I squint at the bright summer sun, swiping my bangs out of my eyes.  It is humid, and the curls that have escaped my ponytail immediately stick to the back of my neck and side of my face.  I am four.  I slide the white framed heart-shaped sunglasses over my light blue eyes and step off of the porch.  The cement step burns my bare feet.  I run across the dusty front yard and get into the car.

My granny slides into the driver’s seat beside me, and cranks the car, rolling the windows down, releasing all of the smothering hot air.  She starts the car, and we begin our trip.  I watch out of the window as we drive through town.  At the local store, I see my Uncle Otis getting out of his ’68 gold VW Beetle.  Granny beeps the horn, his balding head turns, as he throws up his hand in a waive.  We continue to the end of town, turning onto a long dusty, dirt road.

Granny puts the car in park and reaches into the backseat.  She hands me a little wicker basket, that is probably left over from a few Easter’s ago.  I push the heavy car door open, stepping out into the summer sun.  Granny gets out of the car, opens the back door, and gets a yellow five gallon bucket.  She then puts her blue hat on the top of her short, black curly hair, pulling it low over her eyes, as she walks to the crouched over old man standing a few feet away.  I follow her dragging my bare toes in the dust, watching the swiggle patterns emerge and snake their way to where my feet stop. I look behind me to see a trail of light dust from my path catch in the ever so light breeze that has begun to blow.

I hear Granny thank the man, and call to me to follow her.  We head off of the dirt road into long rows of green vines, loaded heavily with bright red berries.  I watch as Granny gently pulls the biggest berry on the vine and hands it to me.  I take it amazed that it is almost the size of my four-year old palm.  I gaze at the bright vivid red color, and marvel at it’s size.

I hesitantly bring the berry to my lips, I feel the sun and the soft prickle of the berry against my mouth.  I gingerly take the first bite, as juice squirts into my mouth and dribbles down my chin.  The tartness of the berry hits my tongue first, causing me to pucker my face.  Then the warm sweetness ensues and I swallow smiling.  The pink juice is running down my chin, drying almost as fast as it runs, leaving a sticky stream down in its wake.  I pull the green stem from the top of the berry, and greedily pop the remainder of the berry in my mouth.  I chew slowly, savoring the tartness and sweetness that is singular only to the strawberry.

After the finishing my first strawberry of the season, I begin carefully snapping my first berry from it’s home on the vine.  When the berry is released from the vine, I lay it down in my basket.  Granny starts to fill her bucket, as I work on my basket.  We continue down the row of green, speckled with red, picking our bounty.  I am eating as many as I pick, while Granny consistently drops her berries into her yellow bucket.

Granny and I continue to move up and down several rows of the berries, picking only the best berries.  She tells me she’s going to make the best surprise in the world with these berries. Naturally, we only want the best.  After a couple of hours, Granny stands, stretching her back, glancing up at the sun.  She has a thin towel wrapped around her neck, she uses the end to wipe the sweat from her forehead.  She hefts her now half full bucket, and starts to walk toward the end of the row.  I follow through the dry, dusty rows of green, now scarce of red berries.  Little gnats follow me, landing on my arms and hands, trying to taste the sweet juices of the berries I have been snacking on.  I swat at them, as I walk to the car.

I get to the car, and my hands stick to the door handle as I open the door.  I have dried pink juice running down my white shirt.  I put my basket in the front seat, and push it to the middle of the seat, as I climb in behind it.  The windows have been down and the car was in the shade, so there is relief from the bright summer sun.  We ride back home in silence, both enjoying the wind that whips our hair and dries our sweat.

We pull into the driveway, each getting our own reward from the day’s work and carrying it into the house.  The screen door slams behind me, as I follow Granny into the kitchen.  She takes my basket and dumps my berries into the sink, along with her’s.  She begins to run water over the succulent berries, and they begin to float.  She then turns and starts stripping my sticky, dirty clothes off of me.

I follow her to the bathroom, where she turns the water on in the shower.  She tells me to wash up good.  I step into the shower, letting the cool water run over my now pink skin.  After I am done, I dry myself and put on my nightgown that Granny has laid out for me.  My bare feet feel warm against the cold floor of the house.  I see Granny sitting outside on the front porch.

I go outside, and sit on the warm concrete step.  Granny is a step above me, and starts to brush through my long blonde hair.  As she brushes my hair, the sun begins to set, and my hair begins to dry in the hot summer heat.  When the sun finally dips down behind the trees, she tells me we have to go inside.  The lightening bugs are just beginning to flicker in the dusk, when she tucks me between the cool cotton sheets and kisses me goodnight.


When the Wind Blows…

The wind whipped through the opening of the door, and the leaves fluttered.  I flipped on the light, giving everything a yellow hue.  I looked around the porch, before I pushed open the old screen door and stepped out.  The wind picked up again, and my hair fluttered across my face as I stopped to push it out of my eyes.  I could feel him, his presence, in everything around me.

My grandpa had just given me a hug, and I felt warm all over despite the chilly night air.  I smiled, remember when I was a little girl and wouldn’t go anywhere near the backyard at night, much less alone.  Tonight, I had my book and tea, as I wondered over to the chair that rocked silently.  As if inviting me to sit and stay a while.   I took the gladly took the invitation.  I sat, opened my book with the full intent of reading; instead, I let my mind wonder.

All of those years I had sat in this spot, watching fish jump in the pond, my grandpa on a tractor mowing and baling hay, and watching for deer as I got older.  Just as many times, I had sat at the pond and looked up at the big white house on the hill.  Always seeing my grandmother and usually my mother on this very porch watching as we fished, or rode four-wheelers, usually off of the trail, which always got us a talking to when we finally went back at dark, covered in dirt and dying for something to drink. 

Even now, almost 19 years to the day he passed, I find myself wondering what he would think of the woman I have become.  I have worked hard, and have often been disappointed in life and love; but, I have always forged on.  I crack jokes about being an English major, not a math major, and I know for a fact this statement would earn a grunt and headshake from him.  He was practical, used logic in everything, and solved problems.  I, on the other hand, use my heart and emotions to base a lot of decisions, and use a creative stance when solving major problems.  All of those arguments over homework, now make perfect sense.  I look back on them fondly, not with animosity, but with love. 

Memories of my grandpa always have one of two reactions, a smile or tears.  I am so happy that most of my memories are now bringing more smiles than tears.  To me, this means I am growing up, coping with the loss a little better than before.  I am learning to love the memories and enjoy them, not just ache from deep down in my soul when I think of him.  I am thankful that I can now think of him without pain and heartache, but with smiles and laughter. 

There still are days, and I am sure there will be more, where I will shed tears over years lost with him.  I will have anger because I did not get to spend more time with him; he didn’t get to see me grow into a woman; and he will never meet my children, and paint the “prize” Easter egg for them.  They will never have memories of my grandfather, and this does make me sad. However, every time I feel the slight stir of air when I step onto the porch, I will know that is he, and has always been with me.  I will cherish that slight second that I feel warm, and smile lovingly, because that is me hugging him back.