Monday, April 15, 2013

A Memorable Bike Ride


I remember as a little girl riding my bicycle down to my great grandmother’s house.  It was a couple of miles on a bike and seemed to me a grand adventure.  I’m sure that my mother called my grandmother before I left the house and my great grandmother called my mother when I arrived…but to me, it felt a little like freedom.  I think that I was about 10 years old…and knew that I had to ride down the back road and stay away from the busy street.  This was the same rule we had for trick or treating at Halloween and it was a hard and fast rule.  I don’t think a lot of parents feel the same security now as they did then in the mid 1970’s…but it is a trip I have never forgotten.
When you are a child and visit with a great grandparent, it is almost always in the company of a bunch of people.  There is no private conversation that can’t be heard.  I didn’t know enough about my great grandmother at that state of life to be as impressed by what she had done during her lifetime as I do now.  This was a woman who was a pioneer…who had left her home as 16 year old girl with a baby to go west and live with her husband in a land as unforgiving and hard as it could be.  To me, she was the really neat grandmother who couldn’t see very well and her head was constantly moving with a tic.  That alone was fascinating…and something that might have been fearful for older children who didn’t know her…but to me, it was just part of Grandma Friddle.  My mother and her sister never referred to their grandmother as Grandma…she was always Mom Friddle…so that is who she is to me when I think about her.  I can remember listening to her and my other great grandmother talk about riding stage coaches and wagons and thinking that it must have been fun.  Now, I know better.  I am not sure that there is anything about their lives as young women or wives and mothers that was fun.  They both lived on hard land and had to work hard to survive.  But, on that day so many years ago when I rode my bike for a visit, I remember sitting with my great grandmother all by myself. 

Mom Friddle was a wonderful storyteller.  I’m sure some of her stories might have been labeled as tall tales.  I remember one story that she told me specifically about staying in the jail one night because her father or grandfather had to watch over a prisoner and there was no one to stay with her.  She talked about laying in the bed and seeing the shadow of a man’s body as it was swinging from a noose.  It was scary enough that I’ve always remembered the story…but I’ve never found anything to back it up.  She also told me about her childhood home.  She said that she had to walk a long ways to town to go to the store for her family.  Mom Friddle made it sound like it was a long ways away.  When I found out that she grew up near Laurel Bloomery…I think it must have been over 10 miles to walk to town…and that seemed an awful long way to me and almost like a punishment.  I remembered Mom Friddle saying that it was an old house and that her family had lived there for generations. 

The house my great grandmother grew up in!
I was able to visit her family home about 12 years ago.  I found that that house was not quite that old (probably built shortly before she was born) and that while she might have been correct when she said that generations of her family had lived there…it wasn’t a long period of time.  Mom Friddle’s mother died when she was a few months old…the house was then signed over to her grandfather.  When he died in 1908, the house fell into the hands of his second wife who deeded the property to Mom Friddle’s uncle’s wife.  I always thought that was interesting that her step grandmother gave it to her uncle’s wife…rather than her uncle, who was the blood relative.  However, perhaps Mom Friddle might have been talking about her grandmother’s family who lived in the Little Laurel region of Ashe Co., NC (Pennington’s)…I suspect though she was telling me another tall tale.

However, her story about walking to the store from her home was something that my young mind might have exaggerated.  I didn’t know until after my first visit to her home that a store used to be at the end of the road near the Wesley Methodist Church in Shingletown, Johnson Co., TN.    That was probably a much more reasonable walk for a child of probably about a mile.  The store had burned down sometime in the 1920’s and had been gone a long time.
This is how I remember my great grandmother - a little older but with those dark glasses on and her hair pulled back in a hair net.  Same type of shoes and dress...and believe it or not - she still had great legs as an older woman!
When our family had the opportunity to visit Johnson Co., TN in 1978, the only landmarks that my mother really remembered was the old court house that was no longer standing.  Driving through that town so many years ago, it brought so many questions to my mind.  But I kept hearing my grandmother’s voice telling me those stories from that private meeting from my bike ride.  When we got home, there wasn’t much chance to ask many more questions…senility was stealing my great grandmother’s memories and within eight months, she had died at the age of 85.  I’ve been very fortunate to have known some of my older relatives…but it has been a big regret of mine that I never could ask so many of the questions that I have now.  I have gotten some answers…and been able to make some guesses on a lot of others, but I realize that time with those older people is something that we can never get back.  I can’t help but be grateful to my mother for letting me take that bike ride all by myself so many years ago.  I don’t know if I really got any answers and don’t remember a lot of specific things that she told me, but I know that it was really special and important to spend that one on one time with my Grandma Friddle!