I remember the white wooden gate that opened up to our property. The paint on the gate and fence was always faded; pieces of paint peeled and blistered in the heat of the summer sun. I remember the scraping of the old metal handle and the creaky groan of the hinges as you opened the gate. For someone who was not used to hearing that gate, I’m sure the sounds it emitted would be most alarming. But since I grew up hearing it every day of my life, the creaks became nothing more than part of the magic of my home.
I remember the path that led up to the house. It was dusty and full of secret trips and roots, so that you had to memorize exactly where to step or you would run the risk of sprawling down face-first into the dirt. The path was not straight, but sort of zigzagged, not dramatically, but just enough to make you look like Mr. Handers when he drank a little too much down at the pub on Friday nights. You could see him walking home, wavering back and forth, as if he had not obtained his sea-legs. That’s how the path was, forever trickery. I remember the apple trees that lined the path. Mama had planted them shortly after she and Pa had been married, when all there had been was the path and the house. Now there were many trees, tall and strong, with delicious golden apples dangling from the branches. It was a pleasure to reach up and grab juicy bite to eat on your way home from school or on the way to the creek for a good day of swimming and bothering crabs. During the summer Mama and I picked thousands of apples and made them into pies and jellies. Yes, the apples were the beauty of the path; the air was scented with a rich, fresh smell.
I remember the house. The path and the trees ended just before our front porch. The house had started out small then grew to accommodate us. The front porch steps creaked just as much as the gate, and Mama’s rocking chair sat off to the side, the back worn smooth and the right arm a little loose. That chair had been Mama’s mama, and it had seen a lot in its day. Births and deaths and sickness, peeling and washing and visiting, and just sitting and rocking slowly and enjoying the cool evening air. Behind the chair was a window, very conveniently placed, so that Mama could glance inside the house from time to time, and one of us could come to the window and talk to her while she sat, instead of coming all the way outside. A flower pot always stood proudly on the windowsill, filled with flowers for every season: tulips, roses, daisies, wildflowers, etc. Mama loved that window and that chair.
The front door was open all the time, except during winter of course. The screen door was the only separation, and that must stay closed. Mama wanted no insects visiting her kitchen or the rest of the house. Through the door was a small foyer; to the left were the stairs that led up to the bedrooms, to the right was the kitchen. And down the hall was the dining room and parlor, but that area of the house was used only for special occasions. I remember the kitchen. It was a bright, busy place. The wooden table was placed in the center of room, with a red and white checked tablecloth covering it, and a little jar with flowers in the middle. The floors were always spotless, and the counter tops too, unless it was jamming season, then there was fruit and sticky goo everywhere, even on the ceiling, though I never figured out how it got up there. Grandma told me when I was younger that mischievous fairies flung the jam up there when we weren’t looking, and I half-believed her. Wooden cabinets lined the walls, the paint fading on them as well, and the hinges constantly needed oiling. The kitchen had many windows and a side door, so that Pa and the boys could come right into the kitchen when it was time for meals instead of going all the way around to the front. And off to the side was the trap-door, for when the tornados and bad storms came. Another door opened up, and inside was the pantry, a great, cool, walk-in space, where most of the food was stored. For a while we had had a cold room as well, but that was before Pa bought an ice-box for us to use. I loved the kitchen, with the faded polka-dot curtains and the wonderful smells. Mama was usually there, bustling around with a pie or soup for a sick neighbor. I’d come in and sit at the table, and she would tell me stories while she rolled dough or scraped carrots. I helped too, of course, but I was never good at kitchen duties. I liked to be outside.
I remember the long stairs that led up to the second story. Each stair had its own musical input, and by the time you reached the top or bottom you felt as though you had created a masterpiece, like Beethoven or Mozart. The railing liked to shake back and forth, so after we were older we didn’t dare slide down it for fear of it breaking off. The second story opened up to the four bedrooms. Mama and Pa’s, Ricky’s, Steven’s, and mine. I liked my room the best, it had the perfect view. Not over the path and the front of the house, but over the farm. I could sit and gaze out my window and watch the wheat dancing, watch the sheep amble along, and see the wind blowing through the fields, looking like the waves of a rolling green sea. Sometimes there wouldn’t be a cloud in the sky.
