The Lone Sentinel Challenge
I went back to Indiana today. It's been thirty-five years; hard knocks school is longer than you'd expect.
I wanted to walk the old home place before I met all the third and fourth and removed cousins that are waiting for me at my one surviving aunt's house.
I knew I'd end up deep in the woods and see the old house. However, all that's left is the fireplace.
My great-grandfather built the house when he came to Indiana from Philadelphia in 1880. My great-grandmother apparently didn't know if he would amount to anything, so she set him a test. If he built her a house and farmed the land for a year, then she would come to Indiana and marry him.
He did, and she did.
I never knew him, and no one talked about him much in the family. But my great-grandmother ruled and loomed over generations of women in the family.
Just as she set a test for my great-grandfather, she expected much from her children.
My grandmother was the oldest of thirteen.
She couldn't court when it was time because my great-grandmother was pregnant with the last of the children; the twins.
Plus, my great-uncle was killed in a hunting accident and so his widow, daughter and son-in-law moved in with my grandmother along with her "brood", as my grandmother called them.
She didn't care for the daughter; young, impetuous and not inclined to do much but produce children who required tending.
My grandmother thought of her charges as an unruly herd to hear her talk. Now, with the twins, two more girls, my grandmother was busy.
Feeding the men folk at noon when they came in from plowing, planting or thrashing meant getting started at 4 AM.
Several meats, potatoes, pies, cakes, and vegetables that she picked from the dewy garden.
She learned to cook for up to 20 people at each meal. My daughter is a chef and caterer, and I think some of my grandmother's love of preparing food passed down to her.
She also loved to get her seed catalogs.
She liked John A. Salzer, out of Wisconsin. Although she thought that they fudged on the colors; she never did have those vibrant colors of squash in her garden, but it sure did taste good.
Same Indiana Memories
When she was 23, my grandfather came calling. As my grandmother told it, he would have been a catch at seventeen, but circumstances diminished him and his family. They raised sulky racehorses, and fire in the barn destroyed it all.
Now at twenty-seven, he would not be free to do as he pleased, but would have to work.
My grandmother always said that he courted her because everyone in the area knew that she could work.
She was a talented seamstress; making wedding gowns for friends and family.
She said she often cried while creating a beautiful dress wondering if she would ever wear one herself.
She laughed and said she had to be careful, not to stain the delicate materials though.
She was like that, nostalgic and sorrowful one minute, then getting it out of her system, she moved on to what she called, a happier face.
My mother and sister are both artists; I know they inherited her critical eye. Matching materials, painting, and sculpting were like my grandmother; no patterns, just an eye for detail and the talent to create.
She used her income to put the twins through college; no small feat in Indiana at the turn of the century. They graduated in 1915.
Fearing war, they traveled to Egypt because they thought the pyramids would be destroyed or some such notion according to their later accounts.
My granddaughter worked to secure a place as an exchange student her senior year in high school.
Living abroad, to see the sights, smell the differences and immerse herself into another culture took courage and a fearless spirit. It is in her veins just like my great aunts.
I'm sitting on a rock by the stream. It still smells of my childhood. Clean close to it. Then I see the trout. Swimming for the deep holes in the heat of the day or when they sensed danger, yet this one feels free to come to the surface. This one probably does not understand capture. Or the frog on the rock; staring at me. Expanding its throat and croaking.
I sit still, breathing in my yesterdays.
The fish, frog and the maple grove all remind me of the joy I felt with these strong women.
Most families had the men gather the buckets, but Aunt Louise always took me when I visited. Aunt Louise made maple sugar candy from the syrup.
I remember the first time, looking at the tree and the bucket and not understanding how this liquid made that delicious candy. But Aunt Louise took me to the sugar camp; huge cauldrons over wood fires.
There was a creamy candy; molded into a leaf shape, but that day I had snow candy. She boiled some syrup, letting it boil and bubble and then it got what she called, glassy.
She poured the hot syrup on a pile of snow that she mounded up "just right." Those lines of syrup got cold almost immediately. But it wasn't hard, it was like a taffy. I don't think I'd ever eaten anything so good.
Beyond the old camp are the stream and pond. I learned to fish there. My Aunt Hazel stocked the ponds and was a conservationist before there was a word. We could only fish a certain pond each year to let the fish multiply in the others.
I remember catching my first fish, a crappy, and my Dad putting it in the seining bucket. It got too close to the edge of the water, and it tipped over. My fish was getting away, and I started yelling. My dad dove in to try to get it for me. Indiana has rich soil, and he came up out of the water with black silt running down his face, with my fish.
Now, the pond seems smaller, yet still peaceful. I'm going to head upstream, near where my grandmother taught me to find ginseng and morel mushrooms. She laughed and said we were like some French pigs rooting. She'd read about finding something called a truffle, and she thought that was similar.
Today, the stream is flowing gently. No one fishes or finds ginseng anymore. Mushrooms are bought at the store. I don't know if I would trust myself to find the non-poisonous delicacy today. I'm sad. I'm crying. I've been away too long.
Truth or Fiction?
Which aspects of this fiction, besides the fireplace do you think are untrue?
A Song Challenge Winner: I'm Coming' Home
I came from and helped create a long line of passionate, hard-working, interesting women; yet I thought my life in the big city was so much more intriguing.
The smell of exhaust, the random acts of violence, the inability to create roots in that environment.
Through my tears I also remembered Thomas Wolfe, “But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth?
He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
But this wasn't some fictional piece, so I dried my tears and headed for the reunion.
There the generations smiled, hugged me and enveloped me in the love I remembered.
After dinner, one of my cousins asked me if I was ready to claim my land. I was puzzled by the question and asked him what he meant. He talked about the difficulty in finding me; I didn't stay in one place for too long, and I never got back to the solicitor or the executor of my cousin's estate.
My portion of the land had the chimney, and while all other reminders of the past were gone, none of my cousins felt right in removing what was not theirs.
I started crying. I knew I would return, rebuild and remember.