Excerpt from memoir, Daddy’s Money. From a longer excerpt in Arkansas Review, Spring 2009.
“I’ll tell you sometime,” my grandfather mumbles crossly, kicking at some loose straw with his high-top, Sears and Roebuck shoe. “Maybe. But not now.” We’re in the barn, feeding Vetch, the mule. My grandfather is pondering my question about how two of his children died. It’s a question he’s reluctant to answer, and although I’ll ask it again toward the end of my visit, I won’t allude to it after that for as long as he lives. I’m six years old, learning the ways of my grandparents, who in this summer of 1941 are, I think, ancient. They’re probably in their early fifties.
Jessie Butler and Hattie Edna Harden Merritt, my maternal grandparents, lived at the end of a take-your-sweet-time road that crossed a low-water creek. They farmed a meager homestead in the red clay hills near Cabot, Arkansas, where I visited one week every summer from the time I was five until I was fifteen. They blessed me with freedom. I roamed outdoors for hours among the black and white polka-dotted guinea hens, giving them such original names as Cluck and Birdie and Peck. I told myself wondrous stories in my grandmother’s garden, hidden by cannas and pole beans, posing in front of the sweet peas. I wandered down to the creek, singing “Mairzy Doats” or “I Come to the Garden Alone,” ticking off the beats and syllables on my fingers. I contemplated the abyss of the stone well, its dark water hauled up for drinking, its Paleolithic breath. I visited the aging mare in the barn. I called her Salt. Her name was Daisy. It occurs to me now there were no dogs....
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