Early morning air whistles past the plant on the dresser, kicks at a scarf hanging on my bed post, then finds the place in my mind holding childhood trinkets. I surprise myself, reacting in song. I sing an old folk song handled and dusted by time, passed down generation to generation. An oil cloth recalls the brass plate, treasured like a trophy discovered in the attic, reveals the words “Oh My Darling Clementine.”
Wearing boxes without topses
Wind and song send me away. I’m sitting in the back of my dad’s big green truck, singing with family; brother, cousins, Aunt Jo and mom. Camping gear stacked strategically around us and beneath. Weather report checked in the morning Seattle Times, large blue tarps folded in squares under the red cooler. The cooler is full of four days worth of food including butter, milk, cheddar, baloney, and beer, of course, beer.
I-5 smog blows through the broken floorboard near the tailgate, the only bare spot on the floor; it’s a leak to the outside world. It looks like a tiger bite or a claw ripped at the wood. I want to stuff a kitchen towel in it to seal the room. Our only source of light comes from the long rectangular canopy windows. Classic layout, men in the cab, women, and children in the covered bed with the other commodities. We sing to pass the time, the men listen to the radio.
It’s 1977, summer vacation, and mom has cut off our worn school jeans to mid-thigh. All our church clothes left quietly resting in the dressers at home. Anything ripped or stained is allowed to go to the beach
At the half-way point, we stop to refuel.
I do not know how I must have looked to the clerk at the gas station as I walked up to the counter with a handful of wrinkled dollars. Did I resemble a poor latch-key kid abandoned by working parents or perhaps a tourist who lost their luggage, forced to purchase a salvation army wardrobe? The back of my long black hair teased out from a short nap. Maybe she saw many kids buying Bubblicious and a blue slurpee that warm week in June. She saw so many a day that she didn’t really see me, I blended in with the neighborhood kids, whatever that neighborhood was called, wherever we were.
The night air brings it back to me. I don’t know how. Does memory ride the current like evergreen pollen, stains the skin with a fine yellow dusting? Like that afternoon the San Juan woods seduced me to take the wrong turn, bending me towards a grove of pine in heat?
I travel a bit…
At the end of my childhood block is a field of sweet grass. Pull a large stalk, slowly, straight up, out of its hinge and you have a treat, chew the white sweet end for its nectar. One bite is all you get per blade. Take the flat half, place between your thumbs and blow. We sat all afternoon chewing on sweet grass and whistling. Why should I remember that? That quiet moment found in a field, in South King County.
A few trees still stand there, ask them, they might know.
Remember. Forget. Remember again.
More wind. I am 10, I hear it all again. That vacation one summer…
The forest behind me, the constant waves crashing just over the dunes, the violent sound of a bag of ice thrown to the ground to break it up, the repeated clink of a male metal pump tapping rapidly along the female rim of a full tank.
“Kids, time to go!” An adult performs the last chore, drains the melted water pressed behind a flimsy white stopper at the cooler’s base. A solid stream of water hits the dusty oil ground with a poof! Water skates to the lowest point, rainbows wiggle along the ground. It’s pretty. A fresh bag of broken ice opened, poured over the perishables.
The cooler, our snacks, ourselves tucked back into Big Green for the last leg of the trip.