It’s funny how old memories can sink with the weight of new ones only to bubble up again. Tiny moments you thought had been long blown away by life’s continual wind circle back and stick to you like a burr. You find that memory is suddenly everywhere.
That’s what’s happening to me right now. One little memory.
I don’t know why it bubbled up again, don’t know why it’s sticking. I think God often makes us remember things in the past that could serve as the basis for some sort of wisdom now, but I can’t imagine how that’s the case with me. And it’s a painful memory, one I’d like to see sink back down in my mind for as long as possible. I figure writing about it may help. Or, perhaps, it may help you. In either case, it will serve its purpose.
I was ten years old, an age that is largely spent balancing on that thin line between knowing much about the world and not wanting to know. It was summer. I remember it was hot. I remember the crowd, too, and thinking it was more people than I’d ever seen in my life.
They were all gathered around two farm wagons that had been towed into my grandparents’ backyard and placed side by side. They sat in the open space between the garden my grandmother and I once worked and the giant willow tree I spent hours swinging from. There was a small patch of spearmint that grew at the base of the tree. Grandma would pick a few leaves and make tea with them just for me. I remember the people clamoring around the tree that day, trampling the patch.
I think that’s when I began to realize everything was ending.
The white Cape Cod my grandmother and grandfather had lived in for nearly thirty years was showing wear. The siding had been dulled to an almost gray by the sun. The shingles on the roof were brittle and stained by rain and wind. The house looked tired. I remember that, too. Everything looked tired.
The people who stood on top of the two giant wagons looked just as weary. My mother was one of them. Also an aunt and two uncles. They would each hold up what was in their hands as the man with the microphone yelled to the crowd in a language that was both foreign and fast. My mother held up a painting of a cabin that hung in my grandparents’ living room. I remember I would often sit on the sofa and stare at that painting while Grandma and I drank our spearmint tea. I would tell her that one day I wanted to live in a place like that. I still do.
The man with the microphone yelled more, numbers I knew mixed with words I didn’t. My mother kept her hands raised. One by one, others in the crowd raised theirs. I wondered why she looked so sad with all those people waving at her.
She put the painting down just after the man with the microphone said the one word I did understand:
I remember my father standing beside me. I asked him, “What’s going on?”
He didn’t tell. Instead he put his hand on my shoulder and led me over to the apple tree. He picked one from a high bough, rubbed it on the leg of his jeans, and offered it. I still remember how that apple tasted.
As I said, I was ten. Balancing on that thin line. But on that day the line was thinner than I cared it to be. I was old enough to know my grandfather had died and my grandmother before him, young enough to still believe I would still come and work the garden and drink the tea and stare at the painting of the cabin. I wobbled on the thin line that day between the memories I could keep and the memories being sold.
I suppose I wobble still.