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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Grandparent(s) (04/03/08)

TITLE: Up the Wynooch' with the Johnsons


Summer stirs a longing within my heart, Gram. I don’t even have to close my eyes to see again the colorful blur of the roadside rushing by as you take me to your home. Knowing you were as happy to have me come for a visit as I was to see you, makes the memories so precious to me now. That bond of love has never faded.

My emotions peak when I visualize rolling pastures and farmhouses between stands of forest and glade. I remember each scene with a vivid rush of nostalgia. Though I was but a child, every fiber within my being seemed to embrace all that I saw.

With wide-eyed wonder, my mind would capture the trip in bold Technicolor and store it away to relive through each long, lonely year until we could be together once again. Memories piled on top of memories; yet there was room still for more.

I caught my breath each time we made the descent from the mountain pass into the lush green painting of rural existence. Purple fireweed, white daisies and yellow mustard lined the highway. Wild grapevines clambered over fence posts, while morning glories meandered across the rails. The excitement of going to the Wynooch’ for the summer never grew old.

When I’d see the mist hanging in the lowlands, I knew the sign for Wynoochee Valley was just ahead. With barely enough room for two lanes, the gravel road wound its way up through an evergreen forest. Shimmering rays of sunlight would slide down between gaps in the trees and light up the edge of the roadside like welcoming torches.

Along the way, I would count the sparse mailboxes while anticipating my favorite landmark...a craggy old tree, standing stark white against an emerald canopy. One more curve, and the entrance to the ranch would burst into view. A sign with “Johnson” carved on it hung by rusty chains from the middle of two tall poles. Once we were through the gate, and it was secure again, we’d head down the lane into the secluded valley.

I arrived each summer like a colt let out to pasture for the first time, never able to determine where I wanted to go exploring first. I found security in the white two-story farmhouse, adventure in the red barn and stables, and new treasures to tote home from the Wynoochee River that wound through the meadows. While I’d try to decide, you would come around the side of the car with your black wavy hair and sparkling smile and wrap your arms around me.

I would wait while you walked up from the barn, Grandpa, the rich earthy smell of silage and cow breath fresh on your overalls. You’d swing me around and give me a “smoogie.” Then you’d say to Gram, “Let’s eat, Johnnie; I’m hungry.”

And Gram would tease, “Oh, Johnson, you’re always hungry!”

The x’s and o’s from your cards were the only hugs and kisses I got at home, so during the next three months, I’d soak up the love you had for each other and for me. Bathed in the light of your happiness, my dark, troubled world would fade into nonexistence.

I always felt at home in the warm oak interior of the farmhouse. Two bear rugs, with heads and claws intact, stretched out before a stone fireplace. Open stairs led up to my bedroom under the watchful eyes of deer and elk heads mounted along the wall. A large picture window gave us a perfect view of the live versions of those graceful creatures. While watching them feed in the meadows at twilight, we’d eat homemade ice cream, topped with the wild blackberries we had picked earlier.

You filled my days with horseback riding through the pastures, fly-fishing along the river, and keeping me close beside you when you went hunting. During my Camelot-infused summers, you encouraged me to keep my dreams alive until the next year, but one dry season, a forest fire swept down through the Wynoochee Valley and torched every one of those dreams. The only thing left of the ranch was the sad reality of burned timber and ashes.

Nothing could have prepared me for the loss I felt then, nor for the loss I feel now that you are gone. You never returned to the Wynooch’ after that, but my heart takes me there every time I think of you. I miss it and both of you...so very much.

Based on true memories.

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This article has been read 713 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Betsy Markman04/10/08
Oh thank you for this! The vivid imagery took me right there with you. I remember the farm that I used to love to visit, though I almost never got to stay for more than a day, a few times per year. It was my refuge from my own life's unhappiness, and I remember my heart rising higher and higher with each familiar landmark on the way there. You captured it all so beautifully, with such winsomeness and nostalgia and a touch of sadness. This one is a winner in my book!
Joanne Sher 04/11/08
So vivid - you took me there with you. I could see it all so clearly. Wonderfully done.
Chely Roach04/12/08
Gorgeous and rich with detail...wonderful. I loved that it was written TO them, not just about them. Truly lovely.
Peter Stone04/13/08
Beautiful trip down memory lane. I was especially moved at how the grandparents and their home proved a retreat in sharp contrast to normal home life. Reminds me of God, our Refuse in times of strife.
Lyn Churchyard04/13/08
This was wonderful. I felt such loss when the ranch had been destroyed by fire. But fire can't erase the memories you have. Thanks Mid, for sharing this with your FW family.
LauraLee Shaw04/13/08
You are such a brilliant writer. You have a way of taking the most ordinary line and making it extraordinary--all without it seeming overdone. Just masterful. I loved this story, can you tell? One of my favs this week.
Dee Yoder 04/13/08
We sometimes think our few visits with our grandparents couldn't possibly mean so much, but later, we learn how much those images are burned into our hearts. Lovely childhood memories in this article and the knowledge that these idyllic summers were a contrast to "home" life, made the memories all the more bittersweet. Very touching.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/13/08
Excellent descriptions. I particularly liked this line, "Bathed in the light of your happiness, my dark, troubled world would fade into nonexistence." What special memories to hold onto.
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/14/08
As always, you've presented a masterful, descriptive piece that takes the reader on a journey with you, both physically and emotionally. The paragraph with the descent was my favorite. You rock!
Emily Gibson04/14/08
This is lovely from start to finish with vivid descriptions and images. thank you for sharing.
Jan Ackerson 04/14/08
Great title, Mid, and I'm glad you took a break from your novel to introduce us to your grandparents.

I got a little bit impatient to meet them, after the first few paragraphs of description...maybe you could develop their characters more if you scaled those down a bit?

Your writing is always so peaceful and lovely. Thanks for sharing your gift.
Mariane Holbrook 04/14/08
This was masterfully done. It could have been my grandfather's place in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania that you were describing. It had an underlying cry for yesteryears when things were idyllic and love was poured out without reservation on you. What beautiful people and how well you developed their characters so that it all came together into a lovely, magnificent piece of writing.
Loren T. Lowery04/16/08
Such precious memories, wonderfully told and remembered. The nostalgia was tangible to me, as it seems we share and hold dear much the same experiences,
Betty Castleberry04/16/08
Beautifully written with clear, crips images. I wanted to be there with you. Expertly done.
Joanney Uthe04/16/08
Such beautifully written descriptions. Your love for the ranch and its owners is soooooo evident.
Tim Pickl04/16/08
Wow -- such exquisite writing, makes me hunger for more.
May Flowers04/16/08
What a tribute to your granparents. Your last paragraph, I am sure, brings much empathy from so many who have lost their grandparents. So eloquently written. Thank you for sharing such treasured memories.
Mandy White04/16/08
Beautiful, Mid. Yes, I can see how we both love vivid memories. A warm, peaceful read.