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Tears & Laughter-8-24-16

amanda 3He held it up toward the light for me to see, holding it between his finger and thumb like a diamond. “Do you know what this is,” he asked? Without giving me a chance to answer he said, “It’s a buckeye, and there is a buckeye tree in your mama’s backyard. Ask her if she will save me some more of them again this year.” When she first moved into their house in Wynlakes she was surprised to find the buckeye tree in a shaded corner of their backyard. She took me out to see it the first time I stopped by. She introduced it like an old friend, saying her granddaddy used to carry a buckeye in his pocket every day for good luck. She filled my hands with them to take home to Justin, who she just knew would want them because his granddaddy had probably carried them too. Even after being married for 20 years, Justin’s grandfathers are still somewhat like mysteries to me. There was Howard Eugene Austin, his mother’s daddy, who had a military background and was known as a riverboat gambler. He was murdered, accidentally, by his stepmother. There is a newspaper article that attempts to explain the sordid details. They were from Florida. Caryville, Florida, there in the panhandle, not far from the Fountain of Youth, and all of this happened when my mother-in-law was about eight or nine. She gave her oldest sons his names, and remembers her daddy mostly through the memory of a young girl mixed and with all of the stories her mama told her. He was a king to her, and she will fight you over that. Vandy Vesti Walker was Justin’s other granddaddy. He was a runaway who was taken in by a man who changed his name to Jack. We figure if for no other reason he did this because nobody really knew how to spell Vandy Vesti and those who could weren’t sure how to pronounce it. His granddaddy Jack was a strong influence and example during Justin’s boyhood years. He is why I now have a daughter named Jacqueline…and I think he would be quite pleased with that, all things considered. Nobody seems to know if it was work or a woman that first took him to Red Level. Prior to that, they believe he came from northern Crenshaw County. He named his son Jack too, but knew little about love to give him. Life had not allowed him gentleness. He was a hard-working, tough man who took good care of what he owned. He had to kill somebody once, but it was in self-defense. He had been the foreman of a road gang back in the 1920’s when they still used mules. One of the men in his crew tried to kill him by hitting him in the back of his head with a shovel. Then the man ran and tried to hide in a pond beside the road. Jack didn’t shoot him…he just held him back with a limb and never let him get up out of that muddy water. He wasn’t a perfect man. So few of them are, but we keep telling their stories, rubbing our thumbs over buckeyes in our pockets just to touch the surface of their memories and keep their spirits near.

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