More than anything else, I remember the fireflies. Except back then I called them“lightning bugs.”
In the summer, as the light dimmed into darkness, they blinked intermittently. I was fascinated by them. They were little beacons of lights, so tiny and magical.
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 at my skinny legs.
That’s what I remember.
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. I would reach inside for the old, beginning-to-curl black and white photos.
I would hold them and peer into the indistinct faces of people. People I didn’t know. No one smiled in these photos.
I would ask who the photos of the people were, but my great-grandmother frowned on my questions. Mostly she wouldn’t answer.
The two grandmothers, one mother, one daughter, worked long days in the garden during the summer. They worked 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 only 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.
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. I was up in the middle of the night many nights with a stomach ache that doubled me over in pain. I think it was mere anxiety due to the uncertainty.
They are just snippets 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.
Mostly, it oddly feels like it happened to someone else. Who just happens to be me.
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, 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.