Although I was clearly a Ridley, Papaw always said I was a “Rennie kind of Ridley,” meaning that I was given to reveries and was sometimes withdrawn just as my mother and her mother had been; I was what he called a “spooky child.” There were many times when I felt as if I were a foundling (which, I suppose, in a way I was), and many times too when I felt like a ghost that no one could see. Often I was apparently so liminal that I went unnoticed. Although I was the same size as other children my age, my teachers and even Matu would sometimes look around for me when I was standing right in front of them. In fact, I could sometimes be in the room with someone—Matu, say, or sometimes even Molly—with every intention of being present and joining in and still not even be noticed. One of my most vivid memories is of Matu at the kitchen sink wheeling about suddenly and shouting “Jesus! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I seemed always to be startling someone and sometimes made people jump with fright when I “suddenly appeared” in a room. Mamaw often said, “How did you get here?” as if I were some sprite or apparition, and Papaw took to calling me “Cat Foot” and sometimes just “Cat.” This flaw of mine, which I began to view as a talent and eventually managed to put to good use, was mentioned more than once at dinnertime in that joking way the family had of turning even the most transitory of foibles into permanent characteristics. Of course, that was just one of the ways the family made me theirs and made themselves mine.
We were not well to do, but we were very comfortable, well loved, well provided for. Matu ran the household with great vigilance and vigor, and our lives were steady and, for the most part, calm. I recall my childhood as one long stretch of the pleasure of just being and seeing and doing. There were the usual slights and injuries and illnesses of childhood, but Matu saw us through them, and there was absolutely no way in which our childhoods were unhappy or traumatic. Matu saw to it that we never had to do penance for our happiness.
There was a very old grandfather clock in the entryway of our house. It was a big, dark, imposing thing and such a part of our lives and the life of the house, that we seldom even noticed it. But when I think of Matu’s house, the house of my childhood, I think of that clock. It marked each hour with one solemn tone and marked the quarter hours with a chiming series of notes that always sounded unfinished and that I always thought of as the sound of startled sprites or fairies, creatures who really know nothing of the toll of ordinary time.