As wide as she was tall, the little old lady looked amusingly like a cartoon turtle in a floral dress slipping slowly out the back door before full daylight. The last I remembered, I’d been asleep on the train. Not wanting to be left alone, I rolled to my belly and hung off the edge of an unfamiliar bed, my pudgy feet peddling till I thudded solidly to the unfinished wood floor. Following her out into the dewy grass of the early daylight, I saw her lurching one-sidedly under the burden of a heavy bucket of corn in one hand and a shovel in the other, totally unaware of my silent pursuit. As I padded silently behind, sandburs pierced my baby feet. Dropping to my round bottom, I shrieked at the insult. The grass at home was soft and welcoming. Startled by my banshee cries, she turned. “Oh my Lord! I thought I shut the door behind me. You could have gotten in the road!”
Dropping the bucket of chicken feed, she rushed over to comfort me, as fast as a turtle could, I suppose, seating me on her shovel blade to pick sandburs out of my feet. By the time she’d finished, I pointed out a huge yellow road grader a few yards away on the side of the dirt road. “You want to see that? Okay. Grandma will take you over there. It’ll be a while before the workers get here. Little fellers need to see road graders if they get a chance.”
I admired the way she thought. Blessed with my company every day, my harried mother would probably have told me to “Get away from that. That’s none of your business!” I’d noticed early on most interesting things fell in that category. Standing on the shovel blade, I clung to the shovel handle as Grandma dragged me across the grass. She lifted me as high to study the gigantic tires before setting me on the step to peer inside the cab. I am still fascinated by heavy machinery.
After I had my fill of the road grader, we went back for her bucket of corn to feed her chickens. I liked the chickens just fine, though they weren’t nearly as interesting as the road machine. We had chickens at home. The barn next to the chicken yard was a different matter. Since the grass path was worn away between the two, I toddled over to have a look. A huge, two-storied white structure larger than the house enticed me, nearer. A padlocked chain ran through two holes in the big double-doors, denying me entry. Peeking into the dee shade of the barn, I discovered untold riches: a child-sized table and chairs, a rocking horse, a tricycle, and a red wagon. Grandma’s little black and white dog dropped to his belly and slid in the deep, sandy track worn under the doors. I dropped to my belly and wiggled right behind him. Had Grandma moved just a little slower, I’d have earned my prize. Instead, she caught me by my heels and dragged me by my back into the barn yard howling in protest as she explained those things belonged to the child of the landlord and were off limits to me. I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around that, having no idea what a landlord was, but I knew what toys were, and meant to have them. To temper my disappointment, she led me to the back of barn and allowed me to climb on the rail fence. The barn and lot were shaded by an enormous oak tree. Marvelously, a tire swing hung temptingly from a high branch. I flew to the tire swing suspending myself in its embrace. I could run and swing backwards, kicking up a sandy, white cloud. I had a tire swing at home and had learned to wind myself up for a spinning ride. Grandma generously let me entertain myself, For the moment, I was satisfied, knowing I’d get find a way to get in that barn later.
Back in the house, Grandma slid brown-topped biscuits out of the oven. Minutes later, I met my first true love, bacon. I have not tasted anything so goodsince. I felt strangely independent sharing my first morning with Grandma. I’d never been awake before my mother that I remembered. I was surprised to see Mother wander through in her nightgown and robe looking for coffee soon after. I’d never seen her dressed for bed before.
This is my first conscious memory, though I must have been familiar with Grandma. Mother recalled the story, dating it to around the time I was eighteen months old. I am older now than Grandma was then, and like her, carry a shovel as I putter in the yard, an excellent implement to have on hand for a little impromptu digging or snake-routing. Some things never change.
This photo was taken on that visit. I was eighteen months old, and my sister four. This was taken at a park. Later that that, we were allowed to take our shoes off and wade in a park pool I cut my foot on a coke bottle, not badly, just enough to make me scream bloody murder.