Wisdom of the Porch
A rocking chair, fireflies and the future
Most of the world is covered by water. A fisherman’s job is simple: Pick out the best parts. — Charles Waterman
By Tom Bryant
It was early summer and I was kicked back in the swing on the front porch enjoying the end of a Sandhills day. A whip-poor-will was calling in the woods behind our house, and I could hear the early sounds of a barred owl as he prepared for his evening hunt. A yapping dog barked from up the street. He sounded a little like Johnny Mill’s terrier, probably chasing a squirrel or maybe a rabbit. The moon was waxing and was half full, already beginning to light up the night as the sun set, and a welcome coolness seemed to settle over the pines.
I could hear Mother through the screen door. She was in the kitchen frosting a cake she had made to take to church on Sunday. There was to be a celebration of some sort; I didn’t hear what, or probably did and just wasn’t paying attention; but I did remember there was to be a covered dish lunch. Dad was working late at the ice plant. A train, on its way north and loaded with vegetables, came in early that afternoon, and the bunkers on the cars had to be iced and salted so the cargo wouldn’t spoil.
I was kinda at loose ends, having fished the headwaters of Pinebluff Lake most of the day, catching one little bream I threw back along with a lake turtle that ate my worm. I had to cut the line at the hook to let him go; and since I wasn’t really in the mood to fish, I put the rod and reel down, found a restful place against a leaning pine and took a little nap. You might say it was a laid-back kind of day.
Aberdeen High School class of 1959, of which I was a lucky member, had just celebrated its graduation. The whole year had been geared to that great day when we would be out of school; but after it actually happened and all the ceremonies were over came the reality. A special era was gone, and it was a different day.
My plan was that I would take three or four days off after graduation, maybe go to the beach like a lot of my friends, or just do nothing, which I decided was the best thing. Then I would go to work at the ice plant to build up my college fund. I was lucky enough to be accepted at Brevard College, a little private school located right next to the Pisgah National Forest. Pisgah was famous for being a great place to hike, camp and explore, and the mountains also had great trout fishing streams.
I was kind of numb with the end of high school and the beginning of the future and college. It was as if I was having a severe bout of nostalgia and wasn’t really ready for all the new challenges that waited in September when I headed off to school.
Mom came to the screen door, looked out and said, “It’s time for your dad to get home. Tell him his dinner is on the stove. I’m going to take a shower.”
In just a few minutes Dad’s car headlights illuminated the drive, and he parked by the porch rather than pull down to the garage. That meant he was going back to the plant after he ate supper.
“Hey, Buddyro,” he said as he walked up on the porch steps. “I thought you’d be out with some of your buddies still celebrating your graduation.”
“Nope, most of the crowd’s gone to the beach. I didn’t feel like going. Maybe I’ll join ’em this weekend. Don’t know yet. Mom’s taking a shower. She said your supper’s on the stove.”
Dad sat in the rocker close to the swing and lit a cigarette. He was quiet as he puffed a couple of times and then said, “Pretty night. The fireflies are beginning to light up.” We were both silent as we watched the evening lightning bugs show off and flicker in the blackjack oaks by the house. “Remember when you kids used to catch them in jars?”
“Yes sir, it seems like that was a hundred years ago.”
Dad laughed, ”Just wait, son. The older you get, the faster time goes.” He slowly rocked back and forth. “You got something on your mind, son? Wanna talk about it?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I kinda feel out of sorts, being out of school and college coming and friends going away and me going to a strange place without any friends. I don’t know if I can handle all that change.”
He chuckled as he put his cigarette out in the ashtray on the table next to his chair. “Son, that’s what life is all about. Somebody a lot smarter than me once said, ‘The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself.’ As far as your friends are concerned, I think you make friends quicker than anyone I know. You have a real talent for that, and it’ll take you far in life. And you’ve got your family, always a plus. I’m gonna grab a bite to eat and talk to your mom a bit, then I’ve got to go back to the plant and check on some things.” He went inside, careful not to let the screen door slam.
I watched the fireflies and thought about my high school friends who were also getting ready for the future. When Dad said I have my family along with my friends, it brought to mind some of my good buddies at old AHS. A lot of us literally grew up together. This was before school consolidation and “bigger is better.” Our high school numbered about 300 students, and those times were before our society became so transient. Several of the students and I were together from the first grade through graduation. They were like a second family.
After a bit, Mother and Dad came back to the porch and relaxed in the two rockers. I could hear my brother and sisters inside laughing at a television show. “Tom,” Dad said, “why don’t you get up early in the morning and join your friends at the beach? You can take the station wagon, and I’ll drive your old clunker for a couple of days.” The station wagon was the family car, and my transportation was a 1940 Chevrolet Dad bought me when I became old enough to drive.
“I don’t like to see you so down,” Mom said. “It’s not like you. You’re getting ready to enter the most exciting time of your life. You’ll make hundreds of friends, establish your career, and if you’re lucky, start your own family with a beautiful girl.”
“Yeah,” Dad chuckled, “maybe a girl as pretty as your mom. And you know what? I bet you’ll be able to fish and hunt at all kinds of places. Places you only dream about now.”
We sat silently watching the shadows and the fireflies. “Well, Sport, I’ve got to go back to the plant. I’ll take your car so you can get the station wagon ready for the beach tomorrow. See you in the morning.”
Dad drove off in the old ’40, the name my friends gave my ancient ride. Mom didn’t say anything, just continued rocking. “I don’t like to see him working so hard,” she said. “He loves his family, and if you grow up to be as good a man as your daddy, you’ll be successful in life.” She sighed and stood and watched the taillights of my car disappear up the road. “I’m going to make sure the laundry is done so you’ll have clean clothes for your trip.”
Mom went back inside and I heard the kids getting ready for bed. I continued to rest in the swing, listening to the night sounds and wondering about the future and what it held for me.
Turns out my mom and dad were right those many years ago when we enjoyed that beautiful early summer evening on the porch in Pinebluff. I’ve made friends, had a great career, married a beautiful girl, and we have a fantastic son. I’ve camped, fished and hunted all over the country. I’ve done every thing my folks predicted except maybe becoming as great a man as my daddy. I don’t think there’s a soul alive who could reach that lofty goal. PS
Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.