Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sweet Gum Head

Sweet Gum Head is a magical place. A place where the fairies dance at twilight; and trolls live
under the bridge. It is a place where the imagination of a child knows no boundaries. It’s not an
imaginary place, but a tiny community nestled in the panhandle of Florida, in Holmes County. It
is a place where time moves at a different pace.

I can barely remember living there for a brief time before the rest of my memories were captured
through visits. Summer-time visits were my favorite. We could hardly wait for the car to come to
a complete stop before we tumbled out in our excitement, already breathless from the anticipation of the adventures to come. There was much wonder to be found in the places waiting to come to life through the eyes of a child.  

Our destination was the home of my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Gypsie. Her home could be found down a narrow dirt lane secluded from the rest of the world by the piney woods standing guard around it. Those piney woods, draped in moss, were kingdoms waiting to be conquered and the hiding place of those brave enough to be enveloped by the cover of their darkness after sundown. It truly was a magical place.

Mornings began with breakfast that included eggs collected from the hen house. My favorite part of breakfast was a homemade biscuit covered with tomato gravy. The name tomato gravy has been known to crinkle a few eyebrows but the simple southern dish graced our breakfast table often. Aunt Gypsie always had enough left over biscuits for our sugar biscuit snack. To prepare, all you needed to do was poke a hole in the biscuit with your thumb and fill it with sugar. The older kids knew to wiggle your thumb around a bit to make the hole bigger so it would hold more sugar.

After breakfast we were ushered outside with instructions of not slamming the screen door and to
watch out for snakes. Those words reached our ears long after the door had already slammed. It
didn’t matter that these were the same places we explored last summer, our days were filled with
laughter and mischief as we reacquainted ourselves with our surroundings. Some places were off
limits but surely that didn’t mean us. The dark corners of the corn crib held new treasures beyond
the spider webs and all good adventures included a make believe trip on the big tractor. Chickens
needed to be chased; the troll that lived under the bridge needed to be defeated and the new piglets needed names, even if the mama sow didn’t think so. Of course, we had been warned to stay out of the pig pen, but rarely did we listen. She wouldn’t really eat me, would she?

As the daylight faded we’d take our place on the back porch to wash away the grime from our
tired little bodies in a washtub filled with water drawn from the well. Aunt Gypsie and Uncle
Willie had no indoor plumbing during my childhood years and I never gave much thought about
leaving those amenities behind during our visits. As the sun bid us good night we waited for the
arrival of the fairies and would watch them dance among the pines before we settled down for
the night. The next morning we awoke refreshed and ready for new adventures.

At the end of each visit we knew Uncle Willie’s departing gift for each of us was a palm full of
quarters. Those quarters never left Sweet Gum Head, for as soon as we reached the black top the
general store was our first stop. I would buy a bottle of Coke and bag of salty peanuts which I
poured into my Coke. So began my journey home, sipping my sweet and salty treat as I day
dreamed of my next visit.

I’ve been back to Sweet Gum Head many times as the years have passed. Each visit greets me
with change. Aunt Gypsie and Uncle Willie along with many others have passed on. The old barns and corn crib are no longer there. The fields have been dormant far too long and the earth has reclaimed them. Everything seems much smaller than before, but the piney woods stand as tall now as they did many years ago. When I close my eyes I can hear the yesteryears calling me. It’s the magical whispers of Sweet Gum Head.

May 2009
One of my family stories from a writing class

Taken with an old polaroid camera many years ago. It wasn't a good photo before I scanned it. This is how I remember my Aunt Gypsie and Uncle Willie.

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