In my memory it's always summer at my grandmother's house. I know I was there for winter and fall. I know that it rained outside. But if you ask me to describe that squat brown house, the only images my mind conjures are glazed with dewy sunlight or accompanied by the flickering of fireflies.
The house was small by most standards. As an adult, I'm shocked that a family of five stubborn people lived there without killing one another. However, if I cast my mind back into those memories, I am a child again. And the house was large enough to house Castle Greyskull, the collected homes of Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite and all of their friends. The long stripe of black asphalt that made up the driveway could easily become the Death Star trench.
I could go on at length of the delicious smells that came from the kitchen--with its avocado appliances and hideous carpet--or the textured red wallpaper in one bedroom. I could talk about the movies watched or stories told, about the people who lived there. But this particular memory gift is not about people. You don't have connections to my grandparents, for starters, so something would be lost in that translation. No, the memory I want to give you is more tied to the place and its magic. It's something I've been drawing on often when I need to reclaim some peace. A vision I conjure when I meditate, or when I'm trying to settle myself to sleep.
My grandmother's front yard was a vast swath of spongy green grass. The single tree sprawled its branches over a third of that space. This is where we would come in the twilight to watch lightning bugs come to life, or to catch singing crickets in repurposed peanut butter jars. When I think of the front yard, it brings to mind a spray of pink peonies vining their way up the railing by the cement steps, blocking a door that was never used; of rambunctious children running barefoot to the sound of big wheels charging up the nearby driveway. And in those memories, it is almost always a summer evening, when the air is sticky and sweet, and lavender clouds are painted on a pink and orange sky. Cicadas buzzing, and crickets chirping.
The sun never sets in my recollections of the back yard. Those thoughts are hazy with golden sunlight and a magic that comes from being a child. Where the driveway met the grass was a slab of gravel where my grandpa's beat up truck lay like a dormant beast. There were, at one time, grapevines there, winding around white lattice. More often, they were desiccated stems for weak raisins, but in the summer, the smell was a divine welcome to the sanctuary the back yard could provide.
The yard was a wide open space, with a small arm that curled around the side of the house to form a dark tunnel where none dared venture. The air conditioning unit roared from that little passage, and you didn't want to play back there lest you disturb grandpa in his cave. But, if you were brave enough to sneak through, you would find trinkets in the windows. Cologne bottles that looked like trains. Small figurines. Treasures you could never find once you were inside the house.
In the center of the back yard, with its well-kept grass, was a rusting barrel that even in the height of summer smelled of October. This is where the leaves were burnt every year. That smell had permeated the barrel itself, flaking away in June to compete with the smells of hamburgers or hot dogs on a grill.
Not too far from the barrel, if you got down and looked very carefully, you would find a small warren filled with fluff, grass clippings and baby rabbits. Don't touch them, though, or their mother might abandon them.
The perimeter of the back yard was lined with chain-link fencing. The entire western portion was walled in with honeysuckles. A wall of fragrant, blooming flowers and vibrant green leaves, all giving off a fresh, sugary smell. If you spun and twirled through the open yard, you would eventually come to a shady slope at the northernmost edge. Crabapple and pear trees led into dense woods beyond the fence. The ground here was black and soft with velvety green moss. My grandma would tell me the names of the family pets buried here. Dogs--Good and Bad--a cat or two. Even my dad's duck named after a Beatle.
It's always mid-afternoon in my memories of that back yard. The sun just dipping into the west, the shadows just a little longer. While the front of the house was for loud play and adventure, the back yard was more peaceful for me. This is where you would bring a blanket to just enjoy the breeze and a glass of something cold.
I miss that house.
My grandparents moved out of it in the '90s. It's been bought and sold at least once in that time, and now looks nothing like what I remember. The house is grey, now. Its front patio covered, and the driveway has gone to gravel.
But the yards are still lush and green.
And in my mind, they will always be magical.