Katy Kinard – I Remember What Really Happened

Veteran teller Katy Kinard tells us of remembering what really happened during those times when everyone was praising her–things involving fires and strip poker. 

“(Gasp) I can’t believe this kitchen!  You girls are the BEST kids!  Sara, you need to invite Katy to spend the night more often!”

I stood with my middle-school-best-friend in a room filled with the smell of strong Pine sol and success – and a big smile on my face.  Sara’s mom went on and on about how shiny the counters looked, how clean the floors – all the dishes washed and put away – and we “even cleaned the oven??” What kind of angels were we??  She had given us permission to cook ourselves breakfast while she went off to work that morning… but for us to go above and beyond cleaning up after ourselves… I mean, we were celestial.

But I remember… what really happened that day.

We were watching old re-runs of Saved By the Bell, and they must have been amazingly distracting episodes.  I also remember her dog playing with us and Sara explaining in great detail how the poor little pugs eyeballs had been operated on several times as they kept falling out of his eye sockets, and this was way more disturbingly enthralling… than the smoke billowing out of the kitchen.

Sara’s parents had a gas stove, and if you have one, you know the broiler has actual fire spread out above the food it’s broiling.  WE thought it’d be a great idea to empty an entire package of bacon into the broiler…apparently we were hungry… and we wanted it good and crispy.

Well.

It suddenly hit us that we had forgotten about the bacon altogether, and we ran into the kitchen to find visible flames peeking out of the sides of her oven along with the smoke – and a large pool of grease running out onto the kitchen floor.

We jumped around screaming in hysterics… That didn’t work, so we argued about who would pull out the broiler drawer and who would put out the fire, and we searched for a fire extinguisher.  It didn’t help when we found it, because we couldn’t figure out how to use it, so Sara’s idea was that I would open the oven and she would pour a giant pot of dirty dishwater onto the greasy fire.

I deliberated with her about this proposed plan.  I went into a story about how my mom said baking soda was a good idea to pour on a grease fire… and I ran around throwing every cabinet open, muttering like a mad man, “Baking soda baking soda baking soda!  Where’s your baking soda!  Why do you people have no baking soda??”

Sara, the cooler one of the two of us, thought this was the dumbest thing she ever heard.  “Forget about F-in baking soda – We have to put out this fire!”  She opened the drawer and dumped the water all over the bacon, causing the flames to retaliate in anger and shoot up toward the ceiling, spreading out across the upper cabinets, while grease and water and burning bacon slices flew all over the kitchen floor.

I was very much torn between caring about this problem – and saving my life… as I recalled the fact that this was a GAS stove and could probably blow up at any moment.  I think twice I ran outside into the winter air and the piled up snow mounds and debated whether I should save myself and run – or stay with my friend.

I stopped being cowardly and ran inside to further search for baking soda as Sara pulled out screws and pieces of the fire extinguisher and slammed it against the counter until it finally busted enough to produce blue foam.  At this moment, I found a full bag of flour in the cabinet and ran over as Sara put out the fire with the blue foam and I dumped the entire bag of flour on top.

After it had already been put out.

It was quite a lovely scene at that point.  Pools of grease, chunky flour-water-grease globs and charred bacon, along with blackened walls and cabinets.

I’m honestly surprised the black coating scrubbed completely off, and I can’t believe we got the whole kitchen clean… We opened every door and window and let in the 20-degree wind for 4 hours, but even so, I can’t believe it aired the house out enough to get rid of the smell.  Thank goodness her parents were smokers and thank goodness for the strength of Pine sol.

Fast forward a few years.  My parents are glowing.  It’s right after school and they have just received word that I was voted student of the year by all of the teachers in my grade.  I remember hugs and kisses…  I’m pretty sure my favorite hamburger helper was cooked that night, and homemade peach cobbler – because I deserved it.  I was an upstanding teenager and American citizen and I was in “Who’s Who Among American Students” – a book I think we had to pay for me to be in – (and I think all of you guys were in there too), but anyway! I remember… what really happened that day.

“Come on Katy, we’re not going to get caught.  Just meet us by the bike racks.  Heidi’s coming, and so is Emmy and Sara and your step brother and his friend.”  It was my time to prove myself, you see… All my friends were in the druggie crowd, and I was already ashamed that I didn’t have as many D’s or F’s as they had, or detentions – I had never even been to Juvenile Hall – and I could never seem to rise to their level of coolness – so this was my chance, you guys.

