Friday, February 7, 2014

Mash Up

I had my writing group last night, but even though it had been canceled and rescheduled several times, and I had a bunch of ideas, nothing really came together for me. Fortunately, since I write daily, I have a lot of material. At first, I thought I might pull together a few of my posts about crows. For the past few days at sunset, huge flocks of hundreds of birds have been filling the branches in the woods just outside our door, much as they have in past winters. When I searched this blog by the keyword crow, though, I found another common thread, and it was these posts I chose to weave together:

No more than twenty miles, as the crow flies, from the home of the most powerful man on the planet is a modest ranch house on two acres. The country road that leads there dips straight up and down like a roller coaster without curves, and the driveway is at the top of the second hill, right before the next plunge. It's a perilous left to turn onto the property; the few cars that travel it rumble quickly along the narrow track, nearly invisible until they crest the hill. This is where my aunt has lived for over fifty years.

In my mind, there is still a gravel driveway that runs past the house to parking in the back, and dogs that chase the cars coming and going, barking in the dust. There is also a blackberry patch out by the road behind the mailbox. In July, when the fruit was ripe, our mothers would send the five of us cousins out to pick the tart berries. Despite the summer heat, we had to wear jeans and long sleeves to protect us from the thorny brambles that made little ripping noises as they rasped across the denim and pulled at our shirts. The oldest of us pushed boldly in, reaching for the big berries contained in those cages of stickers that even the birds could not breach. We winced or gasped or even cussed when the tiny thorns at the base of the fruit impaled themselves in our fingertips, and by sheer force of will kept hold of our quarry despite the stinging, then carefully backed out of the patch, like freeing ourselves from the jaws of a trap, to drop the berries in a bucket.

When the container was full, five sweaty children trotted down the driveway and shucked our unseasonable clothes for a tick-check before changing into our summer shorts, and not long after that, the smell of blackberry cobbler would fill the unairconditioned kitchen.

Back when we were kids, every summer meant at least one visit to Aunt Harriett and our cousins, Jimmy and Bobby. They lived on a couple of acres in the country, but their close friends and neighbors, the Wilsons, had an in-ground pool that they were kind enough to share. After fun mornings, most of our afternoons were spent there, and many times it was just our moms and us-- having splash battles and tea parties, cannon balls and dive contests.

Besides the blackberries, I remember two things clearly about those days. The first is the sign that the Wilsons had prominently displayed: We don't swim in your toilet, please don't pee in our pool. I guess there was just something about the symmetry of the construction that made me feel guilty every time I peed in that pool, either that, or it was a little freaky imagining the Wilsons, Jack, Leona, John, and Karen, so tall and so tan, swimming in my toilet.

The second thing I'll never forget is how everyone conked out at night-- no matter our big plans to eat ice cream, play cards, hunt fireflies, watch TV, whatever, it was always hard to stay awake much past dark. We didn't fight it, though, because we always knew that tomorrow would be another fun day.

That’s the only place in the world that I have been going back to my whole life, and these days when we drive the winding back roads that are the last legs of the forty-mile journey there from our home, I am always taken by how much has changed and how much has not, both since the last time I've been there and since I can remember.

As in most places of our ever-sprawling urban region, there has been a lot of development, and yet her area is still rural enough to maintain some farms with horses and even a few cows, along with recently mown cornfields, their golden stubble being gleaned by hundreds of crows. And there are still one-lane bridges on several of the narrow roads that lead to that ranch house on two acres just up from the lake.

It used to be that you would drive out of town and down the highway until you turned off and proceeded through the anonymous countryside until you got to her house, and so it was like its own place, separate from everywhere else. Because I know the way, I have never even thought to find that spot on a map. In fact, there's part of me that doesn't believe it would even be there if I looked.

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