February 16, 2010

Road on the Ridge

There was a time, my grandmother told me, when dad would grab the stack of thin metal buckets by the cellar doors and drag each one through the deeper parts of the stream out back, carrying them two by two, staggering back through the cellar and up the wood plank steps. The kitchen was the dining room, split from the living room by a thin wall of rough cut timber. In four pots, covering the stove, Nana boiled the water dad dredged out back just so they could take a bath for the week. The tubs were small and none of them really fit, but it worked for what it was, scrubbing off the dirt you gathered.

Nana remembered when they put that road in, the one that runs along the ridge into town. Used to take the old horse path through the wood, she said. Never needed a damn road up there, just kicks up the dust and sets it on my furniture, she’d say. It’s all I remember. We would slap the cellar screen door behind us on the way out back, bare feet sifting through the long grass between mowings and take our shovels and hoes down to the stream, digging through the rusty pebbles and thick brown slop that hid slimy amphibians. The trees above kept the stream ice cold and the summer sun from burning. The path my father beat to the stream was still there in a deep line further up, to that deep natural well. The challenge was constitution and balance, to step foot over foot between the grass trying hard to cover that soft trench my father wore with his own feet.

Down by that stream out back you couldn’t hear the road. It still ran above us, up on that ridge, lording over the landscape view from the front porch. Cars ran by on in to town, mostly tourists antiquing in sedans, mute and modestly colored, pointing at the homes by the stream in a line, quaint little houses with mown front yards that rolled down from the asphalt. They had it backwards, of course. The lawns rolled from our feet, from the roots and foundations up to be broken, split by the road that ran up and over and through. Once they had continued on into the forest beyond, and the ridge was not a pinnacle or barrier. The road obligated us to slap a mailbox along it to the left of our driveways and walk up there to pay daily respects, looking down its black line, winding into the town we rarely visited.

You walk back and sit by the well, the pool water in which dad bathed and wish the forest would wrap the house, that the stream would delve and expand its noisy boundaries to mitigate that oppressive ridge. You piece together fantastic geologic events that would wall off the places and moments you call home from invasion and bring back the hot days and cold feet by the stream out back, where your family finds itself solace.

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