Bull, Mr. Billy, Daddy, and Poppa Bear were all names for my father, William Homer Saunders. The nickname Bull was given to him when he played football in high school and came from his tendency to put his head down and push ahead no matter what obstacles were blocking the way. This sometimes came across as stubbornness, which could be frustrating, but I will say that his Bull nature mainly served him well throughout life. He was known as “Mr. Billy” to most people in the community, reflecting a Southern blend of formality and informality. The title “Mr.” showed respect and recognized his social position as a farm business owner and community leader, and the nickname “Billy” was what his family and close friends called him. The name “Daddy” or “Dad” was used exclusively by his three children (me, my younger sister, and my brother), although in the final years one of his dear caretakers also called him “Daddy.” His children sometimes referred to him as “Poppa Bear,” typically in his absence. It reflected his teddy bear side, as well as his occasional tendency to growl when in certain moods.
My mother, God rest her soul, always had a closet full of shoes. From early childhood this was a source of fascination to me. There was every kind of shoe one can imagine: athletic shoes including walking shoes, running shoes, tennis shoes; sandals of all shapes and descriptions including multiple pairs of flip-flops; casual shoes to wear around the house and dress shoes with low heels and high heels; and various pairs of bedroom shoes in a variety of conditions from well-worn (in fact barely recognizable as shoes) to pristine princess slippers. The variety in colors was amazing, but I will say Momma kept the styles very basic. No elaborate sequins, buckles, or glitter. She was a no-frills woman, and I’m proud to say that I have taken after her in that respect.
I loved to climb trees when I was growing up. It turns out that I still do, but my current tree-climbing is greatly limited by social expectations for people of my age (late 60s) and a body that is increasingly assertive about protecting its chronologically accumulated insults. But climbing trees was a great pastime when I was little. I used to spend hours climbing and viewing the rural scenery from trees on our property. Some trees were easier to climb than others. Straight, tall pines were very difficult, but smaller trees with many low branches such as maples and dogwood were great fun. Live oaks were also good, once you were able to reach the lower branches.
My first sight of a mountain in North Carolina around age 11 was a wondrous experience. I couldn’t believe how the land rose up and was framed by the sky. Our family made many more trips to the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina during the years we were growing up. We visited the Great Smoky Mountain National Park; National Forests including Pisgah, Nantahala, and Chattahoochee-Oconee; and numerous State Parks in all three states. We enjoyed the scenic vistas and tourist attractions. These trips have merged in my mind as one, large, happy memory.
Inspired by overhearing her granddaughter, Rebecca, telling her younger sister, Crystal, “You can’t put a frog in a book bag.”
For me summer begins when the hummingbirds arrive and ends when they leave. I remember seeing my first hummingbird feeding at a Mimosa tree blossom in the backyard when I was a child. I marveled then, as I do now, at what wondrous creatures they are, light refracting in their feathers creating jeweled colors. They are small for birds, but quite feisty and not afraid of people though that doesn’t mean that they like us around. I wouldn’t be afraid, either, if I could fly that quickly in any direction with such maneuverability. They are social birds, nearly always in the presence of other hummers, but they are also territorial and aggressive, so they don’t get along with each other particularly well. Hummers, with their energy, quickness, and fierceness bundled together in such a small and beautiful package, represent life to me.
Saunders Family Recipe for Homemade Ice Cream Few memories are more delicious than those of home churned ice cream in the summertime. Here is the Saunders family recipe as recalled from my childhood.
It doesn’t take much imagination to know the outcome of my first and only fly-fishing outing in a boat: I hooked Daddy in the back. In the long view, no harm was done, and it is amusing now. But it was not funny on that hot summer afternoon with Daddy bellowing in pain. I can also verify it is easier to remove a hook from a fish than from a person.
The nearly flat soybean field surrounding our childhood home was bounded on its lower side by a drainage canal, fondly known as the “big ditch.” The clear, still water in the canal created the ideal habitat for toads at all stages of their life cycle. The transformation from eggs to tadpoles and then toads was astounding and otherworldly to me. I spent many hours watching and learning, sometimes the hard way.
During high school summers I began learning about characteristics of my preferred occupation by experiencing jobs lacking these features. It was like having to find the puzzle pieces before being able to put them together. At first, I thought being able to do the required tasks was the only thing that mattered. Through experience I found other pieces of the puzzle: the physical setting, the social environment, and liking or finding meaning in the work tasks. I began assembling these elements in my high school summer employment as a tobacco farm worker, legal secretary’s assistant, and camp counselor.