Saturday, October 12, 2013

take me home, country road

i set out at dawn, driving down the country road away from the home i have known for  50 years.

the fog lay low against the cotton fields, stretched out like a soft blanket over a child almost ready to wake up. that's what i wish it was, that fog, my own baby blanket draping right around me, whispering to me that it's not really wakeup time yet, that what i know to be true is not. 

what beauty. the vast fields of cotton and soybeans —  even tobacco — shrouded in a white pall that bore no sense of foreboding. just dawn about to happen. hope. 

a mile on, and the sun spilled over the fields onto the side of a barn. how must it feel, to stand at the edge of a field and watch the whole world that belonged to you wake up, the sun's first color shining red on your barn, knowing that your work ahead in that day mattered, was about more than what you had already put on that acre?

you know those moments, don't you, when you sense that your world will never pass quite this same way again? 

this morning a few weeks ago was that. it felt like i was taking in everything. every. thing. the boy waiting by the side of the road for his school bus, checking his iPhone. the hawk perched on the wire looking down on the peanut field, right where i have seen him almost every time i have come this way in the last year or so. the fog. the flat fields sliding past by me one by one — soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, cotton, right ready to be picked. 

i have been trying to write it all down for a month, each day sitting down in front of the blank page thinking: i must do this now. and then i don't. maybe i've been thinking that if i don't put it down it just wont happen. 

and yet, come monday, we will be well into what has until six months ago seemed an impossible thing. 

we are leaving my childhood home. 

moving its contents part and parcel to a new house that has been finely painted and polished, one that will take my mother closer to where she needs to be. one that my father never knew about. had never seen. in these few weeks we have gathered to pack and to ponder. 

what looms, seems soon to me — not yet six months since Daddy died — is necessary. just because i am not yet ready to let loose of the walls that raised me up doesn't mean it's not the right thing. what matters is that Mama will be close to family, safe, where she can savor all the years that have rolled out before her like the fog over the fields did for me on that day a month ago now. yes. safe. but sad.

i remember when i first went to college, i was so bent on being away and not looking back on the road that had brought me to the city. but come fall break, i caught a ride with a friend and when we turned at the crossroad toward home, the twilight set in, and i rolled down the window, sticking my face into the country smells, all the peanut hay and the scent of newly-picked tobacco, the cotton bolls ripening and well, i couldn't wait to get there. home. 

for years after i was married and living far away, whenever my husband and i drove out the driveway, i waved to my parents on their back porch perch and cried for 30 miles down the road. (and now, every single time i leave, just thinking about that memory.) 

every single time i walk in the back door, i see the soft lights of the kitchen, and i feel myself settling in. home. 

i can not imagine not knowing that anymore.

it was not supposed to be this way. my parents were going to live out their lives in this house, in this place — Daddy fairly well did — but things we had counted on just didn't come to be. 

the night before i drove away from home a month ago, i slept in my old room, tossing, waking often, trying to remember the hundreds of childhood nights and days i spent there, becoming me. our winter-weighted coverlets came from Sears, and we loved them. in summer, Mama would rearrange the furniture and drape our beds with paper-thin covers — white, with blue ruffles and tiny blue flowers all over — and we would sleep with our heads at the foot of the bed just to put a new slant on things. 

we found our baby clothes in an old attic trunk and dressed our dolls in them. i played 'school' behind the closed doors, with the chalkboard on the wall. barbies. spend-the-nights. tears. (a lot of those, my siblings would say.) winter nights after lights out, listening to cousin brucie on the transistor, memorizing the words to songs that would define my adolescence — jim croce. james taylor. gladys knight and her pips. the beatles.

Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day....


i remember the day we moved in. i was 5, and i went home from kindergarten with ralph, our next-door-neighbor in our old house. we had hot dogs for lunch, the ones that swelled when you boiled them, not the red kind my mother cooked, and i couldn't eat them. later, my mother showed me my new room, one i would share with my sister til she was a teenager, with our matching closets and desks that Daddy built that looked like ladders on the sides. somewhere i have pictures. 

ours is a story house, full of sounds and smells. the saturday nights when we'd sit at the foot of my mother's bed and watch her smooth her nylons over her legs, attach her pearl earrings to her ears for an evening out with Daddy. the phone ringing at all hours. days when we would climb the ladder to the attic, playing on rainy days when we couldn't go outside. sitting at the kitchen table as teenagers sharing a dinner of steak fondue. or in the living room, on the sofa with Daddy and his banjo, wanting bill bailey, whoever he was, to please come home. listening to my sister play Climb Every Mountain when she had hit a sour note on some other song. the time Daddy gave me honey and whiskey to cure my cough. or the day i was making potato stamps and sliced the tip of my finger nearly off. (you can still see the scar.) the soft click of the pulls on my parent's dresser drawer when we looked inside to marvel at our mother's jewelry. the crinkle of the newspaper as Daddy shined his shoes. it is both present and past tense, will always be that in memory.

the living room chimney Santa came down that never once held a fire. the family room window the tree fell through when the first tornado hit. (there were two, years apart) the dining room window where just last year the squirrel hid in the drapes after chewing out the mullions. the sand pile where the dogs are buried. the front porch where we take our family pictures. the incinerator, where we burned our Christmas wrapping paper and set the yard on fire. 

opening the front door for my sister's first date with the man who would become my brother-in-law. closing it on the boy i would not marry. 

these are just my stories. my brother and sister have their own. my mother has hers, too. some we have shared, some are private, some only the house holds close.

stories: the bricks and mortar of any family's life, much more, i hope we learn, than the underpinnings of the building we have called home for 50 years. 

in an hour or so, my sister and i will set out down the road again toward home. we have business to discuss, lists to make to help this move be as easy on our mother as it can. but in the silence between our chatter lay all those stories, wrapping us up like a soft blanket in the early morning, warming us as we wait to breathe this new day in.



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