It’s difficult to recall when I first began collecting pieces of history from individuals within my family. I think I knew one day I’d want to revisit some things, and remember some of the characters who made my early years so memorable.

My collection runs from the convenient items, like my Granny’s omelet pan, to the purely sentimental, like my Grandpa’s pipe and shaving kit. Yet they all come with a story, and in spite of pleas from friends and suitors early on, I never relented because an item “didn’t go with the décor” or it somehow didn’t fit. Today, I manage a small archive of items in my home office that matter only to me, and when I meet someone who has done the same, it touches my heart.

On a Friday or Saturday night, I would stay over at Ma Permenter’s house and listen to her tune her guitar before she started an evening of singing. My daddy would tease her, saying she “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket” or ask if she knew how to play “Behind the Bridge.”
When she answered no, he’d respond, “Well, I wish you’d go behind the bridge to play it!”
This would set them all off cackling, and eventually, my Pa Permenter could even be convinced to sing a round of “Casey Jones” before the evening was out. My cousin Hugh who we picked up annually at the Greyhound station with his cardboard suitcase would often be visiting each spring, and he’d play backup for both my grandparents on his harmonica.

In her later years, Ma was told by her doctor she should have a glass of wine before bed, as it would be good for her insomnia. Before that, she’d never taken a drink, but on that very day she’d gone out and bought herself a set of new wineglasses, a quadruplet of Anchor Hocking stemware. In her words, she’d gotten permission “to sin a little” from her doctor. She’d then stopped at a liquor store and bought herself some Mogen David wine. She’d never have more than two glasses, but in her 70’s and having been a teetotaler, she was quite a character.

Strumming her guitar, Laura Elisabeth would sip wine from her new glass as it sat on a stool my Pa had made when he was just a teenager. I loved the stool, because I could see the cuts in the wood Pa had made as a young man, sawing and nailing it into a perfectly solid footstool. Resting her foot upon it, Ma would start in with the standards, then work her way up to something current. And by current in 1968, that meant “Harper Valley PTA.”

My grandmother would stroke the neck of her guitar, sliding her bejeweled hands up and down, until she found a chord that would work for her. She’d have at least three false starts, crooning and humming, trying to get her key down, which tickled us all. Each week, she might also have tried a new “rinse” on her hair, and we never knew the outcome or the color, but she didn’t care. On Friday nights, Ma held mini concerts in her tiny living room off Highway 21.

“I wanna tell you all a story ’bout a Harper Valley widowed wife,
Who had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High,
Well her daughter came home one afternoon and didn’t even stop to play,
And she said.”Mom I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA.”
Well the note said, “Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high
It’s reported you’ve been drinkin’ and runnin’ round with men and goin’ wild
And we don’t believe you oughta be a bringin’ up your little girl this way.”
And it was signed by the secretary, “Harper Valley PTA.”

My grandmother reveled in the song, because it spoke to her of small town gossips and hypocrisy, and something deeper. She was a working woman from the 1950’s on and had always said the farm life wasn’t meant for her. And I’m sure she’d experienced her share of judgement around the fact she worked in sales outside her home. My grandfather was legally blind from a case of German measles he contracted as a boy and was only able to work their plot of land. So somehow, this song spoke to her and by the time she reached the “good parts,” as she dubbed the lyrics, her voice would be in full throttle, just maybe a bit off key.

“Well Mr. Harper couldn’t be here ’cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again
And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath you’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin
And then you have the nerve to tell me, you think that as a mother I’m not fit
Well this is just a little Peyton Place, and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.”

Now, my maternal grandmother never had a drink in her entire life. Granny Gibbs would save flour sacks and cloth patterns she liked from my uncle’s old shirts, or a piece of fabric a neighbor would give her from something they’d made. I still recall her cutting buttons off shirts, placing them in her button jar, saving a sailboat pattern for a piece of her newest quilt. She’d never driven a car, and walked everywhere unless she was driven by a relative, as my Grandpa didn’t drive either. But she loved to hear the adventures of my Ma Permenter, and she’d giggle when I told her Ma had taken up a glass of wine or two each night “for her nerves” on doctor’s orders.

“Woo, baby, I’d have to have something stronger than wine for my nerves.” She’d laugh and nod in my Grandpa’s direction. Then she’d commence to sewing another piece of cloth into her latest quilt design, before going to get my bellowing Grandpa some “cornbread and milk” before his bedtime. She’d sit in her tiny living room after he went to bed, still rocking, her reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, making the most intricate stitches into extravagant, beautiful patterns.

Today, I’m grateful I’ve held onto the treasures of my family, as those things that mattered to them now mean the world to me. They speak to our history, our culture and those times that shaped so many good people before us. I hold onto these remnants because not everything is disposable or replaceable, and one day I hope to find another young historian in my family who understands that new doesn’t mean better, and old doesn’t mean outdated.

