Down Home

By

Down Home
Down Home

When I was a child, I heard the phrase “down home” all the time and never appreciated what it meant. My parents used it when we went to visit my grandparents.

“We’re getting up early in the morning to go down home,” Dad would say. Then he’d head out to the garage to check the oil and water levels in the car and clean the windshield until it sparkled.

My mom, busy packing, would nod and continue filling suitcases. A smile would spread across her face as she tucked in underwear and pajamas. For the rest of the evening she was a different Mom. Not the harried homemaker or frantic Mom I lived with, but a younger more spirited version.

Their terminology still confused me, because I was home. We weren’t down home, or up home. Just home.

When I was older, I realized the place they referred to was where they grew up – their roots. The mere thought of returning energized them, even if only for a weekend.

But, the down part of down home still lacked significance. I finally decided it referred to a direction. Because my grandparents lived south of us, it made sense that down home meant in a southerly direction.

Now that I’m grown, I refer to my grandparents’ small town as down home – even though I’ve never lived there for more than a few weeks at a time. It was a place where I grew and learned and became the person I am today. The deep-down meaning of down home wasn’t clear until a few years ago.

It was a sunny May afternoon – a picture-book kind of day where you expect to see butterflies weaving their way across flower-sprinkled meadows or cows munching grass on verdant hillsides. We had gathered to lay my grandmother to rest – in the same cemetery where, years earlier, we had buried my grandfather. I realized I was standing in almost the same spot where my grandmother had brought me as a child to decorate her parents’ graves on Sundays after service. The emotions I had been holding back flooded to the surface. It was then I understood.

Down home wasn’t a place. It was a feeling. It was Saturday afternoons visiting King’s store for a cold pop, where I’d plunge my hand into a huge chest filled with ice water. I’d fish around until I pulled up a frosty bottle filled with Grape Nehi, Dr Pepper or Coca-Cola. Then Mr. King wrote up the sale in a big, black ledger. Later in the week, when Grandpa brought home his paycheck, Grandma would stop by and settle up with Mrs. King while they gossiped about the latest small town scandal.

It was sitting on the front porch on a muggy summer evening listening to June bugs dive into the screen door or lying on blankets wishing on stars. Sometimes they raced across the sky leaving me to feel small and insignificant.

It was visiting the graves of relatives and watching Grandma bow her head in prayer. She would pull a hanky from her purse, dab her eyes and motion for us kids to go sit in the car. We’d watch as the wind billowed the skirt of her Sunday dress. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew she was talking to her Mama and Daddy – a private conversation meant only for them. The love I saw in her eyes when she returned to the car was so overpowering it made me feel warm and safe inside.

Down home was an era. It was going to bed at night without locking the doors and waking to the smell of strong coffee and bacon frying. There were enough hours in the day to bake bread, put up vegetables fresh from the garden and still toss a line down at the creek. It was swinging on the rickety tree swing and waving at cars as they slowed on the gravel road.

Time stood still. There were no cell phones and no rushing from one frenzied activity to another. We played kickball in the road, used the railroad track as a balance beam and gorged ourselves on popcorn and candy in the balcony of the Gem Theatre. Afterward, we still had change for a fountain drink at the drugstore, and we could walk home after dark without fear.

My trips down home are less frequent now, usually a quick stop on the way to other destinations. I seize the opportunity to place flowers at the graves of loved ones, recall fond memories and mourn. But, not before driving by the old home place for another look around and one more opportunity to take a deep breath in oh-so-familiar air.

My visits are rare, but my mind wanders down home often. I long for my grandma’s plum jelly spread thick and gooey on a freshly baked biscuit. What I wouldn’t give to wake one more morning in the creaky iron bed with Grandma’s quilt pulled snuggly under my chin and listen as she and Grandpa began their day with steaming mugs of coffee. If I could feel her gentle hand on my cheek just one more time, I would treasure the touch forever.

It occurred to me the other day that down home is now my home – a place where my child formed her roots. A place that she and her children will return – hopefully often. Now it’s up to me to create the memories, the Sunday afternoons and maybe even the plum jelly, so they too will have a haven where they can get away from their hectic activities; where they can feel comfortable and safe and loved.

Down home is a place forever etched in my heart.

About this writer

  • Down Home

    When I was a child, I heard the phrase “down home” all the time and never appreciated what it meant. My parents used it when we went to visit my grandparents.

    “We’re getting up early in the morning to go down home,” Dad would say. Then he’d head out to the garage to check the oil and water levels in the car and clean the windshield until it sparkled.

    My mom, busy packing, would nod and continue filling suitcases. A smile would spread across her face as she tucked in underwear and pajamas. For the rest of the evening she was a different Mom. Not the harried homemaker or frantic Mom I lived with, but a younger more spirited version.

    Their terminology still confused me, because I was home. We weren’t down home, or up home. Just home.

    When I was older, I realized the place they referred to was where they grew up – their roots. The mere thought of returning energized them, even if only for a weekend.

    But, the down part of down home still lacked significance. I finally decided it referred to a direction. Because my grandparents lived south of us, it made sense that down home meant in a southerly direction.

