Between the outhouse and the cherry tree

Published 5:39 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Her house sat on a large lot three concrete steps up from the street and looked as if it belonged in the country instead near downtown.  Granted the town was small, but this old house with its weathered brown boards, sagging front porch and a much needed new roof would look to some as an eyesore.

The front porch was usually filled with a variety of wooden chairs where she and her daughters would sit to shell beans, shuck corn and escape the summer heat swelling inside. They watched as folks passed by to exchange a wave and shout a “howdy do.” Once the neighbors saw those smiling faces, the house wasn’t in as bad a shape as they thought.

Funny how our eyes are fooled by acts of kindness.

Inside the tidy house was a parlor which opened to a large kitchen equipped with a wood burning stove, stacks of iron skillets and a cabinet that held everything from baking soda to castor oil. On the large table anchored in the center was a wooden dough bowl where fresh biscuits were kneaded every morning, and a cup of coffee was poured from an old dented enamel pot.

Out the kitchen door was a smaller porch which was near the well that supplied fresh water. Hoes, rakes and buckets surrounded a small wobbly chair that could still hold a weary soul after a long day.

The garden in its summer splendor rested on the back edge of the property just beyond the cherry tree and the outhouse with its half-moon carved door.

I loved to play between the outhouse and the cherry tree behind my great grandmother’s house in the summer. The old tree teemed with ripe berries. I would climb to get as many cherries as possible before I got caught by the mighty hands of my tiny, fierce Great Grandmother Sparks.   

“How many times have I told you, young’un, to not eat too many cherries because you gonna’ spend the rest of your day in that outhouse!” she would yell.

I knew I was immune to the side effects of too many cherries and when she turned to walk back in the house, I kept on climbing the tree to retrieve more of delicious red goodies. 

One day, however, I got a case of the “bug,” and she swore it was those cherries, but I knew it was just a bug. The castor oil came out of the cabinet, and even though my mother was present, she knew she could not hold a candle to her grandmother’s will. I took the dreaded castor oil, and to my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be. Plus, it sure made the bug fly away.   

Funny thing about facing fear, once you do, it usually flies away.

Uncle Casto lived with his mother in their later years after plumbing was installed on the insistence of Mollie Sparks’ children. 

“What do I need plumbing for?” she asked her son and son-in-law.  “I have been doin’ just fine all these years. That’s just a waste of a dollar!”

They built it anyway, and of course, she stubbornly refused to use the new bathroom until one night it got so cold in the mountain’s she gave in.

Afterward, she gathered the boys and humbly said, “I know I sometimes have a stubborn will, but I do thank you.”

Funny thing about misplaced stubborn will, humility will usually stop it.

Well into her 80s, Great Grandmother Sparks and Casto got into an argument on who grew the best garden.

So, they built two to see which one would reap the best produce. Casto noticed his mother’s rows were crooked, but he also knew cataracts blurred her vision. During many nights when his mother was fast asleep, he took his hoe and with a flashlight in hand, straightened her rows and cleared the weeds she missed.

Both gardens bloomed beautifully that summer with Grandmother Sparks declaring, “See, mine is the best! I won because I have fewer weeds!” She laughed with glee. She never knew or ever was told just why her garden was ripe with beauty.   

Funny thing about unselfish love, it does make our spiritual gardens grow.

I went by the old property the last time I visited the Tennessee town where I was born.  Mollie’s home is long gone, and now, there are brick steps that lead up to a fine brick house with no front porch. It’s pleasing to the eye but not as beautiful as the old run-down house that was filled with smiling faces and joyful giving hearts. 

Funny thing about my life, I learned an awful lot from those fantastic folks who once walked between the outhouse and the cherry tree.