Some things are sacred, and always will be, as remnants to recall the history of those who created us, who cared for us and sacrificed so much to move us forward, farther than their wildest dreams.


Red DirtBoy ~ Red Dirt Memories – March, 2018

The Grace of My Father

The Grace of My Father

My daddy died on Thanksgiving morning of 1992 while dressing for the holiday being held at my sister’s house.
Sometimes life leaves us like that, in full excitement over a family gathering, only to have one loss that changes the course of events for weeks, even years to come.

Most of my family were already on their way that holiday morning, and were told “the Old Man” had passed, just as they came onto the porch with their covered dishes, their contribution to another family meal.
My sister, having often tried to make the perfect dish for daddy, also had both a sense of humor and a quick response on hearing the news.
“Well, he sure knows how to ruin a cheese log.” Everyone burst into laughter, then tears.

When my daddy left us, it was as if time stood still, and many of his items were never touched again. His old truck, which only he could ever get to run, was left beside the house. One day weeks after he was gone, I opened the truck door to take out his old hunting knife and last pouch of Beech Nut chewing tobacco. I carry them with me on every road trip I make now, 28 years later.

Today, when I visit our old home place, I can see the remnants of a life well lived and recall the smallest imprints of memory my Daddy left me. We’d hunt, fish and tell ghost stories by the fire late into many evenings. After a good joke, his laugh was deep, loud and long, finishing on a higher note, as if he was trying to keep it in.

Once, at 18 when I was very sick with pneumonia and no doctor’s treatment had worked, my daddy roused me from my bed and said, “Let’s go for a drive.” I lay in the seat with my head on his lap, covered in a blanket. We ended up at a local church, in the middle of the night, and he went inside to pray. My dad had never seen the interior of a church since I was a young boy. It was the sight of his stooped frame moving slowly up to the front door and taking off his hat before going inside to pray for his ill son that remains with me to this day.

“I don’t talk to God that often,” he said as he climbed back into the truck. “But when I do, it seems to get His attention.”

Though items we leave behind may rust and ruin, the gifts of memory, those selfless acts done for nothing but love’s sake, remain with us to our dying days.

Red Dirt Memories – March 2018


Welcome to Red Dirt Memories

Country Angel

A Country Angel

My sister Janice, known to her home health patients as “Big Pretty,” would enter every room like a clap of thunder, and you couldn’t help but turn your head to see who had that voice, that presence that would pull your full attention to her. Hair pinned or wrapped in a bun, she’d nudge her large frame into a chair like a setting hen, clucking a little about the time of day, state of the weather or ask about how “your people are?” As we liked to tease one another, we were both “common as pig tracks.”

But that was the funny thing. I knew my sister wasn’t common at all. She was a woman who had dropped out of high school, lived much of her life struggling, who with three small girls at home, finally pulled her shy, awkward self together long enough to complete nursing school. As a nurse, Big Pretty found the voice we would all come to know as a trusted advisor, a wise counselor and devoted caregiver. She would cluck about a patient’s health, monitor their blood sugar, all the while saying, “Them’s the prettiest tomatoes I believe I’ve ever seen right there. Why I’d love to have a couple, you’re the sweetest thang.”

I loved her intelligence, her wit. She never missed a beat with her chit-chat, yet within five minutes could do a five star evaluation on any man walking. They could be “no count,” “worthless as the lead it’d take to shoot him,” or “useless as tits on a boar hog.” Or they might be “haughty,” “all hat and no cattle” or “sweeter than a bee myrtle in June.” With Janice, you could “set a spell,” or “take a load off” and cuddle beside her while she crooned about what was for supper. “I’m making red-eye gravy, a pork roast and a chocolate pie that will make old granny weep,” she’d purr. We’re having “fried chicken tomorrow night, so come by early, then I’ll set out some snacks.” Everyone knew Janice’s appetizers could be bacon wrapped chicken, rolled in brown sugar! They were not to be missed. “Wear your eatin’ pants, “she’d say” cause we might bust outta something if we ain’t careful.”

Big Pretty loved sweet tea. She loved dragonflies. Cornbread. Pie. Grilled anything. She just loved to eat. She loved to share her recipes and whatever was cooking from her kitchen. It was an extension of her heart. She fed us love, hovered over us and made a fuss. We were never any trouble, she said, even as she stirred a pot of beans in a hot kitchen after a long summer day. Her love might taste like butterbeans and sausage one day or greens and ham hocks the next. But it was ever present. Yet most of all, Janice loved life, and she loved all of us within it.