    Now that I’m grown, I refer to my grandparents’ small town as down home – even though I’ve never lived there for more than a few weeks at a time. It was a place where I grew and learned and became the person I am today. The deep-down meaning of down home wasn’t clear until a few years ago.

    It was a sunny May afternoon – a picture-book kind of day where you expect to see butterflies weaving their way across flower-sprinkled meadows or cows munching grass on verdant hillsides. We had gathered to lay my grandmother to rest – in the same cemetery where, years earlier, we had buried my grandfather. I realized I was standing in almost the same spot where my grandmother had brought me as a child to decorate her parents’ graves on Sundays after service. The emotions I had been holding back flooded to the surface. It was then I understood.

    Down home wasn’t a place. It was a feeling. It was Saturday afternoons visiting King’s store for a cold pop, where I’d plunge my hand into a huge chest filled with ice water. I’d fish around until I pulled up a frosty bottle filled with Grape Nehi, Dr Pepper or Coca-Cola. Then Mr. King wrote up the sale in a big, black ledger. Later in the week, when Grandpa brought home his paycheck, Grandma would stop by and settle up with Mrs. King while they gossiped about the latest small town scandal.

    It was sitting on the front porch on a muggy summer evening listening to June bugs dive into the screen door or lying on blankets wishing on stars. Sometimes they raced across the sky leaving me to feel small and insignificant.

    It was visiting the graves of relatives and watching Grandma bow her head in prayer. She would pull a hanky from her purse, dab her eyes and motion for us kids to go sit in the car. We’d watch as the wind billowed the skirt of her Sunday dress. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew she was talking to her Mama and Daddy – a private conversation meant only for them. The love I saw in her eyes when she returned to the car was so overpowering it made me feel warm and safe inside.

    Down home was an era. It was going to bed at night without locking the doors and waking to the smell of strong coffee and bacon frying. There were enough hours in the day to bake bread, put up vegetables fresh from the garden and still toss a line down at the creek. It was swinging on the rickety tree swing and waving at cars as they slowed on the gravel road.

    Time stood still. There were no cell phones and no rushing from one frenzied activity to another. We played kickball in the road, used the railroad track as a balance beam and gorged ourselves on popcorn and candy in the balcony of the Gem Theatre. Afterward, we still had change for a fountain drink at the drugstore, and we could walk home after dark without fear.

    My trips down home are less frequent now, usually a quick stop on the way to other destinations. I seize the opportunity to place flowers at the graves of loved ones, recall fond memories and mourn. But, not before driving by the old home place for another look around and one more opportunity to take a deep breath in oh-so-familiar air.

    My visits are rare, but my mind wanders down home often. I long for my grandma’s plum jelly spread thick and gooey on a freshly baked biscuit. What I wouldn’t give to wake one more morning in the creaky iron bed with Grandma’s quilt pulled snuggly under my chin and listen as she and Grandpa began their day with steaming mugs of coffee. If I could feel her gentle hand on my cheek just one more time, I would treasure the touch forever.

    It occurred to me the other day that down home is now my home – a place where my child formed her roots. A place that she and her children will return – hopefully often. Now it’s up to me to create the memories, the Sunday afternoons and maybe even the plum jelly, so they too will have a haven where they can get away from their hectic activities; where they can feel comfortable and safe and loved.

    Down home is a place forever etched in my heart.

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9 Responses to “Down Home”

  1. That was just beautiful. Your writing has clearly evoked the images and feelings of your childhood. Thanks for sharing your treasured memories of “down home.”

  2. Barbara Schmidt says:

    You took me back to a time when I too was able to spend so many happy times with my grandparents. To an easier time, a more carefree time. Lovely, Tricia, it made me cry.

  3. Vicki Gale-Gilbert says:

    I’m sitting here with tears running down my cheeks. You have written this loving remembrance in such a way that you take your reader “down home” with you not only in their mind’s eye but in their hearts as well. While I must admit that I hope I stop crying soon………I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to have shared these loving, intimate memories of a slower, simpler, precious time in your life where you obviously learned so much, from seemingly very wise people, about how to be a positive force in the world and what it is that TRULY matters.

  4. Lee Dunn says:

    Loved it! Made me cry and remember my “down home” and all those that have passed on. Life was truly simplier then. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Anna Doll says:

    I just spent three weeks “down home”, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it felt just as good as you described it. Thank you for your reminder that I have the opportunity to make those “down home” memories for my children and their children, as well.

    Beautiful.

  6. What a lovely and touching essay. I love it!

  7. Claudia Shelton says:

    “Down Home” brought me beautiful memories and tears streaming down my face.

  8. Alice Muschany says:

    Tricia,

    Loved this piece. Took me back to the days of running carefree through the fields at my Grandma’s farm. Great job!

  9. Tammy Denton says:

    Tricia,
    I loved it when you read it at our Saturday writer’s group and I love it now. “Down home” comes rushing back to me complete with Grandma’s feather bed and homemade biscuits in the morning. It is a state of mind, and your story puts me there. Thank you.

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