Friday, November 17, 2023

Gathering Memories

Old homestead

                                                     Berry patch (L) and brook (R) behind me

Yesterday I stood in the driveway of my brother's house that sits where a small apple orchard and fruit patch thrived when I was a child. The brook is to one side, West's hill the other and, if I glanced next door I could see the old homestead itself, now looking like someone else's house altogether. My mind's eye and my memory filled in remembered details - the bent old apple trees that looked like horses to my sisters and me to which we attached rope stirrups and reins; the thorny patch of blackberry and raspberry bushes and the stout blueberry bushes; the brook that ran along the edge of our property line before dashing through what we called the tunnel to the other side of the road where it widened into a satisfactory small pond; the giant pine across the street where we kids would crouch for hours building miniature moss and stick houses and roads lined with pine needles where imaginary pioneers lived and traveled through the bear-infested, never-ending pine woods themselves. 

When I was very small, I would pretend I was mere inches tall. Rocks became mountains, moss an impenetrable forest, a runnel of rainwater in a roadside ditch grew into a roaring river. If I sat still long enough and was quiet, the imagined scene became real and I entered the parallel dimension with ease. It would take a sudden loud noise or a tap on the shoulder to bring me back and I always returned reluctantly. By the edges of the brook, beneath the trees of nearby woods or among the cornstalks in the meadow near the house, I would lose myself in play, bothering to go home only when my stomach rumbled loud enough to rouse me or the ringing of the ship's bell on our porch calling us kids home penetrated my awareness. I always kept the house in view, though when I was hunkered down I believed no one from home could see me. For an introverted child, this state of affairs was ideal. 

I am too stiff now to hunker down and too tall to go unnoticed as I walk along the brook's edge. And I am far too big to fit through the culvert and splash into the pond. On all sides the reeds and marsh grasses and bushes have encroached until there's hardly a pond at all. In my memory, my mother is beside me, helping me find a few good-sized stones to toss into the water. "Rocks help clean the water," she'd say, and we'd throw our finds as far as we could, watching the ripples make their way to shore. 

Turning from the brook, I am assailed by another memory. Coming back from a visit to a friend's house one late winter afternoon, I stopped at the brook to listen to the water talk to itself as it splashed through the tunnel. When I looked toward my house, the kitchen light came on. I knew my mother was there, making supper, and I was flooded with such a feeling of contentment and safety that I was near tears. Just the way I am now as I recall that feeling of utter happiness. 

The brook summer 2023.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Returning Home


I look out the window at the familiar trees of my childhood, the great pines, the lone oak still holding its leathery brown leaves on this mid-November morning. I watch the light appear in the eastern sky over the brook, watch the fingers of sunlight touch first the top of the mountain – Mama’s mountain – and trace their way slowly down to color meadow and farmhouse, and finally the familiar road I now walk along every day. All my selves, my small self, my grammar school self, my teen self and the one I was in young adulthood, my middle-aged self, home for as many visits as I could fit in my busy schedule, my now elderly self who holds them all in memory, walk the road that leads from my childhood home to what we kids called “the Corner” a mile away, a gently hilled road winding its way past fields and woods and a few houses. 


I am more at home and at peace here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, having formed an intense attachment to the place in early childhood. As a small girl, my perimeters extended to the farm on the hill, known to us as West’s Hill because a family of that name lived there, down the hill to encompass the nearest neighbor’s farm where lived an elderly couple we called Grandma and Grandpa though they were no relation at all, across the street to the Big Pine at the edge of another meadow, and past the brook to Mary’s house with whom I chose to play on occasion. She was younger than I, falling between my own age and that of my sisters, three years younger. My older brother, though busy with other pursuits, often consented to play games with his younger sisters. We played, too, with the West kids whose farm had a delightful hill for winter sledding and whose woods were filled with wild flowers and mushrooms in the spring, and a great barn filled with cows and a grain bin filled with corn, oats, and barley mixed with molasses. 


 To be nearly home again (my childhood home lies next door to the house where I am living now) is an unexpected gift. I wake each morning with a feeling of expectancy. I walk past Grandma and Grandpa Gordon’s house now renovated to suit its new owners, up West’s hill where a newer ranch house occupies the spot where the old two-story farmhouse once sat before it burned to the ground one cold December night, along the level spot that leads to the Macchi farm where we once boarded our cow, Cecile, and did farm chores in exchange, past the Name Rocks where people in the 1800s, and later we neighborhood children, carved our names and the date, along the edge of the long hay meadow that marked the beginning of the wooded area near the Corner, to the Corner itself where stands a favorite tree I’ve become attached to over the years. Here, too, are massive rocks that hold honeysuckle in the spring, and enormous trees that I recognize from 70 plus years ago. And as I turn for the walk home, I feel the same lift of spirits I felt as a small girl, as a young woman, as a middle-aged visitor. It is possible, in a wide sense, to go home again.