I also have wincing memories of standing too close and burning my behind. Those wall heaters could leave a welt. It was like being branded.

Along with panoramic visuals, I remember who said what, colors, smells and the weather. From time to time, interesting people from my past walk through my mind, and I write about them.

We all have "pitchers" in our heads. Everyone one of us remembers what fresh-cut summer lawns smell like. How good it felt, that pat on your back from an approving parent. Or standing atop a hillside, not a care in the world, and a warm wind rolls up and over and by.

If you grew up in the South, you're likely to recollect the smell of beans simmering all day long on Mama's stove. Hearing the ice cream truck coming your way. Racing back home in time to watch "Superman." The times you walked your bike to the top of the hill and flew back down. No hands.

If you were raised out in the country, every one of you can remember the smell of honeysuckle. Or ripe-for-shucking cornstalks. Morning-damp hay in a barn. Blue swallows darting through. The smell of horse manes. And, uh, homemade fertilizer.

They say we humans don't use but 6 percent of our brain. But they don't say that we can't. We all have voluminous scrapbooks of life in us. There's more in there than you can imagine. Stuff that will take you far away and make you smile. A cerebral vacation from reality. And it doesn't cost you a dime.

So when you get a minute, go sit down somewhere quiet. Ease back and let your mind wander. Close your eyes and think back to your fondest memories. Those good thoughts are your ammo against whatever ails you. And they'll help keep your mind running right.

Bill Stamps' new book, "Miz Lena," is now available in a limited-edition, signed and numbered hardcover. Contact him at or through Facebook.

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