By Joe Rector

This time of year always makes me sit back and think about times gone by. I grow a bit nostalgic, and just a fleeting thought can fill my eyes with tears.

The weather cools too quickly for my aching joints, but years ago it never bothered me a lick. We boys in the neighborhood would arrive at home from school, change into our old play clothes and shoes, and let the screen door slap the jam as we ran to the side yard for a game of tackle football. Games lasted until dark. We’d stop only when the call “Supper” drifted out of doors in the neighborhood. We swept off the dust with our hands and rubbed grass-stained knees before turning toward our houses. It was a sad time because we knew that night would swallow the rest of the day and deny us more plays of glory until the next afternoon.

Even though fingers and toes numbed from the drop in the temperature, we boys were covered in sweat from the game. The smell from a young boy is a mixture of dirt, exertion, and hormones. Feet proved to be so smelly that shoes were required until bath time. We quenched our thirst during those epic football battles with water straight from the hose. The taste of plastic flavored the water, but no one cared; it still revived us enough to continue the game.

When Jim and I walked toward the door that opened into a hall next to the kitchen, we noticed that the windows were steamed. That was the sign that supper was cooking and almost on the table. No matter what the menu included, we were always ready and willing to eat. To the right of the door was a huge oven, an oversized appliance that could cook six pies at a time. The same pots with which Mother began housekeeping sat on eyes of the stove. They’d hold such things as stewed potatoes, hominy, soup beans, and corn. Another vessel would be filled with meat or spaghetti and sauce.

At the far end of the room sat a large round oak table. Chairs surrounded it, and as soon as we sat, the warning not to lean back in them greeted us. Plates and silverware were set and ready for the onslaught of three brothers who could devour all the prepared food and still be hungry. A large glass of milk was poured for each of us, and they would be filled again midway through supper. Mother warned us to hold our forks correctly and not to use them as shovels.

The best thing in that kitchen was Mother. She sat upon her S&H green stamp stool, and in front of her were a cup of cold coffee, a pack of cigarettes, and a pad and pen. While she yakked on the phone, her right hand pushed a pencil as she drew doodles that covered the page. On that stool, she found the first rest she’d had after a day of teaching, cooking, washing, and cleaning for her family. She never uttered the first complaint.

After supper came time for homework and baths. We’d sit on the edge of the tub as the water ran and splash it in an effort to make Mother believe we were actually washing ourselves. Sometimes we were caught and sent back to “do it again.” We donned pajamas, watched a little television, and then made our ways to bed.

The outside temperatures quickly cooled the block and plaster walls. We curled up underneath quilts that our Mamaw had made. They warmed our bodies, and we drifted off to sleep.

Those were good times, but I don’t want to go back. I love my life now, my wife and family and friends. Still, I miss those carefree times. I also miss Mother and my brother and several of the boys with whom I grew up. This evening I’m going to walk down to the yard where so many football games took place and just spend some quiet time remembering. I’ll look on my way back inside my house to see if the windows are steamed.