Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Memories of Shaw Hill

      I never became a very good fisherman, although Howard Shaw -- my father-in-law -- did his best to help me pursue that desire. He loved fishing and knew all he needed to know about it.
      I did become a very good fish eater, and still am, partly because Laura Alice Dickson Shaw fried up plates and plates of bream and white perch (crappie) and put them in front of me, and also taught her oldest daughter Beatrice how to do that.
       Give me bream, crappie or catfish -- fried, of course -- and I'm happy anytime. Even if it's bad  for my cholesterol.
Laura Alice and Howard Shaw, 50-plus years together
       One of those good fortunes in my life was our visits to the little house on Shaw Hill -- that was our name for the homeplace -- in Jamestown, La. I think our Jason and Rachel, two of the Shaws' 13 grandchildren, will tell you the same.
        There are plenty of people we miss, and Granny and Paw-Paw -- that's what our family came to call them -- are among those we miss most.
        We lost them 20 and 18 years ago. It hardly seems possible that it's been that long. But the memories are sweet ones.
         Those who know me might find this hard to believe, but there was never a cross word for me from either of them. I could not have been treated with more love and respect, and I hope I returned that because they deserved it. And I kind of liked their oldest daughter.
         They were country people living in rural conditions, without a lot of modern conveniences. Don't take that wrong -- they were good as gold, with plenty of smarts. They made do with what they had, but at times it was tough, especially when Bea and Howard Jr. and Brenda were small.
          The baby, Alice, came along a few years after that, and soon the family moved from a farmhouse on the property to the new home -- the one we knew -- built on cinder blocks. A company put up the frame, but Mr. Shaw did all the inside work -- the three bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and, after a few years, the plumbing for the bathroom. None of it was very roomy.
           This was Paw-Paw -- he could do most anything. He loved that piece of land; he'd always lived there. On it, he kept extensive garden; he'd plow the land and work it. He could build things, do plumbing, fix motors (cars, lawnmowers), and people from all around -- Ringgold, Castor, Jamestown -- would come to him for help. Sometimes, but not often, he'd accept money for it, usually at their insistence.
             And the kids all remember this -- he kept a wormbed, a big one, thousands of worms. He'd sell them; better yet, he'd use them for our fishing trips.
              Here's where I came in, in 1976, having fished only a few times in my life but really liking it. Liked the quiet, and the challenge, and here was a man who loved to take people fishing. Mrs. Shaw loved fishing, too, and so did all the kids -- they'd been out there on Lake Bistineau and other places with him often.
             So off we'd go; Bea often went with us. He'd hook up the trailer/boat to his truck and travel the back roads to the launching spot at Lake Bistineau. He  knew practically every inch of that lake, had a bunch of favorite fishing holes, and he so wanted me to have fun, and to catch fish. So if they weren't biting pretty quickly, he'd move on to another spot.
             In time, I even learned to bait my own hook, tie on a hook (after losing one when I would invariably get the line caught). We'd spent hours out there -- if it wasn't too hot -- and we had some very good days, and some very dry ones.
             Best thing was, after the good ones, we'd come home and scale the fish, gut them and clean them -- I learned to do that, too -- and then Mrs. Shaw would go to work in the kitchen. If we didn't bring home any fish, she always had a ready supply in the freezer.
               And, yes, eventually, I could cook them, too. But only when Bea didn't want to.
               But the most memorable thing about Paw-Paw: his stories. Despite not much of a formal education, he had an education of the world -- he saw some of the country in the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and some of the world in the U.S. Army during World War II. He had tales of his boyhood, of hunting and fishing, and of adventures with the kids -- often featuring "lil' ol' Buster" (Howard Jr.).
                Or he'd make up stories. Bea remembers those from the early days and she and her siblings would often urge him to "tell the one about ..." He was more than happy to comply.
                When he'd finish a story and he knew you were pleased, and so saw he, he'd chuckle: heh, heh. The chuckle was part of it.
                He was at times, Bea said, a stern and demanding father. I never saw that side; only saw him be adamant once. I know what it was about, but it doesn't matter. I knew he meant business when he addressed Bea as "Annett" -- her middle name (without a final e) by which she was known in her younger days.
               One of his stories, and mine, in his later years was about the day we went into the woods just down Highway 154 from the house in search of what he referred to as Black Lake. It was actually a stream that had been good for fishing. Jason, about 4 or 5, went with us. We walked for 15-20 minutes, and couldn't find it. It had dried up so much, apparently, and Mr. Shaw was wandering around.
               "Are we too lost, Paw-Paw?" Jay asked. Mr. Shaw loved that one.             
                We did find enough water to go fishing, and brought back a nice string that day. And Paw-Paw had a story.
                 Mrs. Shaw was quiet, a dutiful wife and mother and grandmother wanting to please everyone. She was sweet and lovable, and every now and then, she'd contribute a thought to the conversation. Mostly, she was always busy in the kitchen, preparing butter beans and greens and whatever else she could put on the table.
                 Bea remembered how beautiful she looked in her younger days and how when Bea was young, she'd greet her every day when she'd get home from school, sit and work with her on homework and draw; she had artistic ability.
               Rachel, too, remembers Granny sitting and drawing with her and how she'd always spread her arms for a hug and ask for "sugar" (some kisses), and how she'd give Rachel a spoon to let her play in the dirt outside. Jason remembers her lumpy mashed potatoes and the Tang to drink ("only place I'd ever get that") and, at meals, how Paw-Paw loved to mix the cornbread with his buttermilk.
             They were both pretty upset when we decided to move to Hawaii in 1980 for my job with The Honolulu Advertiser. Jason was 5, Rachel was 10 months; they thought they might not see them. But we were back in a couple of years, so the trips from Bossier City to Jamestown came often in the 1980s.
             Then when we moved to Florida in 1988, the trips back home, to Jamestown, were really special.  Really special was their 50th wedding anniversary party, a family gathering on the old place.
They were so proud that day.
             Little more than a year later -- on May 29, 1993 -- we got one of those calls, though. Granny had died, in her typical fashion, very peacefully in her sleep. It wasn't a total surprise, but it was still a shock.
              Paw-Paw's grace at the visitation and funeral was admirable. Life was tougher for him after that, and his health declined. It was probably cancer, although never officially called that. His body really just wore out, but his mind didn't. The stories were still there to the end, and so was the chuckle.
               And he gave us one memorable moment. He could hardly walk on his own, but as we sat at the kitchen table one day, while Jason -- now a student at LSU -- mowed the grass in the back on Paw-Paw's riding lawnmower. Suddenly Jay ran the lawnmower up one of the poles on a swing set.
               Paw-Paw, sensing that Jay might flip over with the mower, hurried from the table to the back door; I don't know how he moved that fast, except his oldest grandson might be hurt. He wasn't, and Paw-Paw was relieved.
               Mr. Shaw died two years, two months and two days after Mrs. Shaw. His youngest sister, Lola Mae Hammett, still lives in Jamestown -- right across the street from Shaw Hill.
               They are buried, with much of the Shaw family, in Providence Cemetery on Highway 154 between Ringgold and Jamestown, and we don't get there often. Rachel stopped by on a trip from her home in Knoxville, Tenn., to our home in Fort Worth and let Josie see where one set of her great-grandparents are buried. Josie was too young to grasp it then, but someday hopefully she'll appreciate it.                                           
             Granny was a sweetheart; Paw-Paw was a man's man. We love the memories.