I remember the old white poster bed that slumped in the corner of my room. The lumpy mattress had my body’s imprint, and I covered it with light yellow sheets and a quilt. Grandma had made the quilt for me when I was born, and I rejoiced the day I could finally put it to use. I loved all the colorful squares, taken from old clothing and fabric and scraps that may not have seemed too important to anyone else, but those scraps were a part of my heritage; parts of my family were sewn together in the quilt. I adored it. Then there was my worn wooden dresser that had been Steven’s until he built himself a bigger one. It was light, rough wood, and a handle was missing on one of the drawers, but you figured out how to open and shut it after a while. I didn’t have too many clothes, so the drawers were nearly empty. But the last, bottom drawer I saved for my valuables. Oh they were nothing fancy or expensive. Just a collection. Buttons, a doll, a root beer bottle from the fair, ticket stubs, shells, a smooth stone, ribbons, an old candle, pieces of colored glass. Most of these treasures I had picked up along the shores of the creek. People dropped all sorts of interesting things there. One time I found a whole shoe and used it as a planter for a while until it started to stink.
In the other corner of my room was a long, full-length mirror. It had been Mama’s, and I had felt so proud when she gave it to me. The frame was dark polished wood, and you could tilt it up or down. Stuck in the cracks of the frame were a few photographs of my family. Next to it was a giant wooden chest. Pa had made it himself. He had spent hours carving the intricate designs of flowers and animals on the lid, and polishing it and smoothing it down. The chest was meant for me to put valuable things in as I grew up, so I would have them to remember when I grew up and moved away or got married. For the longest time it held another quilt Mama had made, some embroideries I had done as a little girl, and quilt I was supposed to be working on. I loved looking at that chest and tracing the carvings with my fingers.
The boy’s bedrooms were, well, boy’s bedrooms. Filled with posters and root beer bottles and hidden food and dirty clothes on the floor. After a while Ricky got cleaner, but Steven was forever hopeless. I think he even kept a pet mouse in a box under his bed one time. I never understood the need for boys to have messy rooms. I suppose it was some sort of sign of manliness, but I was lost to it. Mama and Pa’s room was never messy, of course. They had a big, four-poster bed, covered with a quilt that had been made as a wedding present. They had wallpaper on the walls, and there was a little wooden stand with a vase of flowers on it. A large oak dresser sat against the wall, and a matching wardrobe off to the side. A mirror similar to mine stood in the corner. Pa had bought it for Mama as a birthday present one year.
I remember walking downstairs in the morning and standing on the front porch, and just stretching. Sometimes I would hear a joint or two pop. I would take a deep breath of fresh morning air, and feeling as if nothing could go wrong that day. The sun would still be working its way up in the sky, and birds would begin to chirp “Good Morning!” Then Mama would call me, and I would hurry to the kitchen. There we would whip up a pile of biscuits and I would lay strips of bacon to be fried. The bacon would pop and sizzle as it cooked in its own fat, and the mouth-watering smell would fill the kitchen. Mama would pour into a blue pitcher some fresh, cold milk and set it on the table. I would pile the bacon on a plate and stack the biscuits. We would be flying about, grabbing the butter, the silver ware and plates, the jam, and the freshly squeezed orange juice. Everything smelled so good, and it was so tempting to sneak a piece of bacon. But the law in our house stated that no one was allowed to eat until everyone had washed and sat down. When all was ready, I would hurry out the kitchen door and ring the bell that hung on the side of the house. I would ring that bell as hard and loud as I could. The bell was to be rung for mealtimes and emergencies only. When Pa and the boys heard the bell, they knew breakfast was ready, and they trooped in from their early morning chores, and we sat down. Pa would stretch out his hand to Mama, and the other to Ricky, and we all held hands while he bowed his head and gave the blessing. It was always the same. “Dear Lord, for what we are about receive, make us truly grateful. Amen.” Then we would dig in, passing the plates around and enjoying the food. Pa would open his newspaper, Mama would fuss at Ricky’s hair, and Steven and I would make plans to visit the creek some time that day.
I remember that house, I remember the good times and the bad. I remember swinging in one of the apple trees and falling and breaking my arm. I remember having relatives over for Christmas dinner. I remember the day a goose decided he wanted to make Mama’s parlor his new coop. I remember the day Ricky came home and announced that he wanted to be a lawyer, and Pa spilt coffee on the new rug in the foyer at the news. I remember Steven cutting open his lip down at the creek and leaving a trail of blood all the way up the path to the front steps. But most of all, I remember sitting in the field behind the house, a piece of hay in my mouth, and watching the sun beginning to yawn behind stacks of golden hay, and watching the pink clouds disperse quietly as twilight awoke.