The low-slung fat black bellies of the August clouds skimmed across the tips of the corn stalks, you could hear the rustle. Granny would tell me, at night, baby, you can hear the corn stalks, you can hear them poppin, hear em growing. I’d hear cicadas and bullfrogs in the swamp behind our 6.6 acre yard, which had once been grandpapa’s cow field. It separated our house from my grandpaprent’s old white clapboard 2-story farmhouse. A 5-minute walk heading west on Roundtree Bridge Road from my house, or a 2-minute bike-ride, would wind me up in their front yard full of azalea bushes and tenderly-cultivated beds of roses my grandpapa kept up for my granny to look at from one of the rocking chairs on the front porch of the old house built in the early 40s by the sheriff’s convict labor.
Granny would lie in her king-size bed and I’d lie next to her and she’d tell me stories, because I was always asking her questions, pleading for her to fill in the blanks of the mystery of our family, my father – of me, of us. Who were we, the old country back road we lived on – once dirt – surrounded by a thousand acres or more of my grandpapa’s crops of tobacco, soybeans, peanuts, corn, told me little more than what I could see. I knew there was more, there were secrets, there were things she wasn’t ready or sure she should tell me, so little, but so much like my daddy, and I’d say, tell me, Granny, what was daddy like when he was little like me, and she’d look into the thick of thin air in front of her, or maybe out one of the open windows into the corn field growing between her and our house, thinking, remembering.
She’d tell me about how he “wasn’t like all the other little children,” and that she’d once had a birthday party for him, a surprise one, and he’d come in the door and seen a girl he hated that he’d run off, refusing to join his own party, and she had hollered for him on into the night, but he’d never come. When I’d asked him about it he’d confirmed the story, saying he’d stayed right there beneath her, under the house, listening to her shrieking, hating her, seeing the children leave one by one. And I would look at her old arm and say, Granny, do you remember when your arm looked like mine, running a finger down the dry hanging flesh from her wrist to her elbow, like that of a fish out of water, or a paper bag that’d been balled up then stretched out, and she’d say, yea baby, just like it was yesterday…and I’d wonder, looking at my own, how that could be.
And the fan would blow on us as we grew quiet, the sound of her “stories” coming from the tv at the foot of her bed, and the humming growl as my grandpapas tractor made its way with the down-pour of dusk to the old barn, dusty fog of crop dirt behind him, all over him, and she’d pine as soon as she felt me getting ready to leave, pine before need to pine, like she could hear me thinking I was ready to go, and she’d say, please baby, don’t go, stay, baby, i love you, don’t go….and I’d wince and cringe, hating her for those moments of my exit, backing out of her clinging neediness, escaping that undying want, wondering how she could love me enough to nearly cry when I left when I was right there across that cornfield, and I’d pass my grandpapa on my way out and hug him, cheek pressed against his leather belt, smelling the crop’s he’d been tending, the sweat the summer had wrung from him, and I’d never worry about him needing me or anything, the Indian in him silent and strong, the famous stoicism, without a single unbearable trait other than his quiet unknowable presence I’d never live up to. I’d pass those roses as I escaped the ghostly hearth of my elders, those ancient creatures my youth could not fully grasp, hurry by the rockers swaying back and forth from the winds blown through the screened porch by the thick-lipped summer storm clouds the sun pressed even further down, dripping steamy pellets on my head and shoulders as I scrambled past the rosebushes and leaped onto my bike, headed for home, bye baby, i’d hear granny holler from her bedroom window, seeing her hand, a misty apparition, as I pedaled away, side to side until the corn field shielded me from her, and i listened to her the stalks growing, thought i did, cracking, pop, i heard em, i’m home….