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Sweet Cheerio

~ a Memory from my Childhood ~

by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

 

photo of Lendell W. and Edna (Moss) Carruth

Long before first grade, I sang. Never mind that I couldn't read music, nor words either -- didn't even know them for that matter, didn't have to, for I simply invented some as I saw the need and do-re-meed right along.

Daddy paid monthly on a piano for my older sister as long as she kept up her lessons with Geneva Feezell. She had to have a piano, of course, because our oldest cousin had one. His parents convinced ours that a truly educated child of the 1950's had fingers trained to make a "piano talk." So, I sang as she banged. A mere cacophony of notes bouncing out the window was enough to set me off like our dutiful hound, Winkie, in blissful accompaniment.

However, I didn't require any music to evoke my singing. In fact, it seemed I was always singing a verse here and a chorus there, my play being endlessly interspersed with it. As long as Mama could hear me outside, she never worried about my wandering off into oblivion -- otherwise known as crazy old man Hennesee's yard. So, no matter how little sense or harmony we made, she never complained, even though she suffered with an inordinate number of headaches.

Only one other activity did I perform with as much vigor, that of swinging. Our only swing, regrettably, hung from the front porch ceiling and served a communal function. Built to accommodate more than one person, ours always bore a full load. To me, the whole world swelled with big buttocks and ham-hock thighs squeezed into our swing. Rarely did I meet any faces, except when a scolding one stared into mine. Being so small that feet were the only things I could look down on had at least one advantage. My wirey size enabled me to worm my way between bodies and make a spot for myself in the swing. Still, my short legs, wouldn't let me push off. So, I'd wiggle to the edge and slide off my seat in the attempt. But such heavy loads made it impossible to stir up enough breeze to dry the sweat I'd work up. My maneuvers evolved into more work than fun.

How I wished for a swing of my own. "No!" Daddy explained, "We can't afford a swing set."

"One like that old truck tire that used to hang from the silver maple tree in Granny's front yard would be enough," I begged. Finally, Daddy caved in to my persistent pleas and made one from kindling scraps and old rope. This he suspended from a sturdy limb of the old peach tree growing between our house and Granny McKeehan's next door. I had arrived in Heaven! At last, some control had swung into my life! Now I could swing as high and fast as I wanted. And somehow, my singing and swinging just melted together like butter on a biscuit.

My favorite song for swinging I rendered as follows:

I looked up to Heaven, and what did I see
Comin' for to carry me home?
A band of an-gels a-comin' after me --
Comin' for to carry me home.
Swing low, Sweet Cheerio,
Comin' for to carry me home.

This "Cheerio," I envisioned as something like a huge celestial swing suspended from Heaven and circular in shape like a piece of the cereal by the same name, yet hollow like the old tire swing. Within the hollow ring I pictured Christians riding all the way to Heaven and enjoying the flight as much as I enjoyed swinging in my miniature version.

Long hours of hot summer slipped slowly by as I swung and dreamed and sang. Completely oblivious I remained of other activities. I sang for the same reason that I swung, and that was enough. No one was listening any more than they ever did, or so I thought.

Yet, less than three hundred feet down the street from my perch, lay Edna (Moss) Carruth, a victim of tuberculosis, now bedridden and confined to a cramped bedroom. The once beautiful and popular young woman, stricken in her prime, lay languishing in the throes of death. T.B. had been diagnosed soon after she had borne a baby boy to her young husband. Only a few years passed before she found herself spent and abandoned, unable to care for herself much less the child. Her kind, Christian parents welcomed her back into their home and began nursing and caring for her every need. There she wasted away in spite of her mother's incessant and devoted care. Occasionally, I heard her coughs drifting out the window, the rattlely chain unbroken like a series of soap bubbles blown from a wand. But gradually, these bouts weakened and lessened.

It was decades later that Mama patched the pieces together for me. Remembering vividly, she recalled standing in their yard just outside the window and talking with Edna and Mrs. Moss. As always, Mama volunteered to help in any way possible. Also, she asked if I were making too much noise because she worried that my caterwauling was disturbing Edna's rest.

Coughing and gasping intermittently, Edna replied, "Don't you dare stop her from singing! It's all I have left that I enjoy each day."

Not long afterward, Edna's "Sweet Chariot" finally arrived one evening and swung her all the way up to Heaven.

Sandra N. Ratledge
April 5, 1996

NOTE: Edna (Moss) Carruth, pictured above, born 20 Jan. 1921 and died 11 June 1954, is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Athens, McMinn County, TN. Edna's daughter-in-law Maria (Hembree) Carruth asked me to upload this story and others to my website. Many thanks, Maria, for the wonderful photo above and for your kind words and great encouragement! Many thanks also to friend Sheila Cannon, now deceased, who encouraged me to write and publish my stories! Many thanks to my husband Steve who always proofreads my work and has encouraged me to write for forty-three years. Special thanks to our son Shane without whose help this website would have been impossible.

"THOU SHALT NOT STEAL." DEUTERONOMY 5 : 19

©1999-2015 Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications. Do NOT copy stories, articles, documents, sketches, anecdotes, letters, obituaries, content data, etc. and attach to family trees or upload on other websites of any kind.

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This site is dedicated to the memory of my mother,
Beulah Cline Nipper, a beautiful product of the Knobs.