Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHILDHOOD (03/09/17)
TITLE: When I Was Young
By Ann Grover
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I am always young in my dreams. Lithe and straight. Not yet twisted and bent by hard work and trials, which makes me sound more like a tree than a person, but that’s the truth of it. Smooth-cheeked, limber-limbed. My hair all blowsy. Ah, my hair and my mother. For goodness sake, Eileen, run a brush through your hair, she’d say, and finally, one Saturday night, she took the shears to me. Lopped it all off.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Dreams.
It’s peculiar, but my feelings are just as much part of the scenes that play out in my sleep. The thrill of outrunning a storm, heart pounding. Finding a new litter of kittens in the barn. The delight of discovering an orange in the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning and wanting to save the fruit as long as I can, to hold it in my hands long after Marjorie and Ben have devoured theirs.
One Christmas, we each got a pair of mittens. When I lost one, I grieved as though that blue mitten were a child. I was devastated, not only because of the paddling I got for carelessness, but because my mother had made them, and with the reverence of the young for a parent, I’d considered it almost sacred. An emblem of her love and effort.
Seventy years later, I dream of my lost mitten and search in vain for it. I waken stricken afresh. A mitten, for crying out loud.
I dream of Ben being lost. And of Mr. Barnett, the schoolteacher, asking me to spell “Arithmetic,” and in my dream, my words jumble nonsensically. I relive the fear that Albert will bowl me over when we play Red Rover, and I’ll skin my knees and hands. He was a bully, that one. I dream of Albert often, with his teasing brown eyes and curly hair.
Back to the dreams of happy times!
The northern lights streaming like magical ribbons around us, we ride to the schoolhouse in the sleigh, all tucked together beneath the horsehide robe, going to a Saturday night dance. Nimble again, I two-step and waltz with Mother and Father and my bosom friends, Lerena and Jean. Albert is always there, too, tripping me and laughing at my stumbling. One by one, we fall asleep, wrapped up in coats on the benches pushed to the walls. Our elders dance on, with Mr. Arnold playing the fiddle and Mr. Barnett, the accordion. Their music echoes yet.
Sometimes I dream while still awake. Can you imagine? Falling into a curious reverie brought on by scents. Apples, good chicken soup -- yes, good, because the tinned stuff is not -- or woodsmoke, though there’s not much cause for that anymore. I am conveyed back to the schoolhouse, where, thanks to my ability to cook, I was conscripted into making lunch for us all on the wood stove in the cloakroom. Every child that could do so, brought something: a potato, a hambone, a carrot, a handful of barley, a sausage. Albert with his onion, every time. The pot would be emptied, probably owing more to our recesses spent sledding in the ravine behind the school than my eleven-year-old culinary skills. So Mother said when I’d boast about how the children loved my soups and stews and always licked the pot. And her gentle reproof remains with me: Self-praise is no praise at all, Eileen.
How shortsighted I was, as children are, seldom thinking beyond my upcoming birthday or Saturday’s dance or Next Christmas. I believed my life would continue as it was, skipping through a perpetual juvenescence of idyllic days. Galloping through the grass like wild mustangs, burrowing out forts in wind-packed snow, and pushing old tires with a stick.
They are gone now: Mother, Father, Marjorie, Ben, Lerena, Jean, Albert. (Ah, yes, I married that fool boy.) Inscribed stones mark the places where they sleep, where we once laughed and played, seizing the wind and the sunshine and the rain as our birthright, our lifeblood.
I dream and I am not alone, for they are with me and we are young. And for a time, my hair tumbles into my eyes, dandelion fluff tickles my cheek, and my Christmas orange is forever sweet.
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