By: Marilyn L. Davis
Image Prompts: This story was prompted by an image challenge from BillyBuc. Today, I’m challenging you to write a compelling story about the image. Each writer will approach it differently and that’s the beauty of creativity. We all use our common denominator, words, and yet, the story is vastly different for each of us.
I’ll let you know that 90% of this is true. The other 10%, well, it might have been. See, that’s the beauty and opportunity in writing fiction; we can alter the outcomes.
Use this image and send us a submission.
I went back to Indiana because I knew it was time. It’s been thirty-five years. The hard knocks school is longer than you’d expect. I wanted to walk the old home place before I met all the third and fourth and removed cousins that are waiting for me at my one surviving aunt’s house. I knew I’d end up deep in the woods and see the old house. However, all that’s left is the fireplace. My great-grandfather built the house when he came to Indiana from Philadelphia in 1880. My great-grandmother apparently didn’t know if he would amount to anything, so she set him a test. If he built her a house and farmed the land for a year, then she would come to Indiana and marry him.
He did, and she did.
I never knew him, and no one in the family talked much about him. Oh, they used words like honest and kind, but he was background to my great-grandmother. There were stories about my great-grandmother though. Although she wasn’t even five feet tall, apparently could intimidate anyone. She ruled and loomed over generations of women in the family. Just as she set a test for my great-grandfather, she expected much from her children – the girls as well as the boys.
My grandmother was the oldest of thirteen. She couldn’t court when it was time because my great-grandmother was pregnant with the last of the children. This meant that my grandmother raised her siblings along with her parents. Then when my great-uncle was killed in a hunting accident, his widow, daughter, and son-in-law moved in with my great-grandmother.
My grandmother didn’t care for the daughter; young, impetuous and not inclined to do much but produce children who required tending, yet another task that fell to my grandmother. She thought of them as an unruly herd to hear her talk and simply referred to them as the “brood.” Now, with the birth of her twin sisters, my grandmother was constantly busy. She learned to cook for up to 20 people at each meal. Feeding the men at noon when they came in from plowing, planting or thrashing meant getting started at 4 AM. She served several types of meat, potatoes, pies, cakes, and vegetables that she picked from a dewy garden.
She also loved to get her seed catalogs. She liked John A. Salzer, out of Wisconsin. Although she thought that they fudged on the colors because she never did have those same vibrant colors of squash in her garden, but it sure did taste good. My daughter is a chef and caterer, and I think some of my grandmother’s love of preparing food passed down to her.
My grandmother referred to herself as an old maid, and when she was 23, my grandfather came calling. As my grandmother told it, he would have been a catch as a young man, but circumstances diminished him and his family. They raised sulky race horses, and fire in the barn destroyed it all. Now at twenty-seven, he would not be free to do as he pleased, but would have to work. My grandmother always said that he courted her because everyone in the area knew that she could work.
She was a talented seamstress; making wedding gowns for friends and family. She said she often cried while creating a beautiful dress wondering if she would ever wear one herself. She laughed and said she had to be careful not to stain the delicate materials, though. She was like that, nostalgic and sorrowful one minute, then getting it out of her system, she moved on to what she called, a happier face.
My mother and sister are both artists; I know they inherited her critical eye. Matching materials, painting, and sculpting like my grandmother; no patterns, just an eye for detail and the talent to create. My grandmother used her income to put the twins through college; no small feat in Indiana in the early 1900’s. These two women graduated from college in 1915. Fearing war, they traveled to Egypt as they were afraid that the Wonders of the World might be damaged. Recounting their tales later, I was always amazed at their bravery.
Much like my adventurous great-aunts, my granddaughter worked to secure a place as an exchange student her senior year in high school. Living abroad, seeing the sights, and immersing herself in another culture took courage and a fearless spirit. This courage and desire to see another world flows in her veins through generations of strong women.
Today, I’m sitting on a rock by the stream. It still smells of my childhood. Clean close to it. Then I see the trout. They usually lie in the deep holes in the heat of the day, yet this fish feels free to come to the surface; it probably does not understand capture. Or the frog on the rock; staring at me; expanding its throat and croaking.
I sit still, breathing in my yesterdays. The fish, frog and the maple grove all remind me of the joy I felt with these strong women.
When I enter the maple grove, I see the patch of land that had the sugar camp. There are no more large cauldrons, but it still smells faintly of wood smoke and the promise of maple candy.
Most families had the men gather the maple syrup from the groves, but Aunt Louise always took me when I visited. I remember the first time, looking at the tree and the bucket and not understanding how this liquid made that delicious candy.
There was a creamy candy; molded into a leaf shape, but one day I had snow candy. Aunt Louise cooked some syrup, letting it boil and bubble and then it got what she called, glassy. She poured the hot syrup on a pile of snow that she mounded up “just right.” Those lines of syrup got cold almost immediately. But it wasn’t hard, it was like taffy, and I couldn’t remember ever eating anything so good and sweet.
Beyond the old camp are the ponds. I learned to fish there. My Aunt Hazel stocked the ponds and was a conservationist before there was a word. We could only fish a certain pond each year to let the fish multiply in the others.
I remember catching my first fish, a crappy that my dad put in a bucket. I wasn’t paying attention and knocked the bucket into the water. My fish got out and was getting away, and I started crying. My dad dove in to get it for me. Indiana has rich soil, and he came up out of the water with black silt running down his face, but he had my squirming fish in his hands and a big grin on his face. Now, the pond seems smaller.
I’m going to head upstream, near where my grandmother taught me to find ginseng and morel mushrooms. She laughed and said we were like some French pigs rooting. She’d read about finding something called a truffle, and she thought this was similar.
No one fishes or finds ginseng anymore. Everyone buys mushrooms at the store. I don’t know if I would trust myself to find the non-poisonous delicacy today. I’m sad. I’m crying. I’ve been away too long.
I came from and helped create a long line of passionate, hard-working, interesting women; yet I thought my life in the big city was so much more intriguing. But it was only the smell of exhaust, the random acts of violence, and the inability to create roots in that environment. Through my tears, I also remembered Thomas Wolfe.
“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water and that one day men come home again.”
But this wasn’t some fictional piece, so I dried my tears and headed for the reunion. There the generations smiled, hugged me and enveloped me in the love I remembered.
After dinner, one of my cousins asked me if I was ready to claim my land. I was puzzled by the question and asked him what he meant. He talked about the difficulty in finding me; I didn’t stay in one place for too long, and I never got back to the solicitor or the executor of my cousin’s estate. My addiction meant that I lost touch with my family; I lost connection to the land, and I sacrificed so much for so little. I inherited the land my great-grandfather built the test house on; the stream, the Grove, and the mushroom woods. The city child who found so much wonder in the woods. When I asked my cousins if they agreed with this, they all laughed and said that of all of us grandchildren, I was the one who understood the magic; they only saw the work. I will build around that chimney; it has stood for years and represents much. I started crying. I knew I would return, rebuild, and heal more.