Up On The Hill
“Only eight more turns”, said Chuck. “Seven”…”Six”….our Country Squire station wagon wound its way up the curvy, narrow mountain road, swerving from an oncoming car for a frightening glimpse below us of the opposite end of what Daddy calls the “hairpin turn” we just came out of. “I smell beans”, said Jackie.
I looked forward to the end of our five hour ride. It’s so pretty here, and I don’t mind the drive too much as long as I have my Barbies and get to sit in the “back-back-back”. Finally, there it was: The little “brick” house, the wire fence, the garage, the little stone haf-wall, and Tiger, there offering a paw to “shake hands” as we file through the gate. We all pile out of the car, and make our way across the soft grass, to the squeaky front door.
It is summer, but here it’s so much cooler than back home in Virginia. “Halloooooooooooo, Dad shouts as we noisily clomp onto the big open screened porch, past the rocking chairs. “Come in the house”, says Mammaw.
I take a deep breath and in hale the smell of green beans simmering, and relish the certain sound of pounding footsteps down the echoing hallway as one of my brothers makes his way to the bathroom in back.
“Coffee’s hot”. We kids scatter to explore the nooks and crannies that never change, but yet, we have to check, just to be sure it’s all still the same. There’s the neat fridge that’s built into the wall. Open, close, run around to Mammaw’s closet, see the back of it, and squeeze through the space, out through the pantry curtains, own the step into the dining room. Look out the big “pitcher window” towards the garden and trail to the woods. Run down the basement stairs, into the “tater cellar”. In hale the musty damp basement smell, and look around at the jars of beans and tomatoes and pickles, at the old white ringer wash tub. I look up at the concrete porch, through dusty windows and spider webs, and see Doni’ chubby feet as I hear my mom holler after her, and fuss at us to shut the screen door.
There’ve been some changes to the house since the last time we were here. A really neat little nook up over the buffet. Just the right size for a girl my age to climb in and read my Nancy Drew books. And sleep safe behind a curtain. No brothers to bug me.
And the old bedroom with the two beds and the swirly linoleum, the wood branch lamp with the paper shade and pictures of kids in a canoe, and the table with the cedar jewelry box is not there anymore. It’s a den now. With a little fold–out couch sort of thing, and TV and chairs in there. But wow! There are stairs that pull down, and look, the beds are up there now! I never even knew there was an attic. What a cool place to play. And sleep. Except for those scratching sounds. Mice? I try not to think about it.
I make my way back to the living room, to the big old console TV, to be sure the horse and buggy clock is still there. I flip the switch and watch the driver snap his whip at the horses. I love that lamp. It’s a clock and a lamp!
The old stove is there by the window. I remember, last time we were here, a bird was stuck in the flu. And once, a bird was stuck in the light fixture out on the porch. Don’t know how he got in there, but he punched a little hole in the thin glass and finally made his way back out.
All the grown-ups are on the porch now, rocking, having their coffee and cigarettes. I sit and rock, and listen to the creak-creak-creak of all the chairs, and the soft laughter of “Grandma Cat”. She likes to laugh. And roll her eyes a little at you when you tell her things. She never gets mad or fusses. I sit an listen to the whooooooooosshhhhhhhhhh of cars as they round the turn and pass the house on the damp road. And gaze out over the field across the way, at the little house far across. Imagining who might be lucky enough to live in that cute little white house in the middle of a field on top of a mountain in Hinton West Virginia, the best place in the world.
Soon we gather around the table in the dining room, with the huge old radio in the corner with all the buttons. And the red checked curtains on the window. Grandma notices me, noticing a nifty granny doll sitting on top of her china cabinet. She has on a red bandanna dress, with a clean white apron, and little white braids, a matching red bonnet, and little red granny glasses. Grandma asks me if I like her. I say yes, an she asks me if I would like to have her. I nod my head and she gets her for me, and shows me that she is made from an old empty “Ivory Snow” bottle, with a Styrofoam ball for a head. She has little drawn-on eyes and a little drawn-on lipstick mouth, and a tiny knitted handbag, and I think she is my newest treasure.
Grandma has been making other things. A sweet little mouse made from a pecan, with a magnet glued on so he can sit on the fridge, with little whiskers and tail and ears.
I remember that “Freddie Frump” marionette too, that she got from someplace, made with Styrofoam and strings and fluff! What a lot of laughs we had with that. Even Mom was tickled. She laughed and laughed.
Soon supper is done and it’s time for Grandma’s favorite: “Nanner Puddin”. Funny, I don’t like banana pudding anywhere else, but at Grandma’s it’s my favorite thing.
