“Finally they each felt at the same moment the great smoothing out of it all as the dogs increased their speed and the jerks and skids evened out into trembles and a smooth swinging as the ecstatic dogs made their way over the icy crust faster and faster until it seemed to the children lying there with their eyes staring straight up that they had left the land entirely and were rising to meet the snow and the vague pale colors that pulsed dimly everywhere in the sky.”
~ Linda Collins, “Meditation on Play, Thoughts on Death” from the collection Going to See the Leaves
The cousins moved in packs, sorted by age, the oldest three keeping our distance from the next oldest four who trailed us down the sidewalk to Mike’s for penny candy. Behind them were the little ones, a cluster of the next age group down. Those of us in the older pack were supposed to be watching those in the younger packs, but you know how well that works out when the age difference is so slight and yet so great. Barely a week in summer every few years when the San Francisco cousins would visit the Terre Haute cousins. But those memories are so strong and enduring: the heat and humidity, rain in summer—in summer!—and we didn’t have to go indoors when it rained—we splashed in it, sat on the front porch watching it, slept to it. We envied our cousins who lived in this wonderland of sensations, the smells and the crush of color, the flowers and shrubs and tangled vines over rotting wooden things like chicken coops, which no one had in San Francisco. They had railroad tracks we could walk over, dirt roads and back alleys, sheds and coops and back porches with deep sinks where we were told to wash up before we came into the house. One cousin even had a pump in the yard where we go the best tasting water! We ate fried chicken and mashed potatoes off of paper plates and drank iced tea out of tin cups. We sat on the back steps to eat watermelon, spitting the seeds into the yard. We dressed up to go downtown and see the sights of Terre Haute. We all came together at Deming Park with macaroni salad and Aunt Pearlina’s homemade noodles, desserts made of whipped Jello and whipping cream and bits of pineapple. Once we even waded in Honey Creek, the mud squishing between our toes, dragonflies darting.
There was so much life in those summers, in the actual time we spent and in the memories that remain. That life was made up of family we loved and the rich sensations of childhood. Many of those people are gone now, some much too soon, others in the natural process of aging that leads to death. Those of us who remain love to share our common memories, our individual memories. We didn’t do anything special during those summer visits: no Disneyland, no ferris wheels, no movie theaters or water slide parks. The “special” was just being together, playing and talking and listening to the grownups talk. No cell phones, iPods, video games, GameBoys. Just cousins and aunts and uncles and the freedom to be.