Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Time Part 2

Some of my favorite memories of summer growing up center around the annual week I would spend with cousins in Saline, Louisiana. I lived in Saline until I was almost five, then moved to the much larger town of Quitman -- only about 25 miles away, but far enough that our visits were only a few times a year. My father had been pastor of Old Saline Baptist Church before we moved to Quitman. This is the little church where I walked the aisle to accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour and was baptized in a nearby pond by my father.

My parents and many other Toms relatives are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church:

My father's only sister, affectionately referred to by all nieces and nephews as "Aunt Sis," was the matriarch of the Toms family. (Her given name was Virginia, and she married Leland Rhodes.)  We didn't think of her as head of the family when we were growing up because she usually deferred to her brothers, but in later years as their numbers dwindled, she assumed her rightful place. When she called with a request to "come," we all obeyed. Mostly because we always wanted to go to her house because it was fun.

Her mother ( my grandmother) had died at an early age and my grandfather, who had served as the marshall of Saline, was shot down by bootleggers in the main street of that little town.  So, the six brothers and their only sister were left to fend for themselves and care for each other. Aunt Sis was the only one of the bunch who made it to college, but that was not what made her brilliant to me.  Grouchiness is a Toms characteristic (I apologize to any relatives I might offend, but you know I'm telling the truth and all spouses will readily concur), and Aunt Sis was not without her moments. (They also love to argue for the sake of arguing, but I will save that topic for another day.) The other characteristic of the Tomses is a hint of laziness or more delicately put, the need to take frequent rests, especially after a meal.

Home of Aunt Sis and Uncle Leland in Saline, Louisiana.

Aunt Sis with (l to r) Nancy, Melba, and Steven
The same crew in the same order with my Uncle Leland and their dog Faith.
Same order with their paternal grandmother Lila Rhodes.

After a morning of running wild with my three cousins--Steven, Nancy, and Melba--Aunt Sis would holler for us to come in for lunch.  She and my Uncle Leland and his mother Miss Lila would have spent the morning picking and shelling peas or shucking corn or tending to the orchard of peach trees which fronted their homestead. We would come in all sweaty, smelling like puppy dogs (or big dogs), gulp down the delicious lunch she had prepared, and start asking, "When are we going to Diddywah?" I don't even know if I'm spelling this right, because I've never seen it written, but I'm trusting my Google search and cousin Steve. Suffice it to say that Diddywah was the coldest swimming hole in the universe.  It was spring-fed and probably only 6-feet at it's deepest point, with the maximum width being 10 feet. It was right off the side of the road with a bridge running over it.  Pea gravel lined the bottom at the shallow, sandy end. There wasn't a lot of space, and we would always hope that no one else wanted to find a place to cool off that day.

But, I get ahead of myself, because we WERE NOT going to the swimming hole until we had sufficient time to let our food digest because we would get cramps.  HAH!  That was a good cover for Aunt Sis taking her regularly-scheduled afternoon siesta; and, when we were younger, we were encouraged to comply with the horizontal position after lunch, as well.  When an eternity had passed, we would pile in the car and head to the swimming hole. I can still see Aunt Sis stretched out on a towel with her big hat reading a book, occasionally casting an eye our way to make sure no one had gone under for good. If we stayed long enough, our much older and larger cousin Anthony would show up and dive off a log stretched across the end of the creek. I dreamed of having the courage to walk up on that log and jump, but can't remember ever doing it. To this day, the smell of creosote brings memories of those summer afternoons at Diddywah.

When our lips turned blue, we would load up and go to the house.  A watermelon was usually waiting to be cut.  See, Saline has a world famous Watermelon Festival, of which my Aunt Sis served as the Grand Marshall, maybe twice. Those Saline watermelons are some good eating!

My Aunt Sis passed away a few months ago. Her funeral was in that little church where my daddy preached and I came to know Jesus .  She and Uncle Leland were pillars of that church and of that community.  She was the last remaining sibling of my father--my link to the Toms family. But, the bonds of laughter amid the arguments, the smell of creosote, the taste of watermelon, and the music -- there was always music, will join us forever.

My mother sitting behind me (I was three years old) and my Aunt Sis to the right of me.

Psalm 103:17
But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children--

Thanks to my cousin Steve Rhodes for the family pictures and for never letting a snake actually bite me.

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