More than anything else, I seem to remember the fireflies. Except back then I knew them as “lightning bugs.”
In the summer, as the light dimmed into darkness, they flew around the yard, blinking intermittently. I was fascinated by them. Little beacons of lights. So tiny and magical.
Way back at the far end of the fenced property, there was a rooster and chickens. I would go through the gate once a day, run past the rooster chasing me, and open the door to the hen house.
The hens blinked their big round marble-like eyes at me as I reached behind to shut the door. The old structure was faded and gray, like a quilt that becomes threadbare over time.
Sunlight darted through the cracks in the structure, drawing long lines across the inside walls and floor.
I would gently raise each hen and gather the eggs into my container. Then I’d open the door, trying hard not to jostle the warm eggs, and dart past the mean rooster that would peck my skinny legs.
That’s what I remember. I see it in little flashes of childhood memory.
There was another old structure between the chickens and the back of the house. I would often go inside and kneel before the big domed trunk, where I reached inside for old, beginning-to-curl black and white photos.
I would hold them and peer into indistinct faces of people. Mostly those I never knew. No one smiled.
I would ask who the photos of the people were, but my great-grandmother frowned on questions. Like the old photos in the trunk, I don’t remember anyone smiling. I don’t remember laughter.
The two grandmothers, one mother, one daughter, worked long days in the garden during the summer. Hoeing the rows of vegetables that fed us, hacking at the endless weeds.
They wore bonnets to protect their faces from the bright sunshine. They wore dresses, never pants.
They were simple people. Living simple lives.
I would sit and play, making up playmates and stories and drawing in the red dirt with a stick. Sometimes I would get restless and run through the rows of corn.
I didn’t quite understand why I was there, in the little house with the grandmothers. I called the older one mama.
I didn’t feel especially close to anyone. I was wrapped up in my stories, weaving tales and creating pretend people to play with me. I think maybe I was closer to the people in my pretend world.
Yet I feared more that anything that mama would die, and leave me to take care of my child-like grandmother. Although I didn’t know that was who she was until much later.
I worried so much that I would be left behind, not knowing who I was, with no one to take care of me, that I was up in the middle of the night many nights with a stomach ache that doubled me over in pain.
Winters aren’t really a part of my memory, or other seasons. Just the summertime.
Parts of memories. All a puzzle I’ve never quite been able to put together. Like someone took all the facts of me and put them in a jar and shook them up.
But then, somehow, in the deepest part of me, I know these things I’ve written. But I feel somewhat disconnected from them. Like there is an invisible shield between me and what was.
My memory has so many holes in it, like Swiss cheese. I would try to connect the dots, but they were sort of like the fireflies. Blinking out of sight just as I reach out to grab hold of them.
Mostly, it kind of seems like it happened to someone else. Who just happens to be me. And what is real is like snow flakes that, when they hit the ground, may leave an imprint. But then quickly become crystals of light that melt when the sun hits it.
And of course, every summer like clockwork, the fireflies came blinking out of nowhere. And I would chase them. Round and round the house I’d run, endlessly reaching out to grab hold of what was real for mere seconds.
And just when I thought I might catch one, it would blink, disappearing from sight.