Last week I heard a voice from yesteryear, a sort of breathless, girlish voice that held a hint of suppressed laughter. I was half asleep when she called, else I would have known that voice anywhere.
“Mary-Bug” we called her, although her name was Mary Leta. She was named for our mutual grandmother Leta Ellen, and thus was my cousin. Her growing-up summers were spent here on this same farm with Grandpa and Grandma O’Dell, and of course we spent much time together.
She is four years older than I, and I should have been a pest. Instead, she treated me–not like a sister, for sisters sometimes bicker and quarrel. Instead, I was like a cherished friend, to be loved and pampered. Over the years, I can still feel that love.
There were other cousins too, Doris and Maxine, who spent summers with our grandparents. They were kind to me also, but Mary-Bug was special. As I heard her voice, I was transported back through the years to the golden summers of our childhood.
We played on the side of the Ball Diamond hill, running through the broom sage and picking wildflowers. Right at the edge of the woods, pennyroyal grew rife and the hot sunshine brought forth the strong, minty fragrance of it. In my mind I can still smell the strong scent that flavored our days.
We climbed the steep hill carrying Mason jars of water and biscuits left from breakfast liberally smeared with apple butter. There we ate our royal repast, seated on large gray rocks that served as our thrones. What could be more perfect than a day filled with bright sunshine, a meadow swaying with golden shafts of broom sage and studded with yellow-eyed daisies? We were queens of all we surveyed.
There the oak trees grew, making a cool, shady place for a playhouse. My cousins took dead saplings and outlined a house for me, with separate rooms. Then they gathered thick moss and laid a green carpet in each room. I was entranced. There is still a rectangle of green moss where my playhouse was built.
It was just an old, rundown farm, but it was a place of enjoyment to us, especially my cousins. They lived mostly in the city, and country ways were new to them. The old log barn was a mysterious place, filled with sweet-smelling hay, and such a pleasant place to hide and tell fairy tales.
The creek was full of crawdabs, minnows, and penniwinkles. We could spend a whole day there, catching an aquarium (half gallon jar) full of creek life. I loved catching the fat tadpoles. We would end up turning them back in the creek.
The old memories keep coming. We romped and played through the hot summer days, innocent, childish play with no hint of adult cares that would come with time. Everything was an adventure, from going to the chicken house to gather the eggs, to following Grandma to the barn to watch her milk the cow.
Grandma was a good cook. Cousin Rex says that, “no one could fry chicken like that woman.” Mary-Bug remembers her cornbread with longing. I guess I was too young to remember a whole lot, but one thing that sticks in my mind was her creamed tomatoes. She used the whole tomato, cut in chunks (probably fresh.) She thickened them and then seasoned them with real cow cream and butter, and they were so good that I long for them to this day. I have never been able to duplicate them.
Many summers have come and gone, and winters also, since we played together on this old farm. Back then, as children, we had no idea of the changes that time would bring.
Mary-Bug married young and has lived in many different countries—England, France, Spain, South America, and other places. Now she is settled on the West Coast (with the same husband) and is fighting a courageous battle against lymphoma. With the same merry heart and brave sense of humor, she has waded into this battle with no fear for the outcome. God has taken the fear away.
I found an old poem that came from the Grit newspaper many years ago that seems to echo my feelings today:
As the months go racing onward
And the old years fade away
We are often prone to thinking
Of a dead and bygone day
Of course we know it does no good
To dwell upon the past
But somehow something makes us drift
To things that did not last.
No doubt it’s human nature
To desire to go back
Upon the road of yesterday
And scan the almanac.
For mankind cannot seem to face
The fact that time has gone
We cling to golden yesteryears
As time goes marching on.
We live again through memory
And that’s why we recall
The periods of happiness
That mattered most of all.
So it is and always will be
And I know you will agree
It is a tonic for the heart
To drift in memory.
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