This is a piece that I wrote for the Muckleshoot Review back in 2010 when I was teaching there.
Hot bricks burnt my feet as I stepped out onto the porch with the colander full of beans. Every summer I dared myself to stand for longer and longer on the burning bricks, and every summer my feet got more and more calloused. Eventually I would have tougher feet than my cousin William, and then I’d show him who was a soft city girl.
The sun won out eventually, as it always does. I tucked myself into the shady part of the porch and started picking through the beans. Mom would steam them tonight for dinner with the fried chicken, and I’d get to steal hush puppies out of the basket without her noticing. I watched my Dad wander down the driveway, a peach in one hand and a report in the other, his glasses perched precariously on the very top of his thick floppy too-long black hair. Through the hole in his overall pockets I could see a wrench threatening to slip out and hit him on the toe. That wrench had probably been there since the day before, when our car lost a tire and nearly went off the road. I wondered if Dad had remembered to sleep that night. Come June in Delaware, most of us switched our days and nights around if we could. The days would start in our house around 5am, with pancakes or biscuits or cereal and apples, then off to get some of the chores done. Our garden was huge, just shy of an acre, and not because it was hip or “environmentally conscious” to have a garden, but so that we could survive through the winter. Money was too tight to buy vegetables off-season.
Come lunchtime, it would be too hot and the sun would be too bright to do anything more. By this time I would have weeded a few of the beds, cleaned the floors, cleaned my room, or worked on the compost pile. Lunchtime in the summer meant fresh gooseberries and tree fruit, whatever was ripe. Snap peas and sugar peas, fresh kale and spinach, grapes and apples were all waiting, juicy and cool despite the sun, ready to be eaten on the spot if I could keep the birds and squirrels and rabbits off of the plants. Outwitting persistent magpies, I would sometimes wind up tangled in the bird netting, comfortably trapped in with the cherry tomatoes until my Mom found me with admonishments about how I would destroy my stomach if I didn’t get out of that garden.
The heat of the day was reserved for flea markets and auction halls, playing at friend’s houses where the AC actually worked, and every once in a while a decadent trip to the mall where I would watch the turtles in the pet store swim around in the minuscule tanks and wonder if they were related to the turtles that lived at the bottom of our garden that sometimes accidentally rode in my jacket pockets all the way to my bedroom, where they would inevitably be found, hopefully before they died of malnutrition.
By four in the afternoon it would be safe to go outside again, and you could hear cars moving along the small town brining kids luckier and richer than I was back from their summer camps and pool parties. This was when the gangs of young ruffians would start milling around with our skateboards and basketballs and cigarette lighters and comic books. I always hung around with the same boys, and always got in trouble with the same adults. Epic adventures were to be had in backyards and garden sheds, where Robin Hood fought the Sheriff, Luke and Leia destroyed Darth Vader over and over again, and Goose from Top Gun flew once more before crashing with a splash into Mr. Bothell’s swimming pool. Because I was often the only girl, I got to be Leia and Maid Marion all at once, and received my first real kiss perched in a tree branch high over Sherwood Forest while Little John stood watch on the ground with a secret signal to make sure that no parents or older brothers discovered what liberties we had taken with the plot line.
Eventually the sun would start to set and we could start to think once again about eating. Dad would blow the old policeman’s whistle that could be heard in the next town over and let me know it was time to come back home and help get dinner ready. I would sprint down the street in my bare feet, my thick braids flying out behind me smacking at the mosquitoes and horseflies.
Inside was a quiet world of soft orange sunset light, streaming through the cut glass around our front door to create dancing rainbows in the living room. The slate-floored dining room was cool and soothing to my hot skin and bruised feet. Somewhere in the house the radio would be playing the evening news, the voices providing a backdrop to the popping and crackling of the hush puppies and chicken as Mom carefully lowered them into the grease. I would make the juice, set the table, straining my ears to hear what crazy things the grown ups of the world had done that day. Oliver North would be denying his lies, or Gorbachev would be promising nuclear disarmament and the end to the cold war, which would mean that we would no longer have to sit through the eternal nuclear fallout drills at our school.
As we finished dinner together and cleared the table, trying to decide whether we would go to Dairy Queen for dessert or not, I could hear the cicadas telling their stories to whoever would stop and listen. The first of the fireflies would come out as I argued with my Mom about whether I needed to wear my sandals or just carry them. As I licked the last of the sticky chocolate off of my fingers an uncle or an auntie or old friend would come by the porch for a beer and gossip, and I would listen to them talk with my Dad about how the town had changed, how the people had changed. I just thought to myself they had stayed the same, only with different clothes and different words. I found comfort in knowing that I, as a kid, was doing exactly the same kinds of things that my Dad and his brother did when they were kids, which was the same thing their parents did when they were kids. I stood on the shoulders of the family that came before me and wrapped their stories around me like a security blanket as I let the sun and the heat leave my body and carefully positioned myself to fall asleep in the puddle of moonlight coming in through my bedroom window, pooling on my bedspread.