Daddy holding John in Savannah, GA about 1943. John was perhaps 6 months old.
Faye Hiking in Grand Teton National Park
Willis Creek Slot Canyon near Escalante, UT
Summer Storm near Escalante, UT
After four wonderful, scenic, exciting, tiring weeks out West, we are home!
Benjamin and I dug for fish fossils in Wyoming—and found them. We searched for fossils in other areas with less success. But we eventually ended up with two leaf fossils, several shell fossils, and a few pieces of petrified wood. We hiked in Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah, and enjoyed them all with the partial exception for one near Escalante, Utah. Having some degree of claustrophobia, I don’t like to spend much time in canyons where the walls can be only an arm’s length—or less—away on either side. It’s especially frightening when those walls soar upwards for a hundred feet or more—impossible to climb if a sudden rainstorm 40 miles away floods the canyon faster than a speeding locomotive.
But Benjamin is an old hand at convincing me to venture out of my comfort zone. He checked with the weather people and there was no rain predicted. “The canyon is only a mile and a half long,” he assured me. “The bottom of the canyon is mostly dry—no wading. Best of all, the canyon walls are not as close as some, and a lot of the way the walls are low enough to climb, in case of flood—which,” he hastened to add, “we won’t have.”
I agreed to go. And, at first, everything was just as he had promised—walls were low and the floor was wide. Plenty of promising rocks littered the ground—possible fossils. There was a narrow little stream snaking along, but it left a lot of dry, pebbled walking area for our passage. Then as we progressed, the walls began to rise and the floor began to narrow. The steam widened to fill most of that floor and I was searching for the shallow areas before placing my feet. Finally, the walls towered overhead in undulating surfaces that a rock climber probably couldn’t handle without lots of equipment. At about one mile the sky began to darken, and Benjamin, knowing this might be a deal breaker, sped up. When a group of hikers splashed by, Benjamin called back to me, “See, there’s no danger, or they wouldn’t be here!”
“That’s probably what the passengers on the Titanic told each other,” I yelled back.
“We’re almost there,” Benjamin said. “We can’t turn back now.”
But the sky was getting darker and the walls taller. Suddenly, I heard a rumble of thunder. “Thunder just sounds louder out here, than back home,” he assured me. “We’re almost at the end.”
Thunder crashed right overhead, and I panicked. “I’m going back,” I yelled. “Right now.” I turned and, forgetting my troublesome knee, I moved as fast as I could without actually running. I forgot about finding the shallow places in streams and the flattest walking areas. I scampered over boulders that I had cautiously navigated on the way in. All at once the hikers who had passed us earlier ran past, heading in the opposite direction. One of them tripped and fell when climbing over a huge boulder. She managed to get up and limp on not much faster than I was moving. Soon they were all out of sight—including the injured one. Looking back, I didn’t see Benjamin.
About ten minutes later, I got back to the area where the banks were low enough for me to climb in an emergency, and I was able to slow down and catch my breath a bit. There was still no sign of my husband when I came to the point where the trail left the canyon. I trudged uphill. It seemed to have stretched out a lot longer than I recalled. Of course, it was the wrong trail. Fortunately, I had climbed high enough to see in the distance what had to be the parking area at the trailhead. And there was our car, still shaded by one of the few trees big enough to cast a shadow. Thank God, I knew which direction to go in.
By the time I got to our dusty old Honda, the thunder had moved further off and the sky had lightened. It was obvious that the danger of a flash food was over. Exhausted, I let the passenger seat back into a reclining position and went to sleep. No doubt my husband was going to be disgruntled by my desertion, but I was too tired to worry about it. When Benjamin woke me he was raving about the slot canyon and how sorry he was that I had missed completing the hike. I tried to put on a repentant face.
I waited until the next day to tell him I had just entered my last slot canyon.
And this time I mean it.
As a young man, my late father-in-law never had much opportunity to kick up his heels. He went from farm life to working his way through college to marriage and teaching, and then to fatherhood. When his first child (who became my husband) was only a few months old, the coach at Daddy’s school suggested they go on a weekend fishing trip, and Daddy decided to do it. Mama Gibbons probably wasn’t too happy about the plan, from the get-go, since weekends were her best chance to get out of the house. With her husband gone in the car, Mama was stuck at home.
The coach probably fished all the time. When Daddy picked him up he had rods, bait, picnic food, and a big cooler filled with beer. It’s very likely that Daddy had never tasted beer and he probably didn’t plan to drink any of it, but once they got to the river and the day warmed up, he gave in to temptation. By Sunday morning, he was probably giving in more readily and more often.
Meanwhile, back at home, Mama had problems. She was still nursing the baby, but since her milk supply was undependable, she supplemented with bottles of formula as needed. Unfortunately, the formula ran out on Saturday. Daddy hadn’t been real definite about when he’d be home, but Mama was counting on Saturday afternoon. He didn’t make it. By bedtime the baby was wailing loud enough to rouse the neighbors, if not the dead, and Mama was beside herself with frustration. Before morning, she was angry.
Late Sunday afternoon Daddy drove up, rumpled and smelling of beer and already suffering the misery of a hangover. His troubles were only beginning. His infant son was screaming with hunger and his angry wife was asking what on earth was he thinking, leaving her at home with a baby that had been crying for 48 of the last 24 hours?
