One of the more striking numbers in Van Morrison’s catalog is called “On Hyndford Street,” a memory of childhood spoken over ambient music. On the flip is something similar, about a single summer day from no specific year, but many years ago. I can’t decide if it’s off-topic for this blog or squarely on it.
Waking up in the morning with the humidity already heavy in the air, and coming out to the bright kitchen. Green outside, green all around, heat already being seen to rise off the cornfields to the south and the east. The radio plays, familiar voices. Dad in for breakfast, cereal and toast with jam, cup of coffee—and a cookie on his way back outside. A load of laundry already in the washer. Mother carries loads of wet wash out to the clothesline and back again throughout this day.
My brother and I crunch cereal and plan the day. Sandbox, perhaps, building canals through which we run water from the hose, my brother playing engineer, providing the design, while I am labor. Or adventuring, off into the woods, told only two things: be back in time for dinner and don’t get hurt. We have a treehouse (again, my brother built, I merely supervised) in a ramshackle willow tree well away from the barn and a second one closer to the house in a pine tree. We put ourselves in stories, detectives or soldiers or superheroes.
Dinner is never called lunch, always dinner, and Dad comes in from wherever he is for a half-hour, a ritual never missed. Our afternoons are more of the same. On the warmest summer days when we are very young, an inflatable kiddie pool sits in the dooryard; when we are older, a two-foot-deep pool sits a bit farther away from the house on a leveled circle of grass. Such a trial to put it together every year, stretching the plastic liner over the metal frame and clapping down metal pieces to hold it in place. It never goes smoothly. Dad curses and Mother rants, and we watch in disappointment. But it comes together, and we fill it with a hose, and we wait a day for it to warm up. As small as it is, it’s like an ocean to us.
Coming in from the field at eventide, Dad calls his cows from the pasture with a cry we hear as “ka-BAAAHHHS,” and I can hear him braying it even now, 20 years since he sold his cows and many years more since I’ve actually heard him call them, as his father did, and his grandfather before. While the cows eat their evening meal, we eat ours, a meal always called supper, before Dad returns to the barn.
The sun begins to sink and the shadows grow long. We run laps around the farm buildings on our bicycles, or take them a quarter-mile down Melvin Road to Honey Creek. We watch the water flow under the bridge and peel a careful eye for cars, as Mother insists we do. We come back up the hill, Dad’s radio audible through the open barn door, sounds of the vacuum pump he uses to milk. Mother putters in her garden or mows the lawn, all but the steep banks by the road, which Dad mows, often as darkness is falling and his 15-hour workday comes to an end.
The barn finally still as the cows make their way to the far corner of the pasture. If there’s no mowing to be done, there is time for Dad to toss a ball around. Mother sits on a lawn chair in the dooryard. Dad may join her for a few minutes as the sun disappears. We watch fireflies; on certain nights up toward the pasture and the fields you see them like a rain of sparks. We catch them and put them in a jar to watch them in our room after the light is out. When we are very young, bedtime comes before it is completely dark, and we hate going to bed then.
Dad makes malts for us before bed, ice cream, milk, and chocolate malt powder in a mixing machine. (Many years hence, we are long since grown and he is past 80 and he makes them for us again one night, and it is a treasure.) Windows open, sounds of the night come in. A dog barks and a car flies by. A cow bellows, or kicks a wooden feeder with a thump. After my father sells his cows, it will be disorienting to hear the farm so quiet.
I turn my light out, finally. I am afraid of the dark as a young boy, and as a not-so-young boy. I will be an adult before I lose a fear of what I do not see when I am trying to go to sleep. I will have other things to fear by then.