“There is a place where the sidewalk ends, and before the street begins, and there the grass grows soft and white, there the sun burns crimson bright, and there the moon bird rests from his flight, to cool in the peppermint wind…”
I tend to remember scenes, all laid out like a stage set, what lamp was lit, who said what, what the room smelled of, do other people remember things that way? Its like looking at a picture but the picture emits sounds, like a Harry Potter picture, all moving images strangely confined.
When I remember my paternal Grandparent’s home in Northern Michigan I think of the floor that makes a hollow sound when you come in the door, the way that screen door always slams. The house is always shady, I never thought of it as dark, but I guess it is. They installed a large sliding door in the dining room and a skylight in the living room but I never thought it made much difference to the slightly murky atmosphere. There are the senior pictures for all six kids on the walls, only one left early, took her last heart-rending bow when she was only weeks from being 18. Her picture hangs with the rest on the wood paneled walls. Curio cabinents, china cabinents, deep carpeting in the living room and probably the original blue in the hallway that runs the length of the house. It always smells like woodsmoke and coffee, the home made pies I know are sitting foil covered on the counter. At Grandpa and Grandma’s you get to drink out of jewel toned plastic cups, relics of some bygone age.
Whenever we were there during the colder months the wood stove in the living room would be cooking right along with the rest of us! Grandpa was fond of the heat and would always ask if he should “throw another log on the fire” and we would all roll our eyes and laugh (and sweat some more).
They had a fire ring and there are paving stones set in around it with names and dates scratched into them, same with the front walk. There is a big wooden swing out by the campfire and one year it broke and we sat down hard on the ground. We used to tell stories around the fire, my dad and Grandpa competing to see who could be the scariest. There are gnomes and Snow White and her seven dwarves, totem poles and bird baths and horse shoe pits in the yard, this always made playing hide and seek in the dark a challenge.
There is the room that belonged to Aunt Peggy, the one who passed away so young. Her bed and her furniture, her records (you know like vinyl records?) are all still there. There is chair that is the shape of a metal iron cage cut in half that hangs from the ceiling in the living room, a kind of floating swing chair, there are lamps made of delicate little shells that Uncle Bill brought back from Guam. There is the dining room table where we sat and played cards, rummy and golf and games like sequence. All the board games are stored in Peggy’s room in the closet, the old Clue game we used all the detective notepads up on a long time ago.There is a small flourescent light over the kitchen sink, you can stand there with your hands in the soapy dishwater and listen to the women talk, listen to the bug zapping light out by the garage as it claims another victim, listen to the people up for the weekend getting rowdy around their bonfires. When I was little I felt so honored to be let into that kitchen, even if it was just to help wash up. It felt so insular, you with your hands in the water, looking out a window that really isn’t because its so dark outside it wouldn’t matter if it was there if there was something you really needed to see, the soft laughter of the aunts and mothers; always always the smell of coffee. Grandpa carried around one of those carafes, drank coffee day and night, half the time he drank it cold.
He had a bump on his belly from having some non-vital organ removed, he used to call it his quarter pouch, he used to take out his false teeth and smack his gums at us to make us scream with laughter, he liked to walk around shirtless and he couldn’t go to a garage sale and buy nothing for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
We used to go to the flee market and buy junk, used to have church with the small small Church of Christ congregation, used to have breakfast at the Donut Hole.
He got sick and he got old and he died last night. Jared said it best, he said that all of the things in their northern Michigan house are little pieces of his soul. Now a worldclass romance has come to an end, now an era has passed, now what we have left are these memories.
“Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black and the dark street winds and bends. Past the pits where the ashpalt flowers grow, we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow, and watch where the chalk white arrows go, to the place where the sidewalk ends.”
Memories and brief flashes of lightning bugs talking in the night, the crackle of a new log on the campfire, the creak of the swing, the buzz of the bug zapper, the far off laughter of neighbors, the sound of car tires crunching on the gravel road, the screen door slamming shut. And in that place we are always the children we left behind, drinking up the dark, delirious in our innocence.
“Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, and we’ll go where the chalk white arrows go, for the children, they mark, and the children, they know, the place where the sidewalk ends.”