Daddy could only sit at the kitchen table with his head cradled in his hands. This was in the 1940s—stores and pharmacies were closed on Sundays. The baby kept crying and the wife kept fussing. Mama finally realized she could drive the car and borrow some formula from a friend with a baby. Daddy was too sick to make the errand, but he probably had time to revisit the wisdom of his decision as the baby screamed louder and louder.
The next morning was a school day, but Daddy was still suffering from headache and nausea. He dressed to go to work, but simply could’t make it. Mama had to use a neighbor’s phone to call the school and put him on sick leave. It was Ben Gibbons’ first time ever to use sick leave, and it alarmed the entire school. An hour later, Daddy was drinking his fourth cup of coffee when a car screeched to a stop in the yard.
“It’s your principal!” Mama whispered.
Daddy leaped up and ran to their bedroom. With no time to undress, he jumped into bed and pulled the cover up to his chin.
“Could I take you to the doctor?” asked his boss as he entered the room.
“No,” Daddy replied. “I’ll be okay tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t mind a bit,” the principal insisted.
“Thank you just the same,” Daddy said, “It’s just something I ate. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
When the principal was gone and Daddy was back at the table, drinking coffee, he said, “Well, I figure things this way—I can either work or I can drink. I think I’ll work.” It was the last fishing trip for Daddy for years.
And the next time he didn’t take beer.
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazo
My Benjamin at about 4 years old.
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction. (see the following web address for more information) http://www.newsouthbooks.com/pages/2015/10/20/halley-wins-moonbeam-awards-silver-medal/ Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazo
My husband’s Uncle Tommy never followed anyone’s rules, or changed his ways to suit others. Perhaps that was a big part of the reason he never married. Partly because he had been an adored first child, he always expected to be catered to and indulged. Being a hard drinker sometimes made him a burden for his family too. Yet over the years I have heard from various relatives, “Tommy had another side too.” Sometimes he would come in with a new dress for my mother-in-law, who was the baby of the family. Not just any dress. Somehow he could always pick the right size and style to flatter her. And price was no object. At Christmas time he might show up with the very children’s toys that finished out what might have been a skimpy holiday for some of the nieces and nephews. Often he would decide to buy my husband and his brother school clothes.
August of 1954 was one of those times for my husband, Benjamin. Benjamin had reached that age when he had become acutely aware of the opinion of his peers, especially in Auburn. There he was a country boy come to the “city” and had lots of opportunities for embarrassment. On this occasion his family was visiting Atkins relatives in Auburn when Uncle Tommy showed up. His pockets were loaded because it was payday, and he had obviously had a few snorts of whiskey.
“Benjie,” he said to my future husband, “we’re going to walk uptown and buy you some new clothes.”
Benjamin hung back. Uncle Tommy was staggering and smelled bad. His shirt was stained and it wasn’t tucked into his pants on one side.
“Let’s go,” Uncle Tommy said, impatient to carry out his generous impulse.
Benjamin turned to his mother to save him, but she was probably thinking that new clothes would make up for some of the unpaid loans they’d made to Tommy in the past, so she said, “You can go. Just be back in time for supper.”
So they left, with Benjamin lagging as far behind as he dared. Tommy shouted hello to a neighbor and waved to someone in a passing car. Unfortunately, he knew everyone in town–and every dog. Every dog they met wagged a welcome, and one–Miz Agnes Zeller’s dog, Jiggs–fell in behind and began sniffing at the seat of Tommy’s baggy pants. Unfortunately, the reason soon became obvious.
Br-r-r-r-rip! came a muffled explosion. Uncle Tommy laughed. “Comes from eating second helpings of beans and cabbage,” he said. “Git away, Jiggs.”
“You come here this minute, Jiggs,” yelled Miz Zellers.
Jiggs ignored both her and Uncle Tommy.
Br-r-r-r-r-r-p! “Think I ripped my pants that time,” said Uncle Tommy.
Mortified, Benjamin wished with all his heart that the sidewalk would swallow him up. It didn’t. His steps slowed and he pretended a sudden interest in the upthrust root of an oak root mounding the sidewalk in front of him.
“Times ‘a wasting, Benjie,” Uncle Tommy bellowed up ahead. “I don’t have all day.”
Benjamin speeded up a bit only to slow again when he heard Uncle Tommy break wind once more. A moment later Tommy turned and said, “Benjie, I’ve messed my pants.”
Jiggs barked agreement.
“Let’s go home,” Benjamin suggested.
“Nah!” said Uncle Tommy, starting on. “I finish what I start.”
They reached the store and Uncle Tommy held open the door for him. “We’re going to get this young man outfitted for school,” he told Mr. Green, the store manager. “Two pair of pants, two shirts, socks, and shoes.”
“You must be loaded,” said Mr. Green.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Benjamin mumbled. The manager wrinkled his nose and shooed Jiggs out. “That dog musta rolled in something.”
“Wouldn’t doubt it a’tall,” said Uncle Tommy.
Suddenly the manager seemed in a rush to take care of Tommy’s list. Eyes on the floor, Benjamin followed the manager from one table and rack to another while Uncle Tommy shadowed them, talking as he went. Customers and sales people cleared the floor around them. It seemed like hours before Benjamin was handed the bag of clothes and he could rush outside.
Jiggs was waiting.
“Guess I’ll take Jiggs home and set a spell with Miss Zeller,” Uncle Tommy said.
“Good idea,” Benjamin said, hugging his school clothes to his chest and breaking into a run.
Back behind him he thought he heard another explosion.