Friday, July 16, 2010

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June in Junction

When winter wanes, and the cold spells have at last exhausted themselves, the air becomes heavy and sweet, carrying the perfume of nostalgia.

In June, I think about my grandma. When I was little and one of seven children, we visited her house almost every summer. In the sleepiest, tiniest town of Junction, Utah, there was something for each of us.

For the teenagers Reed and Isaac, the opportunity to quietly break in to the empty high school and literally rule the school. They were escape artists, spies, bandits, outlaws. Who knows what other property they trespassed? They always came back to the air-conditioned haven of grandma's house, flush with happiness and smiling secretly. Then they would go down to the basement and sew. Shorts. To be paired with suspenders and Converse. Hallowed ground they walked on, from my 7-years-old standpoint.

For Liz, an opportunity to learn to sew, to bake, to do those gentle things with which she has always been synonymous. Gentle Liz. But sometimes she accompanied the boys on their forays. She was better at hiding her glee when they would return. In her case, still waters do run deep. When at last she divulged some of her clandestine teenage adventures, I was too surprised to speak.

Abby was awkwardly caught in the middle, like me, but with the advantage of a couple more years' experience. She knew it all. She was my boss. She had the social skills I did not, the navigational capabilities I lacked. She kept me safe, she made me brave, and she never let me forget it. I resented her mother-hen hovering, but I didn't trust myself without her. I need all of my sisters like I need water, but of all my sisters, ours may be the most complex of sisterly connections. One year she got to accompany Reed on one of his adventures. He swore her to secrecy. She didn't tell me until about four years ago.

For "the little girls", Maddie and Kate, there were tiny dollies, dainty tea sets, a day bed that was curtained off into what we called "the emergency room" (because in a pinch, it became a room). There was paper for drawing and writing, shoe boxes to be converted to doll habitats, fabric in abundance for dolly accessories or impromptu ballgowns.....

Oh, the fabric. A wall with bolt after bolt, hanging up, begging to be pulled down and felt. My grandma, always sewing, often making us dresses. In my world of hand-me-downs, those dresses were gold. They were not only mine to wear, but made for only me to wear. Made for my little body. Made with me in mind. Every time I put on a dress she made for me, I couldn't help but think how her hands had touched every inch of the fabric, dictated every stitch and fold and dart. She sewed flawlessly, and she still does, when her back will allow her to sit long enough. We tied quilts. We made doll clothes. We watched her finish projects. She was always busy with something.

And for me? What was there for me, besides the dresses?

Everything and anything. I was perfectly in the middle of the girls, allowed to rest with the little girls or stretch a bit to the big girls, a free agent. Some days I had tea parties and played dress-up. Other days I walked with Abby to the corner store and bought candy and lip gloss, or went with her to ride Paint, our neighbor's horse. (That I couldn't do without Abby. She was completely confident and perfectly able with that horse, but even amidst my inward thrilling at fulfilling horse-riding dreams, I could never completely relax. He would begin to trot and I would sob, crying, "Abby...Abby!! I'm going to die!!!")

The backyard of my grandparents' house was massive. A huge blanket of green grass and a large garden plot were the source of happiness. Food from the garden--squash, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers--adorned the table at each meal. There was a spinning clothesline. The boys would have us hold onto the poles and then spin it around and around until my grandma came out onto the porch and yelled at them to knock it off. (Always turning around with a secret smile as she went back inside.)

Work didn't feel like work. Shelling peas, mashing potatoes, harvesting the garden. We worked up incredible appetites which even picky tendencies could not dampen. I looked at my plate, thought I wouldn't like it, felt raging hunger in my belly, ate, and loved it. There was often homemade ice cream for dessert, ice cream that we got to watch as it froze. Bottled peaches in abundance and homemade pickles. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies. We played hard, we ate well, and we slept the deepest sleep. I don't remember deeper sleep than the summers at my grandma's house.

Things are somewhat different now--less in the garden, a couple of trees that had to come down; Paint no longer lives, our bike rides have become four-wheeler rides, and we are one less in numbers--but the moment we pull into their gravel driveway, I feel my shoulders loosen and my back un-knots as I walk into their house and into my grandma's arms. Here, I am home, and here I am nothing but myself. I am 7, I am 13, I am 18, I am 25, I am ageless. Here, time is vague. It all meshes together and we can't decide which memories were yesterday or 18 years ago.

If I am feeling philosophical and wondering what Heaven will be like, visions of my grandparents' house come to mind. Rolling in the green grass and swinging on the rope swing that hung from the weeping willow; eating carrots that my hands had plucked from the ground and washed under cold water; running fast and free until I fell down and laughed; smelling the good earth underneath me and feeling electric with life.


When home is like that, home is heaven.

*Happy Sidenote: Our latest reunion was June of this year in Junction

5 comments:

leslie the licorice stick lady said...

Wow. That was truly captivating and I love that memories create the best stories. Thanks for sharing!

Anna said...

Yes, I think Heaven must be that way. If only all children could have a Grandma just like that.

Kelly said...

I know my memories must have been different than yours, but your writing is so comfortable and welcoming, it makes me feel as if they were my memories as well. I love it. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. :)

Marie Photographie said...

So beautiful. I loved every single thing about this essay!

Qait said...

I loved being able to hear your voice as I read this--did you know that on top of your talent for beautiful writing, you have the talent of reading aloud?
It's beautiful, Rae!