After homeroom was out, I nonchalantly slipped out of the side door around the back of the building, and at the opportune moment, each one of us ran toward the bike racks and then across the wide field toward the woods.

My heart was beating out of my chest, as I knew some kind of city-wide siren was going to go off and the dogs were going to sic us any moment.  We sprinted into the woods out of breath, until the shadows covered us completely, then we crouched down and peeked back at the tiny school between the branches.

I. could not.  believe it.  I was skipping school.  There was no turning back and I had been brave and valiant.

That feeling lasted very shortly, as my friends took out their bags of weed and passed it around for all to smoke.  Suddenly I was the good girl again, because up to this point, I had grown ok with smoking cigarettes but it would be several more months until I graduated within myself to the level of trying pot.

Let me explain that for me, smoking cigarettes was actually slowly blowing on the cigarette – and it would burn up the end and look like I was smoking – My friends didn’t know the difference – and they were impressed with my strength and resolve one day when I courageously quit my addiction. But back to the woods.

We walked along back roads and into deeper woods to reach the private property of Thunderbird Ranch, which included my house.  Ours was one of several cabins that used to be part of a camp, and one of those cabins was a chapel.  We ran inside, shut the door, and played strip poker.

…yeah.  I’m not sure why lightning didn’t crash down upon us… but I will say the worst that happened was Heidi stripping down to her bra and underwear, and I don’t remember having to remove anything exciting.

We left in time to get back to school for the last class of the day.  I’m not sure why we even returned, but I remember sitting calmly in my seat at the start of algebra when I heard the dreaded words over the intercom:  “Katy Kinard, please come to the office.”
I froze and sank in my seat, the thoughts turning over and over about the consequences that would soon follow.  My classmates stared at me and reminded me again what was just said over the intercom… so I got up and took the long walk of shame to the front office.

I sat and waited – the receptionist explaining that the principal himself wanted to talk to me in private.  I rehearsed what I might say and tried to think how brave I could be if he asked who else I was with… I would try to say as little as possible and hope for the best.

“Katy – please come in.”

I sulked in and sat down as he walked around behind his desk and pulled out a scary, official-looking paper of some sort.
“Congratulations, you have been chosen student of the year by the entire staff of teachers!  I wanted to tell you myself of this great honor…”

I remember… being way too lucky growing up.

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Jeannie Alexander – A Bee’s Dream

At Tenx9’s “I Remember” night, Jeannie Alexander spun a masterful narrative about remembering her grandfather–his grace, words, and beekeeping. 

I remember my grandfather’s smell. It is my first memory. My second memory is of being carried by my grandfather through his backyard. So carefully we considered the apple trees, muscadines, figs, and plums, but far back in my memory we first considered the mud puddles.  My grandfather was a brick mason and he and my grandmother made their home in Stone Mountain GA where both of their families for several generations before had planted their homestead; the modest dreams of sharecroppers. Their plots of land were stitched together like a quilt: my great grandmother Annie-bell’s home, my great aunt Irene’s home, my great grandfather Doc’s home, my grandparent’s home, my great uncle R.L’s home, and Uncle Pete’s home. One winding twisting piece of property divided into artificial plots. A geography of tragedy, toil, love, and grace. Why is it that we think the modest dreams of the poor are any less grand than those of the wealthy? Surely they are no less holy.

When my parents were first married they lived in a small trailer that my grandparents had moved to the back of their property behind the main house.  When I was two I would kneel on the bed, my face pressed against the window screen of my parent’s bedroom window each afternoon, waiting for my grandfather to return. His old burgundy car would pull in and before his feet could hit the deeply rutted dirt path I would begin shouting “Papa come saaavvveee me!” This was our daily game. He taught me how to unlatch the screen and push it out so that he could then lift me through the window.  This is where my first memory erupts, the smell of sweat, and the taste of masonry dust stuck to the roof of my mouth as I pressed my nose against his neck to identify his scent every afternoon. His hands were the roughest gentlest hands I have ever known.  And each evening as he pulled me from the window he did so with the purpose of connecting me to the earth in the daily baptism ritual of dunking me into the dirty muddy water that always seemed to exist in the large rut in the middle of the driveway. It was a child’s ecstasy that I experienced in those moments. I would not undergo true baptism again until many years later when I tried to drown myself.