I never realized we had a language between us, but we did. As a boy, with Janice, I had watchful cover and knew she would fight anyone who ever tried to bully her baby brother. She might tease a nurse friend about being a Low Voltage Nurse (LVN) as opposed to a Real Nurse (RN). But her heart was pure gold. But there was a touch of brass in there too. Because Big Pretty was like that, there was always a little salt with the sugar, and she could administer a good “a** chewin” if somebody really deserved it. But she never stayed angry, and you were as likely to see a daughter’s ex coming by to help her put up Christmas lights years after he was no longer in the family. My sister was everyone’s Mama.

Janice and I would often talk about our work, those things that truly touched us.
She once told me about a patient, “This little black lady, the tiniest thing, living by herself, blind as a mole.”
“Brother,” she said, “She was wheelchair bound, lived in the middle of nowhere. She’d roll off her high porch down these perfectly placed boards out into her pecan orchard, with bags strapped to her chair.
Each fall she was my first home visit, because she’d be up and out there before daylight. I remember pulling up, hearing nothing but the rustle of pecan leaves early in the morning. Then this little woman’s voice singing “Jacob’s Ladder” to herself.” ….. ‘Over here, Big Pretty,’ she’d call.”

“And she’d always have a bag of fresh pecans ready just for me, knowing how much I cooked over the holidays.” Janice recounted. “I would tell her, ‘It’s not daylight, Miss Mae.’ And she’d say ‘It’s never daylight where I am, baby, so I work whenever I want.”

Big Pretty took the blind lady a plate from her kitchen every Thanksgiving, every Christmas and countless times in between. She had a soul good to its core and one simply sensed it. If she loved you, she loved you and if she didn’t, well, you knew that too.

Janice held so many secrets about life. She had many friends, but most people didn’t see her struggles. You had to live up close with her, to know her heart, to see what grieved her most. We shared our wildest joys and our saddest sorrows with one another. In her life, like all of ours, my sister forgave, and was forgiven, she was broken, she was reborn, she was wounded deeply, yet healed her own heart by taking care of others. Janice knew the greatest of life’s secrets. We truly get back just what we put out into the world. Her generosity knew no limits, her heart was boundless and her love was unconditional. And my sister received it back. Big Pretty’s light now burns bright within each of us who knew her, a light that time will never dim.

Many of us come from different generations, different perspectives, but a singular love brought us together to pay respect to my sister. She lived life so large as to imprint her spirit boldly across all our lives while on this earth. She spent her time honoring us with her love and sharing the simple joy of being alive. How special was that?! Daily, every time we saw her, Big Pretty would give us another laugh, another piece of pie, another nudge to be happy, a reminder to be thoughtful, to be good to one another. And to be grateful for all we have been given in life.

So, today, forgive me if I ran long. There isn’t enough time to remember a life so great, so splendid, so bountiful and so blessed. I hesitate to close the curtain on such a great soul who taught me so much about living. But Janice, my beautiful sister, the biggest and prettiest spirit I’ve ever known, will never die in our hearts. She lives on in all of us, and she loves that. Every time we hear a “Big Pretty story” or remember her smile, she returns. Thank you for joining her on this magnificent journey, as we are all richer for having done so.

Rest with the angels, Big Pretty, watch over us, as there will never be another like you. Oh, how I loved you so.

April 8, 2015

* My eulogy for my sister, Janice Teague, who died of breast cancer three years ago this spring. Some losses never leave our hearts.

Welcome to Red Dirt Memories

Folks, I’m glad you’ve found my page, and I’ll be announcing new stories here on this site and they’ll find their way to FaceBook as well. Most of you know you can follow Red Dirt Memories and Red DirtBoy on Facebook. On the second, just click to friend me and I approve asap.

You’ll be able to see exclusive content by visiting this page, so mark it as a favorite place!

February 26, 2018 – One the first day of our Red Dirt Memories blog, Muriel and I had to attend to business in town, and as usual, I was slow getting myself ready, so she took to the sled ahead of me. She’s more than a bit impatient. Check out the photos below. She’s always in the car and ready to move on out!

I’ll be doing many readings this year, and to find out where and when, you can always sign up for a newsletter that’s in the works. You will not get spam from my site, ever. Please feel free to email me directly at

I’m looking forward to this new adventure together, my friends. I am truly grateful to find such an appreciative audience for my stories.  ~ Jerry

February 27th, 2018 – I’ve spent the day writing a major grant proposal as I’m a technical writer by training. Muriel was diligent until sundown, when she demanded her walk. After that, a little game of catch and out to see the sunset. And it was spectacular.



I look forward to sharing more stories, photos and to hear more about each of our personal histories. ~ Jerry Permenter ~ Red Dirt Memories27710239_215864505656594_5625298405148126294_o

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman