WHEN MY CHILDREN LOOK BACK on the summer of 2012, I wonder what they will remember most.
Kids today have a lot of things to help fill their leisure days—iPads, Nintendo DSis, cable television—but I worry they are missing out on the experiences that I enjoyed as a child. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was fortunate to spend parts of my summers with grandparents, and I still cherish the memories.
Unity community, upper Lancaster County, with my paternal grandparents:
1. Falling asleep to a chorus of frogs on the branch below the house. They seem to harmonize with the crickets and cicadas. No hermetic seal to the house. Nothing but the window screen between me and the big outdoors.
2. Waking up to my grandmamma humming Bible Songs. Her favorite, number 144, was “My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound.” The thump of a rolling pin, the sizzle of country ham, the clump, clump, clump of grits boiling and the mellow rhythm of a stove-top coffeepot.
3. The scorch of the sun on my back as I did “gofer” duty for my granddaddy when he helped a neighbor fix his house, barn or shed. Tools pulled from a wooden toolbox well-worn to a sheen. Watching him measure twice and cut once. Around 10:30 a.m., I could already taste what grandmamma had tucked in my lunch bucket—ham biscuits, leftover pork chops, sweet potato pie. Old-fashioned 6.5-ounce contoured bottles of Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Cheerwine and RC Cola, waiting in the ice chest.
4. Bream fishing with a cane pole and a cricket. Fish cleaned, cooked and eaten within an hour of being caught.
5. Picking blackberries—beware of chiggers, gnats and snakes. I pick three berries and eat one. Why does my pail get full so slow?
6. The cool of the smokehouse. Salted hams hanging from the rafters. A rainbow of canned goods on the shelves. Crock jars of kraut curing. Gravelled new potatoes.
7. Cows. Hereford. Baleful eyes that seem to look right through me. Withers quivering as the horseflies bite. Tails swishing, they follow me in the falling evening light toward the barn.
8. A mule named Pearl.
Bethel community, upper York County, with my maternal grandparents:
1. Sorting tomatoes on the back porch. Carefully laying them onto old editions of the Rock Hill Enquirer and Clover Herald. Watching my granddaddy read his favorite literary works: The Market Bulletin, Living in South Carolina and The Bible. Khaki shirt, khaki pants, both stained by the sweat of a morning’s work. He was a level-headed man—tobacco juice ran down the corners of both sides of his mouth.
2. Pulling a watermelon from under the house. Splitting it with a butcher knife on a picnic table under a shade oak. A shake of salt. Face smeared with juice and seeds, washing off under the hose.
3. Visitors stopping by in the early evening to sit in the yard swing and catch the latest news of trouble in Washington, “relatives feeling poorly” and who got a rain shower last night.
4. Lightning bugs come out. I grab a washed Duke’s mayonnaise jar and go on the attack.
5. Grandmother’s kitchen. Sticky buns. Fresh buttermilk. Baked sweet potatoes. Cold fried chicken. Country-fried potatoes.
6. Saturday nights, as with all nights, hearing my granddaddy go to his knees and pray out loud. My name seemed to be mentioned, but I couldn’t hear what he asked for.
7. Sunday mornings. The croaker sacks come off the Ford sedan when it is pulled into the yard and no longer needs protection from roosting chickens or curious cats.
8. Cows. Hereford. Baleful eyes that seem to look right through me. Withers quivering as horseflies bite. Tails swishing, they follow me in the falling light toward the barn.
9. A mule named Maude.
The summer of 2012 is slipping away, and I’m grateful that my kids have already been up to the farm and had the chance to forge a few memories of their own with their grandparents. With luck, maybe next time they’ll put down the iPads long enough to pick up an old mayonnaise jar and chase a few fireflies.