Feb. 17th, 2010

A Memoir

Feb. 17th, 2010 08:46 pm
gypsyanna: (Default)
This is the first assignment in my Creative Nonfiction class. :) Second draft.

I was a teenager - thirteen or fourteen, somewhere around that age. We went to Missouri to visit my grandparents. Mom’s folks live in and around Poplar Bluff. Dad’s family was south of that, just outside of Campbell. Two miles from town, at the top of a hill on a state highway, we turned off onto a gravel road. A power-center was right there – one of those snaggled and tangled constructions of power lines and poles where many lines seem to collect before they go swooping off again. We followed that road straight for perhaps a quarter mile before we took a sharp right.

Tucked into that area formed by the two arms of the road was an old graveyard. We would walk down there sometimes, my sisters and me, when things grew boring at Grandpa’s house. The tombstones are broken and leaning. The engravings are nearly illegible. Snakes slither through the grass, bushes, and tumbled stones.

We follow the road another stretch of straight, perhaps a half mile. The ride is bouncy and rough from the gravel. Dirt and dust fly out from either side of the car, and all three of us girls are hot and sticky with humidity and sweat. Summer visits to Grandpa Claude are never very comfortable. Where the road develops a T intersection, the driver can make a choice – go right and eventually hook up with another road that’ll dump him back on the state highway, or turn left and pull up the small hill to Grandpa’s house.

It’s a small house. Grandpa built it decades ago when my dad was a kid after the first house they had – the one my dad was born in – burned down. It has a sizable kitchen with many cabinets, a smallish dining room, a decent sized living room that holds an old wood- and coal-burning black stove, three bedrooms, and one bath. He has an air conditioner window unit in the living room, but Grandpa never turns it on.

The morning after we arrive, I went for a walk. One of my cousins is visiting, too, and he is willing to show me around a bit. But my sisters follow, and he goes racing off with them. I am not interested in racing around. After crowded car rides from Louisiana to Missouri, I am ready for peace, quiet, and solitude. My sisters never seem to enjoy their own company that much, but I like mine just fine.

We never spend much time at Grandpa Claude’s. Mom isn’t comfortable with Dad’s family. So I never really had a chance to just...walk around. Once Katie, Beth, and our cousin go off, I head outside. I go down the four steps from the door to the ground, pause a minute to look around, and another minute to push Grandpa’s dog No-Name’s big head out of my way. I circle Grandpa’s garden, and wonder if he had any peas ready for picking. I want to try shelling peas. I’d never done it before. The string beans look just fine, and I know my brother would like them. The yellow squash is ready for picking, too, so odds are good we’d be allowed to waste a few in mock sword fights.

The garden isn’t big, but it is enough to keep Grandpa busy. I wander away from it and down the track that led to the old barn that looks more tumbled than standing. Enough of a roof remains that the Duster that would kill the bull and save my sister would be able to shelter under it in a couple of years. That’s another story. I don’t go into that barn. I am deathly afraid of snakes, and the country has more than its share of them.

I follow that path past the old barn and wonder – where was the first house built? Would I be able to tell? The trees lining the path were young, skinny and flexible. The grass is high, and birds sing in the nearby trees. The air lay soft and cool on my skin. No road noise intrudes. No shouts from parents and no petty bickering from siblings disrupt the peace.

And then the path opened and the trees ended. A panorama spread before me. Hills, rolling, green, and lightly veiled in a mist that is caressing the ground. These hills aren’t plowed and muddy, or prickly with cotton bushes. They are fallow, left to green and grow as they willed. Overhead, the sky stretches endlessly, puffy white clouds sedately drifting in its depths and casting shadows on the hills below. Sunlight flows in gold-gossamer streamers through the wisps and feathers of white that passed before it. A bird, probably a hawk, wheels high up in the sky, and nothing disturbs his flight.

In that breathless moment of perfection and wonder, I feel something I’d never felt before, something that is larger than the world in which I stood, more powerful and potent than anything I’d ever felt, and more humbling than any mistake or failure made in the past. I cry under that touch, and I think, “This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” These words became more than something recited in church. For the first time, I feel the words, understand their meaning, and revel in the gift of the day.

I don’t know how long I stand there, at the break in the trees, and drink in the pastoral perfection. Noise slowly intrudes. My sisters and my cousin run by, and their laughter and shouts shatter the quiet peace. My dad follows them down the path and stops beside me. He looks out over the hills; the cloud-shadow dapples grass, and says, “Church isn’t always in a building.” We stand quiet for a bit longer, then he goes back to the house.

I always knew that my dad had been born at home. I always knew that his mom had died there, too, when he was just a little kid. That was the day that I realized that he had tucked a big piece of his heart into that quiet corner of Missouri countryside, and that corner was where he planned to go when he retired.

My aunts nagged Grandpa to move to town, so he sold the land. I think it broke Grandpa’s heart, in the end. He died just a couple of years after that. Dad lost his inheritance, and I’ve not been back to that path since. The path and that breathtaking view belong to someone else now. But the memory of that day and the perfection of that moment live with me still.

The memory has stayed with me for twenty years. It was the first time, I think, I felt a sense of God in the world around me. Afterwards I began to question certain foundational attitudes in my life, and in my upbringing. Part of this was due to age. Teenagers always question and push boundaries. Part of this was because I realized that God wasn’t found only in a church.

I am not now, nor was I then, overly religious. I believe in God. I have many reasons for this belief. This day is one of them.


gypsyanna: (Default)

June 2012


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