- Rural Northeast...
- Last Record: 2013-05-14 12:40:31 -0700
- Joined: Apr 22, 2011
I was inspired by librarygirl6's wonderful video "When the people you love stayed..." to post this... reminiscence that I wrote a couple of months ago. Now that I'm a little older, I'm really starting to appreciate the experiences I had when I was little, and to realize that they're not quite as commonplace as I always assumed.
. . .
. . .
I learned to drive in my grandparents’ hayfield the summer after I turned fourteen. My brothers, laughing, ran ahead up the hill as I edged our minivan the quarter-mile from the barn to the pond, careful to stay in the two tracks of beaten-down grass. The windows were open and the hay brushed the mirrors, and the cows looked on with disinterest. Near the top of the rise, the hay turned to woods, and the shade was cool and welcoming. The boys were waiting for us, fidgeting impatiently at the end of the dock, and as soon as Mom nodded, they cannonballed in. I’ve always been slower. More cautious. One step at a time, to the right of the dock, where the rocks were laid bare from so many feet. Too far over, and the slime would return; too close to the dock, and I might brush up against the bottom rungs of the ladder, slick with algae, or the poles that led down, down, down to old iron wheels that hadn’t seen daylight in a decade and a half. The boys climbed up the ladder and dove off the board, fingers reaching for the cold depths. I floated on top in the sun-warmed water, soaking in the last of my childhood.
In summer, we made zucchini boats, hollowing out a seat in the overgrown squash for our Lego men or a toothpick flag and setting them afloat in the watering trough. The water was ice-cold, flowing down from a spring on the top of the next hill. In autumn, we picked apples and walked through the woods, guided by my grandma, who knew every plant and tree. She taught us history and botany and ghost stories as the leaves crunched under our feet. In winter, we skated on the cow pond near the barn. My grandpa would check the ice with a hatchet, and then we’d set to work shoveling, our skates tripping over the uneven ice.
In spring, we tapped maple trees with ancient awls and tin buckets with roofs that were pointed so the snow would slide off. I drank the sap straight from the tree, letting it drip from the spigot onto my tongue. We boiled sap into syrup on the kitchen stove, stoking the fire beneath it with wood from the shed. We let some of it go longer to make candy and cream, which we stirred into thickness with teaspoons in little white bowls as our grandma admonished us to stir only clockwise. We had jack wax from hot syrup poured over fresh snow, and my brothers and I ate the snow right along with the sugar, squealing as the cold hit our teeth. One year, my grandma saved a pan of snow in the freezer, and we had jack wax in April for my cousin’s birthday when the sun was as hot as summer. And then my grandma’s garden would start to bloom, and we were back on our way to zucchini boats again.
My grandma told fortunes from tea leaves and palms, shocking her pastor and congregation. She cooked for whoever showed up at her door: nine kids plus the help, then grandkids and great-grandkids and countless friends and hangers-on. No one ever called to say they were coming; we just walked in the door and somehow, there was enough. We had tea and cookies at four o’clock sharp, and we collected eggs in old paint cans lined with straw and weighed them on a fading balance that read from small to extra large. I used to follow my grandma out into the garden and she’d put me to work weeding or picking beans. Later, when she was never quite sure whose child I was (and later yet, when she was equally unsure of her own children), I followed her out into the garden to make sure she didn’t wander off. I cooked dinner for the three of us on the nights it was my turn, and I cried the first time I brushed her hair. She was lost and in pain, and then she was gone.
I stood in the doorway as my mom and her sisters spread photographs on the dining room table, choosing for the funeral. We’d played pitch at that table countless Sundays after dinner. I would try and try to shuffle like my uncles, bridging the cards and letting them fall, but my hands weren’t big enough until it was all but too late. We’d spilled tea and cookie crumbs on that old table, and we’d stirred syrup into candy, spoons turning ever clockwise. We’d played Monopoly and eaten Christmas dinner there, and now it held the photographs of a woman I’d never see again. My aunt started to cry, and I slipped away.
When I was little, I used to follow my grandpa up to his shop. It smelled like sawdust and oil from the pole barn, and I never saw him so happy as when he was working. There were fading calendars from my uncle’s engineering company and every size nail you could ever need. He would take me to the barn, but I shied away from the cows. I preferred to climb the ladder up into the hay mow with my brothers and my cousins. They would chase each other over bales and beams, but I moved gingerly, terrified of the square holes that looked all the way down to the cement floor three stories below. I never stayed too long before I was back on solid ground.
I would follow my grandpa back to the shop or the woodshed, the small pebbles of the driveway digging into my bare feet. He would call me his favorite red-headed granddaughter, but of course, I was the only one. He was a farmer, a carpenter, a volunteer fireman, and he was restless when his body wouldn’t do as he asked. I followed him for years, skipping in his shadow, and when he could no longer walk, I sat with him on the porch and watched the sun go down. The summer after my sophomore year of college, we gathered in the field where I first learned to drive and flung his ashes to the wind. We made our way up the hill for one last pond party, just like he wanted, and I dipped my toes in the water where I used to swim and fish and search for salamanders in the gathering dusk.
Now, the house is burnt out and shuttered. The family is broken and warring. My childish adoration of my grandparents is chipping away, giving way to acceptance of their flaws and their failings. Whatever happens, though, whatever falls apart, I still have zucchini boats and hayfields and sugaring off, and I still have the feel of the moss, the pebbles, the freshly-mown grass under my bare feet in the heat of summer.