  1. From Kathy Shaw Spillers (a Shaw granddaughter): Thank you, Uncle Nico, for reminding me of some wonderful memories of two of my favorite people ever.

  2. From NaTasha Woodard (another Shaw granddaughter): I agree with Kathy. Thank you, Uncle Nico, for sharing. I remember the "Tang" and loved it. I never understood how Papaw could drink that buttermilk, though. Yuck! I had forgotten about his chuckle after telling a story. Thanks for reminding me. Made me shed a tear, though. And I loved Mamaw's "sugar." It's funny how things get passed down. Mom, Dad, Tre', and I always tease Gregory about stealing his "sugar." And I bet when he is grown he will refer to kisses as that when he talks to his nieces, nephews, and grandkids. Oh, how I love and miss them!

  3. From Jim Teague: Wonderful Nico, absolutely wonderful. I love cornbread and buttermilk.

  4. From Trish Woodard Taylor: Great read about the Shaws.

  5. From Elizabeth Loftin: Oh, the picture brings back memories.

  6. From Maxie Hays: Awesome story, Nico. Wonderful people.

  7. From Lola Shaw Hammett (Mr. Shaw's youngest sister, Bea's aunt): That was so sweet of Nico to write such a wonderful tribute to his in-laws.

  8. From Sylvia Pesek: Thanks for introducing us to two such wonderful people. I didn't know the Shaws, but I knew many people who were much like them. You were fortunate to have such wonderful in-laws. OK, I'll give you credit for having the good sense and great taste to marry Bea!

  9. From Brenda Chastain: This was a very warm story about Mom and Dad. It brought me to tears, but I loved it.

  10. From Jim Willis: Thanks for sending all the great articles. Each (from the one on Johnny U and David Lee at Baltimore, to your Dutch heritage, to perch jerking on Lake Bistineau) has been special due to similar real-life experiences to my years living and working in places all over the world. You have a knack for threading together the remnants of good old times. Though the memories are sweet, it's hard to deal with the passing of such wonderful folks, like those you mention in this latest article. Apparently you deal with this by putting it on paper. Thankfully, we have a piece of dirt here in Texas where I cope with this by teaching all, including my grandchildren, that nothing can replace what nature or God provides.
    As Aldo Leopold noted, "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas one who cannot." I too cannot. In 2000 we started restoring wildlife habitat (targeting bobwhite quail) on 200 acres and are now working on about 50K acres.

  11. From Harlan Alexander: My earliest memories of my "Granny" are from the early '50s ... and she lived in Jamestown until the late '50s or early '60s when they moved the house "lock, stock and barrel" to Heflin to a daughter's property. I even remember one train ride from Jamestown back to Shreveport "way back in the day" (at least I think I remember it). It's a small world!

  12. From Laura Shaw: A wonderful blog post about my wonderful grandparents written by my uncle. Thank you so much, Uncle Nico, for bringing tears to my eyes and some happiness with memories and a different outlook on them.