I save every scrap of paper that has anything to do with my family history, and in my brain, I try to store every memory of my childhood. I come by this honestly; I would say it is in the genes.
Growing up, I loved to spend time at my grandmother's house on Main Street in Canton where time stood still, although I did not realize then. To me, it was just a wonderfully different place from my nuclear family's 1960s ranch with the modern conveniences, or at least most of them.
I grew up in a world where air-conditioning did not exist. Not at my parents' home, not at my grandmother's house, not at school or anywhere I regularly went.
The summer I was born, family tales went, a heat wave gripped the town. All my mother could do was sit on the screened porch next to an electric fan and wait impatiently for her first child to make her way into the world. Even at Coker Hospital where I was delivered that hot July there was no air-conditioning and not a cool breeze in sight.
Just the hot relentless heat of a Georgia summer.
From the time I can remember, I have always loved summertime. Sitting on the porch listening to visiting relatives talk, catching lightning bugs in jars in the cool twilight, making homemade ice cream, running barefoot in the grass.
Summers at my grandmother's were special. Her small house, where everything was always neat and polished, would relax a little in the summer. She would change out the cushions on the sofa and chairs in her living room from their usual sort of horsehair to smooth soft brocade. Heavy drapes came down, and sheers went up on the windows to allow more breezes into the house.
She would also cover all the heat registers in the house in the summer with old Life magazines. I would sit on the floor and look at the old magazines with their dated advertisements and pictures of times already gone by. Those were the first stirrings of nostalgia for a time I never even knew and perhaps the beginnings of my obsession with the past.
In the hot afternoons, we would sit on the front porch and fan ourselves with paper fans decorated with religious scenes and advertising from the funeral home or the drugstore. She had a long porch swing, which I still have, and a little loveseat and rocking chair that my grandfather had made her. He had also planted a row of crepe myrtle trees along the front of the porch to shade her from the hot afternoon sun.
Sometimes my grandmother would give me a dime from her little change purse, which I also still have, and let me walk to Ponder's store at the corner of Main Street and the road that led down to Happy Holler.
The store was in an old building with a porch all around it. I am not sure but I think it was once a house. I remember how large it seemed. Inside I could buy penny candy like fire balls or lollipops or even a banana Popsicle if I wanted to spend my dime on just one thing.
At my grandmother's there was one bedroom for winter and another for the warm weather months. We would sleep in the summer bedroom in a high four-poster iron bed with our heads next to the window to catch any breath of cool air.
The sheets were ironed crisp and smelled of sun. As I would lie there on the feather mattress, I could hear dogs bark, laughter and sometimes a rooster crow late in the night at the houses behind my grandmother's house. Occasionally, I would hear the mournful sound of a train going through the darkness.
The back bedroom of my Gran's house wasn't a bedroom at all, but a sort of storage room with an old army trunk that was my aunt's, an Army nurse in World War II. Bookcases held old tomes like "Uncle Tom's Cabin," where I would pore over the pictures of Topsy and Eva and their trials and tribulations, and the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins.
The room also held my grandmother's Singer sewing machine, where we would make doll clothes out of scraps that I chose from her scrap bag and decorated with buttons and trim.
My grandmother had a big cedar chest that I loved, and that she gave me when she passed away almost 30 years ago. The cedar chest today is where I hoard all the things I have collected over the years, my children's artwork and their report cards and certificates, newspaper articles about my family and other memorabilia.
Gran kept vast quantities of family photographs all around. She had a dresser in the winter bedroom that had glass on top of it, and under the glass were all sorts of pictures - photographs from the turn of the century, the war years, as well as snapshots of my siblings and of course of me.
She had scrapbooks of greeting cards sent to her in the 1930s and 1940s, and drawers of the dresser held information about our church and all sorts of interesting things to while away the lazy summer afternoons.
Some of them I still have, some are long gone.
I still have the postcards my brother and sister and I would send my grandmother when we went to the beach in the summer or were away at summer camp. She kept them all in an old stationery box. I can still sense her delight in receiving them.
Summer is a time to cherish memories like flowers in layers of waxed paper pressed between the pages of a book and saved for another season, still holding the scent of a warm summer day.
My grandmother taught me how precious memories are and how they need to be hoarded for the times we need them most.
Rebecca Johnston is former editor of The Cherokee Tribune.