June 18, 2012 View From My Front Porch Southern Gentlemen My father, Malcolm Houston Weathers, Jr., and my uncle, Joseph E. Reeves, Sr. I just knew them as Daddy and Dad (Reeves). They married sisters, the country doctor with the craving for farming and cattle and the machinist, whose gardening and shooting skills outdid any in the county. They raised their families down the street from each other, close enough that my brothers, sister, and I picked up my cousins’ name for their father–Dad. We called our own father Daddy. Dad was the only grandfather figure we ever knew; our grandparents died when I was very small. Sometimes I felt a deep loss when others talked of Granny this or Granddaddy that, but all in all I recognized my good fortune. Both Daddy and Dad loomed large in my life and shaped me in very different but wonderful ways. During my father’s stint in the service as a captain at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver during the Korean War, his letters reveal his two obsessions: my mother, the beautiful, dark-haired Catholic girl he was madly in love with, and the fields of lespedeza he had planted to rejuvenate his crops that she oversaw. My uncle served in the Air Force during World War II. Stationed in Trinidad & Tobago, he became a master cook for officers using the finest ingredients available on the island. He, too, wrote letters to his love, the pretty and shapely sister of my mother who waited patiently for his return. He sent pictures of natives on sandy beaches, laughing with the uniformed soldiers. He mastered the skills that would later benefit us all with foods cooked with flavors none of us had experienced before. My father was gracious and well-spoken and wooed my mother with Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody on the first combination record player/television set in town. He quoted Dickens when I studied him in college, this after buying me a set of classical novels from a traveling salesman just because he said he knew I would read them. Besides medicine and farming, he loved politics and education, serving as city mayor and county board of education member and hosting politicians running for office on our farm. Once he took us to meet Jimmy Carter and Senator Jim Sasser at a fundraising event at Tom T. Hall’s house in Nashville, and I realized he was exposing us to important people. Yet, his greatest pride and pleasure was taking us–cousins and all–around to people living out back roads and across creeks, farmers and people of many walks of life. Sometimes we went on house calls, and he lingered forever, talking. My uncle was also a kind and friendly man, but in a quieter way publicly. He, too, took us on visits with folks around the countryside, bringing fruits of his labor: game from his hunts, vegetables from his garden, knives made with Osage orange limbs, flips (slingshots) carved from v-shaped sticks. Along the way he astutely observed people’s idiosyncrasies while listening to their tales and in turn, began his storytelling, using made-up names. When he got on a roll with his tales, my father would throw his head back and roar with a deep, throaty laugh. Until his final illness and death, we begged my uncle to entertain us with his stories. These, now, are inspirations for my own. When I was only a girl, my father took me on his farms to feed and herd errant cattle and look over his crops while my uncle taught me to hunt, fish, and identify species of trees and wildflowers. My uncle mended broken bicycle chains and crafted doll beds while my father deftly sewed up cuts and mended broken limbs. In later years, my uncle oversaw my first garden, guiding me every step of the way in the planting, tending, and harvesting. Nowadays, I can’t look at an LL Bean catalog without remembering his blue chambray and plaid flannel shirts. I can’t notice a hunting dog without seeing him in the field, training one of his English setters with a cane pole and a corncob bird. My mother reminds me that he often hit more than one quail with one shot then cooked up the meat with brown gravy to the delight of my father. He also whipped up meals with the fish, squirrel, and rabbits he and his sons brought home. My father couldn’t have been happier if he had killed the wild game himself on safari. Neither man needed to leave the area for their greatest pleasures in life. They could find them right here. It is remarkable how much cliché is involved with the Southern way of living. All in all, though, I don’t mind it. Daddy taught me to love porch-sitting and fresh tomatoes, coaxing me with one bite at a time. Dad introduced me to sweet tea; he always kept a pitcher cold. He also was a pro at pies with mile-high meringue, baking one for each of us on our birthdays to go with the special dish of our choice. Back then we didn’t worry any more about our sugar intake than walking barefoot on the town’s roads, popping black tar bubbles with our toes. One of the author’s three inviting porches The author with the morning’s bounty from the family’s vegetable garden When you are used to the slowed-down way of life in rural Tennessee, what’s more the land, getting it out of your blood is close to impossible. I never could. I would rather pull over to let a farm implement pass a hundred times than sit in traffic any day. I appreciate the easy affection of country people, the wave or one-finger “hello” as they pass other cars on the road, the conversations. I thrive on the gardens full of silk-topped corn, proud okra, and luscious, ripe tomatoes waiting to be sliced. I enjoy my neighboring farmers with their quiet wisdom and their country ways. I catch myself listening to Mozart as I plan my garden and putting novels side by side with seed catalogs on my nightstand. I am a mix of the two men who shaped me, two Southern gentlemen who understood life’s lessons and treasures and were wise enough to share them. I’d love to hear from you! Please respond by clicking on “Comment” at the top right of the essay.