Friday, April 16, 2010


On a recent post - Tree Names - my sister commented, "Did Claytus spike your custard again?" Which led in a round-a-bout way to a request for the story of Claytus's pine tree (the custard story will come later). But before I introduce you to Claytus, you need to meet my Granddaddy...

Granddaddy was raised by a very Victorian mother. During the Victorian period. (His father died of appendicitis when Granddady was a young boy.) Great-grandmother West was the sort that referred to table legs as table limbs, to avoid vulgar speech. One didn't play cards or games which required the use of dice. One didn't indulge in any type of rowdy, noisy play. Young children should spend their Sunday afternoons studying the catechism. Great-grandmother's influence evidenced itself in Granddaddy's sense of propriety and his personal manners. Granddaddy's views of right behavior were much more relaxed than his mother's, but he was still a long way from anything like easy-going.

Granddaddy West was a very proper, dignified gentleman. I don't remember once hearing him raise his voice (except when cheering a Georgia Bulldogs game). He always appeared in public well dressed and meticulously groomed. He would nearly trample a woman in order to reach the door ahead of her, where he would hold the door open and allow her to enter first, nodding and bowing slightly as she passed. He did not swear or drink or smoke or indulge in any other disreputable activities. My memories of Granddaddy are of a gentle, polite, upright Presbyterian minister.

Then, he met Claytus. After the death of his second wife, Granddaddy retired from the ministry and relocated to a small town in rural northwest Tennessee. There he met a completely new kind of woman. Josh Turner has a hit country song out now, with a line stating "My baby, she's a real firecracker!" Well, Claytus must've been the original Firecracker. She turned Granddaddy's life into a wild ride, introducing him to an entirely new system of protocol.

I first met Claytus shortly after she and Granddaddy married. He drove up to the family farm one Sunday morning to introduce his new bride to the broader family circle. Mom always cooked a big Sunday dinner and invited friends and neighbors over to share the meal. This particular Sunday was like every other - a house full of guests, lots of good food, a leisurely afternoon visiting in the crowded living room.

Of course, everyone was eager to know Claytus better - who was this vivacious, animated woman who had captured Granddaddy's affections? Claytus radiated life and energy, even as she sat primly beside Granddaddy on the camel-back sofa. At close to 80 years old, she defiantly sported coal-black hair and ruby red lips. When someone asked if the two enjoyed their honeymoon trip to North Carolina, Claytus charged headlong into a lively recollection of the excursion.

She told of how she wanted a pine tree to bring back from North Carolina, as a momento of their honeymoon. She had Granddaddy stop the car on the shoulder of the highway. Granting his lady's request, Granddaddy clambered across the right-of-way and into a nearby thicket of pines. Moments later, he returned victorious, bearing a knee-high sapling.

Back home in Trenton, Claytus planted the young evergreen in the back yard, where she could see it from the kitchen window. "One day this week, I was washing dishes and looking out the window at my precious pine tree. A little rabbit hopped across the yard and up to my tree. I thought that was so purty," Claytus cooed to the crowd of listeners. She paused, then concluded her story. "The next time I looked out the window, the rabbit was gone...and so was my pine tree! That bast*** ate my pine tree!"

Recognizing this gross violation of family protocol, everyone in the room froze. Granddaddy flushed red to the top of his bald head, then fell into a spasm of loud coughing. Cutting their visit short, Granddaddy insisted that he and Claytus really did have to be going, that they hated leaving such good company but that they needed to start the drive home.

Mom and Dad and a cloud of kids walked the new couple to their car, laughing inwardly at the antics of this fascinating treasure Granddaddy had found. Granddaddy couldn't get away fast enough. Claytus, on the other hand, seemed content to linger as long as possible.

The next time they came to the farm, Claytus apologized to the family. "Charles thinks I might've said something during our last visit that offended you good people. If I did, I surely didn't mean to upset anyone." In truth, the only person Claytus had upset was Granddaddy. For the rest of us, it was too late for an apology - we were already in love.


emily said...

It's been a long time, but I can just remember hearing this story retold around the dinner table at some extended family get-together. And everyone just hooting with laughter at the end, especially the narrator :) Thanks Mom!

emily said...

PS have you read Jon Acuff's blog today? Would be interested to get your response to that. How would you describe how you "edited" us? Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over?

Anonymous said...

One of the funny things for me is that I was so unaware of inappropriate words that I totally missed the significance of Claytus's dasterdly naming of the darling bunny at the time of the incident. I only caught on after the apology was duly given, and the story became a part of the family archives. Still, I did recognize that the blue-black hair and red lipstick indicated that Claytus was like no other woman in our family circle. She was too loose to be a Presbyterian, had to be a Methodist to allow for all that color adjustment. Methodists could get away with that and still be respectable church ladies, which Claytus certainly was by Granddaddy's estimation.