As a teenager embarrassed by rural ways and honest poverty I immersed myself in the alternative political and drug culture of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.  Heroin, cocaine, LSD and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade ironically threw me into the intellectually bourgeoisie disaffected punk rock culture of angry youth, often from wealthy families, supposedly fighting for the rise of the proletariat peasant class, a birthright I had abandoned.   Sometimes the universe laughs.

But in the early hours of barely light mornings following nights of insanity, I would pull myself together and return bruised and disoriented to the gardens of healing, the waters of remembrance, my grandfather’s section of plowed earth.  I was 19 hungover and standing by my grandfather’s side, a cup of coffee in my hand, watching his honeybees swarm in and out of the hive in the already hot humid air.  “Aren’t you afraid of getting stung?” I asked. “No never” he replied, “you just have to learn to think like a bee.” As we moved from bees to fig trees to chickens I knew to my shame the truth; that the sacredness of connection was to be found here or nowhere on this earth, and all of my endeavors to find truth through separation would lead me back to this yard.

My grandfather died while I was in law school and I was so furious with grief that I refused to leave NY and go home to GA to attend his funeral. The fury has long since turned to peace and gratitude and my grandfather keeps speaking to me, slowly softly tracking my often tumultuous life. My friend Bill has bee hives now. A few weeks ago he removed the top of the hive so I could look inside the secret world into the feeding tray on top. The bees are fed sugar water. They moved slowly in the cold wet morning air and most stayed inside the wooden hive box, but a few came cautiously out of the small entrance hole in front and moved slowly, their thick stout golden honey bee bodies covered with fine hair, so very beautiful.  I hear my grandfather’s voice “The entire source of food for the whole world rests on the backs of these bees. All of this, everything around you is connected so you can’t do nothing to these bees this land that don’t affect you. These bees are you and you are the bees.” I think about this when Bill shows me the old feeding trays that he had discarded because they were death traps for bees, too deep, the bees drown caught between metal screen and water. A simple mistake, but the cost was dear and I ran my finger over the screen and over the tiny hairy corpse bodies trapped inside.

One of my last conversations with my grandfather was about bees.  We stood staring at the hives while I ate a fig pulled from the tree. I had focused on the bees to avoid the truth that his once robust body was being wasted by the cancer growing inside of him.  “Pa-pa What do bees dream? Do they dream together as one, a collective sigh? What happens when the light goes out inside of a bee? Do they have souls, and if so are they little golden sparks of light that make a snapping pop noise. Do trees breathe in the souls of bees?” He put his arm around me, pulled me to him, and I kissed his cool cheek.  I still do not know these things.

So I am buying a house and planting a fig tree. Both acts of faith.

Wendell Berry writes that “The relentlessness of the tragedy is redeemed by the persistence of grace.” My grandfather did not trust books he trusted lived experience and his life was the embodiment of the persistence of grace. Our ancestral ties are reinforced through daily lived sensory experience; the way light changes slowly through the progression of a year, the sounds of animals, birds, bells. The way the smell and taste of lake water and river clings to the air and shrouds us after a storm. What my grandfather tried to teach me throughout my whole life is that this lived experience cannot be purchased or owned, and if we tend our imaginations and memories properly, then home in its deepest truest sense is always accessible to us, for it is us, dwells within us. It is old memory. It is what is meant by living a good life. Its roots plunge deep into the waters of love, and nurture within us an affection and tenderness that I think perhaps can only be lived not described; one can only point and nod and say “Ah yes, that.”

I Remember: The Understory

Raise a glass

In remembrance of

Fire and strip poker and getting away with it,

The parents that raised you and the parents that gave you life.

Here’s to forest floors and downtown bars

To women and their stories,

The defiantly political and the depth of the personal.

Those who came by dust and water, nourished by figs and bees

Remember grandfathers

And wars, cold wars,

In memory of the chaos after wars

And personal wars,

And burning the past:

Here’s to rehab, recovery and strength.

In remembrance of trains and schnapps and naps

Here’s to the sound of choirs and standing in the rain.

In memory of worn lace and the soft security of comfort,

Of mothers. And of magic.

For lost words, last words,

Last chapters, final scenes:

For stories and understories

The told and the untold,

In reverence,

We remember.