A Window to My Past

Today I was given the task of creating a name using my initials.  It’s a group activity for HMF, the organization putting on the Mom 2 Mom Sale. Anyhow, I am not sure why I thought it would help, but I went on an Internet mission to find an old website I created while I was teaching.  I found it!  It still exists!  Here is the link:

https://www.msu.edu/user/autreyta/index.html

From the home page, I clicked on my name, which took me to some pieces I wrote during my summer with the Red Cedar Writing Project.  Here is one of my favorites.  It’s about my Grandpa Perry, one of the most influential people ever in my life.  How I miss him.

(P.S. Still haven’t come up with a creative name!  I’ll let you know when I do!)

Grandpa’s Window

Last night I dreamed of Grandpa.  He sat across from me in a church.  The ceilings rose overhead, untouchable, beyond me, like the message of the pastor.  God’s words were muffled; Grandpa’s white lips remained silent.

I stared at Grandpa, lingering too long on his sullen, gray eyes, and skin draped over the curves of his cheekbones, sharp.  A dark-colored suit (navy blue, maybe?) hung giant over Grandpa’s limbs.  For a moment, he appeared as a familiar scarecrow, mocking the man who once employed him to manage the humid summer field next to a now nearly forgotten, rotting hen house.

The top button of his stiff shirt, closed—so unlike Grandpa, the dinner table storyteller—perhaps it choked the words I needed to hear.  I looked over at my mother, also present.  I questioned her with my eyes.  Yet she, too, remained distant.

Looking back toward Grandpa, I discovered that his seat was empty.  I immediately ran in search of him, finding myself charging through the length of a hallow, tunnel-like hall.  I fled down a set of stairs at the end, and he shot up, a surprised look on his face.  I shot up, awake.

I woke up confused, frightened.  My grandpa’s death nine years before left me grieving in the only way I knew: I had buried his image, his memories along with him, in dry Kansas soil.  Remembering only brought back an empty, doleful feeling that left my eyes wet.

And then the dream.  Later that morning, I allowed myself to remember just a little.  Just enough to blanket last night’s disturbed sleep.

This time, we sit together on the edge of Grandpa’s bed.  Here, I would visit him first thing in the morning and beg him to pull out his guitar, his fiddle, or the shiny harmonica he kept near his nightstand.  He would cross his legs, lean back, and croon the words of songs he’d learned while growing up between the layers of laundry his mother used to hang for a living.  I can still hear him:

The old hometown looks the same as I step down from the train
And there to meet me is my mama and my papa
And down the road I look and there runs Mary
hair of gold and lips like cherries
It’s good to touch the green green grass of home
Yes they’ll all come to meet me arms areaching and smiling sweetly

It’s so good to touch the green green grass of home

Grandpa points to the window, and I realize that he’s gesturing towards the tractor sitting below.  Grandpa’s highest bid won the aged implement at an auction.  He knew then that he could never ride the John Deere, but he bought it anyway.  We can almost hear its rumble, ready to take the old farmer back to his field.  However, we can only imagine as the worn-out metal continues to sit, gathering dust.

Now, as if the window focuses a lens to our past, we look out at the workshop, unused.  I remember a time when Grandma would bring Grandpa and me dripping glasses of iced tea while we worked in the white wooden structure lined with Grandpa’s carefully hung tools.   How I wish we could go down there and guide the jigsaw between our hands, create together, immerse ourselves in sawdust, and feel the cool concrete beneath our feet.

I open the window, hopeful that as I inhale I will draw in more remnants of the past.  Musty Missouri air washes in from the outside, and Grandpa remarks that a storm must be heading our way.  The thick scent of yesterday mixes with Grandpa’s aftershave—Old Spice—and I move closer.  I gently place my head on his stomach, careful to miss the tubes that tie him to the bed.

With my head against the cotton of his white undershirt, I feel like a little girl again.  I hope that Grandpa won’t resist my freckles, sown every summer like the vegetables in his garden.  I peer through the window at the field, where the sentry of rows once stood, and beg, “Let’s go check on the onions, Grandpa!  I want to pull one fresh, hot, out of the ground, and taste it in my mouth.  Let’s search for ripe tomatoes too.  I did not pull off the green ones this year, Grandpa.  I promise!  Then we can sit for a while under the maple tree.  It will reach across the sky and flap its arms, cooling us.”

Grandpa nods his head no.  I am not a little girl, and he cannot leave that bed.  I rise up and silently close the window.  In it, I see the reflection of a young woman, wiser because of that window and the man who used to linger near it.

If this window and its memories had never existed, I would not know the music of the aged, the stories of my family, and the ability to recognize goodness through the eyes a small-town girl.  These are the values that my Grandpa shared with me while I grew up and even as diabetes began to move him beyond this window, the place where an old tractor and homegrown tomatoes overshadow last night’s bad dream and help me remember my past.

photo is from http://www.ssbtractor.com/farm_tractor_classifieds10.html

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