meditation on a place, three ways


My parents backyard, my hometown. The two-story farmhouse, yard sandwiched between that and a decrepit railroad tracks that an occasional string of cars parked on, railway screech, high pitched scream, en route to the steel factory, steel on steel. The two pines, stump from the sycamore, remnants of the garden plot, stacks of tomato cages, Bradford pears, hummingbird feeders, the burn pile, Eddie’s fence, the sandbox turned garden plot turned wood pile turned fallow, patchy grass. Generations of our cats buried therein – Firecracker, Fluffy, Petey, Koko, Mittens, Sparkler, Elmo, and Rosetta. Garter snakes. Dragonflies. A rusty swingset. A Single swing on the oak, the branch outgrowing the swing’s tether year by year. The primitive plows in the landscape, wooden handles starting to split, mom’s steel rebar bottle tree tucked between the hostas and flamingos, a joke that was never ended.

Oh patch of yard, what do you have to tell me?

My childhood bedroom faces you, looks down over you.

Did you watch me through the years? From little to big? Yes.

Do you miss me too? Yes.

Do we share memories? Yes.

But different versions of the same story.

I’m overlooked now when once I was the epicenter of a childhood, the whole neighborhood. Days spent in and around me. I even had the white, red, and blue swingset with monkey bars crossing through me. I forgot about that! And all the diggers and Tonka trucks and shovels and mostly cat pee mixed in with my sand. Your dad creating the box with tall 12-inch planks held together by nails.

I wasn’t as big as you remember. You were just small.

Time passed, the sand was more of a nuisance to mow around. No one in diapers or underoos, all those replaced by little league uniforms and bug collections, so the sandbox was taken down. And our first cat firecracker was buried there. You made him a pile of sticks and rocks to celebrate. Dirt filled in. Patches of seed and eventually grass. The nights with Aunt Judy’s musty old Army green and mustard yellow tent on me. Everyone scared of the ghosts roaming the neighborhood.

What’s the other story of this thing

We don’t own places. You don’t own me. But for the last 39 years, short years, you think you do.

Memories are layers, of a specific place, moment, experience in time. these are my memories, my layers.

I was formed when the glaciers of the Last Ice Age pushed and pushed their heaving mass down to create the prairies, leaving no real rocks and pebbles, except for rich brown soil full of organic detritus.

Then years in the making, the flood plain of the Mississippi created ribbons, like an ink pen drawing bigger and bigger circles, never the same size. The alluvial sediment dropping nitrogen and phosphorous and magnesium. Enough for oak and deciduous forests to rise up. To provide – food, shade, shelter, warmth.

To be cleared and homesteaded with a cow and later goats and chickens, then at the edge of a town while once off not-even-a-country road. Families and subdivisions and bicycles and swingsets and lawnmowers later. There you were. Small, the first girl digging into me with all matter of tools. Your dad spending a few days hauling and dumping sand, it must have come from a faraway beach. My cousin or the bottom of the ocean. The sandbox was done.

You kids careened and yelled and threw the sand, crisscrossed the jungle jim that straddled the sandbox. The Tonka trucks, shovels and buckets and dump trucks. The cat pee, too, always made things interesting. Like digging for buried treasure. You got taller. Nathan and Lucas started in Little League uniforms and your bug collection amped up. I was neglected, mostly. But sometimes, before dusk, you’d sit on the lone swing above me, quietly kicking at the grains of sand that hadn’t yet been blown or kicked out. You dad eventually using my wood edges as firewood and bringing in a cover of dirt instead.

This was where you buried Firecracker in me. A small hole for the first family pet. Then, later, strings of hamsters and a bunny Beeper. And all the other cats too – Fluffy, Petey, Sparkler, Koko, Elmo, Mittens, Rosetta.

You made little piles of rocks and sticks to mark the sites. Those mostly got kicked or mowed over by someone with a different relationship to me.

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