No Small Hole
It was the last day of August, but the heat made it seem like mid-Summer. We sat in the shade of an old maple tree in the side yard of the house my father and his 3 brothers had grown up in. There was me, my father, and my two uncles, Don and Herb. The other uncle, Bruce, the oldest of the 4 boys, had died about a year before. We sat in a circle of green plastic lawn chairs, facing each other. I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my future self. The three brothers were sharing stories of the old days, when they were boys in this yard.
“There were two apple trees right here, one on either side of where this maple is now.”
“Used to be a hammock strung between the two apple trees.”
“Remember the wild blueberries over there by the fence?”
“Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries………there were berries all over the place down there.”
This was in the 30s and 40s that they’re remembering. “War time” my father says. I say, “It’s always war time, when is there ever not a war going on somewhere?”
“Yeah, but this was a big war. WWII (he says it like Archie Bunker used to say it, “double u double u two”), everything was different.”
“They stopped making cars for a few years there…everything went to war production.”
And I know they’re right, everything was different then. I stay quiet from here on.
My Dad: “remember when the old Henderson place burned down?”
Herb: “yeah, that was a hot one. Lots of smoke”
“Old man Henderson was burning some brush or some leaves or something….right next to the house. Next thing he knows the whole place is in flames.”
“The fire spread quick, too. Through the woods down there. They were worried about old Ed Landry’s place. Ed said he lost a few shingles to the embers flying down there.”
“Dad loaded a bunch of us kids from the neighborhood into the back of the old dump truck and took us down there to see what was going on. What a lot of smoke. I remember it was a hot day to begin with, and the fire just made it seem even hotter.”
“Old Man Henderson claimed he had gotten permission from the fire department to burn brush there, but there was talk afterwards that he didn’t have a permit.”
There’d be these periods of silence between stories, just quiet, listening to the birds and to the traffic passing by on the main street behind us.
“Do you remember that story Dad used to tell about one of Grampa’s cows getting sick, or choking on an apple or something? Grampa was working over in Mansfield, and Gramma was home alone. When the cow got into trouble she hitched the old horse up to the wagon and rode over to where Grampa was, full speed. She tells him the cow is in trouble and he says, ‘well that’s no reason to kill the horse’. The poor horse was about worn out from the run down there. That was a story that got told a lot of times.”
“Grampa used that horse and an old scoop, not more than 3 feet across, to dig the foundation hole for this house. He used the stones they dug out of there to build that fence below the south chicken house. Of course there were no chicken houses then. What a job that must have been, though, digging that foundation hole.”
“It’s no small hole, that’s for sure.”
“That scoop wasn’t more than 3 feet across, I don’t think. It’s still in the barn over there at the old house. That and an old circle harrow. If you ever need one, it’s over there.”
He looks at me with a smile in his eyes, Uncle Herb does, when he says this.
“I can’t recall the last time I had a need for a circle harrow, but that’s good to know”, I reply, trying to match the glimmer in his eyes.
This feels good, being out here. I feel like I’m part of something. It’s been awhile since I felt that.