A little later they will pull out the Parcheesi. For old time’s sake, somebody always claims the green piece first, since Pappaw always chose it. He’s not here anymore. I used to feel so sad when we left Mammaw and Pappaw standing there, waving to us until we disappeared around the turn. I used to wonder how sad they were, to be all alone after we left. Until Pappaw died, and then it was just Mammaw, all alone.
How many times did I read “Gone With The Wind” to pass the time?
How many times did we rifle through the box tucked into the metal cabinet, hiding amongst the Sunday dresses, in the big closet in the bathroom? And pull out the “Mr. Wooley Willie” magnetic sketcher, and coloring books?
How often I loved to climb up on the vanity chair, and peek into the drawers, and powder myself with the “smelly-good” talc and look into the mirrors. I remember the glass doorknobs and the push-button light switches, and the little bubble picture of the skiers that hung in the hallway, tha we couldn’t resist poking.
And I will never forget the first Christmas without Pappaw, when Mammaw went out in the woods and cut herself a pitiful scrawny little “Charlie Brown” tree, and tied on a few little ornaments and bows. I wanted to cry, it seemed so lonelly, but we laughed.
I never imagined what her days must have been like when it was just her. Did she drive? I don’t even know.
I can still feel the chill inside that one-room church, with the wood stove at the center. Still hear Grandma and Mom and Dad, and Birdie, even Pappaw singing their altoes and bases and various harmonies, along with numerous other people who all looked and sounded curiously similar to Grandma. I rembember Dad’s cousin Danny making the announcements. I remember splitting up to seperate corners for “Sunday School” and hearing the humming chatter of all the other people in the same room and feeling sleepy. And getting a whole bag of chocolates for Easter and eating them all and getting sick. I didn’t even like chocolate then, but they were all mine, so I ate them! I remember Dad’s cousin Jackie and Ruth, and Lisa and little J.R., “Jar”, they called him. I remember being up at their house, an climbing over the barbed wire, walking the fields and seeing cows. I remember the feeling of being up on top of the world, and the light blue sky and huge puffy clouds.
One day we were there. It was after church. We were all outside, and Mom was cutting Ruth’s hair. I found a nickel and didn’t have any pockets, so I wanted to put it in the car for safekeeping. I was putting it in the glove compartment when Doni climbed in behind me, and the next thing I knew, the car was moving. Starting to move very fast. My legs were still sticking out, and I hollered for Mom. Just in time I got my legs in, because the door went shut as we rolled down off the crest of that hill, and started picking up speed. There stood Doni all of two years old, hands on the steering wheel, having a blast. We were driving. I didn’t know how. I looked back, and the road was coming up to meet us fast, and a car was coming. I looked back up the hill and Mom was flying barefooted after us, screaming wildly. She ran straight through a giant evergreen tree as we passed a stopped car full of people with gaping mouths, scraped and jostled through a ditch, through a barbed wire fence, back down into the ditch, and finally came to a stop. The vinyl roof was tattered and I’m pretty sure the body was out of alignment, but the only injury was the big bleeding gash in my Mom’s foot where she landed on a broken bottle in the ditch, trying to stop the car by the sheer force of will and with her bare hands.
Once, a very long time ago, I had a Cracker-Jack prize that was a pink little birdie pin, with those 2-d moving eyes. I just loved that little thing. And I lost it there at Mammaw’s. I remember holding everybody up, waiting in the car, while we searched, and having to finally leave and go on home without ever finding it. Grandma told me not to worry, she would find it and when she did, she would put it away for me and keep it safe.
Well, she never did find it for me, but 25 years later I was all grown, there for a visit and while sitting on the porch, I looked over at a plant growing in a coffee can in the window, and there in the dirt was something pink. I looked a little closer, an lo and behold, there was my little lost pin, come back to me from my childhood. (You never heard such carryings-on). I have it to this day. It is pinned to the granny doll’s dress. I also have the little red wooden teapot with the pot-holder hooks on it that hung over her stove all the years I can remember. Now it hangs over mine. I don’t know what became of the “Gone With The Wind” book that I read over and over again. Or the mille-high brass bed Grandma used to sleep in. But the little treasures she gave me personally, hold her spirit close to me. It’s been 17 years since I saw her. There in the hospital bed. I told her to say hello to Pappaw and Jesus for me, and I’d see her when I got there. She was strong to the end. There were a lot of years with no one but her and God. Kid’s grown, Pappaw gone some 19 years before. Then Joe-P died. Then the nursing home. They took her leg, an they lost her teeth. She lived in that far room, quietly, patiently, waiting for her day to come. One of her last days, she was fading in and out. She pointed over to the wall, looking past it, really, and she said “do you see him?” I said, “who, Grandma?” She said “That man standing over there with his arms stretched out like this”.
I still miss her. Sometimes I still hear her laugh. And she visits me in my dreams once in a while.
Copyright 2009 STLloyd
you bring out the sadest-sweetest tears in me