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Recent stories by
J C Howard


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         more...

The Grade!
By J C Howard   


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Memories, like photos, are captured forever, and are to be revisited with new appreciation, as did my father in "The Grade." ---Memoir from my father, E.D. Clausen

 

 

 But perhaps even more…

Dad Loved to write…
          His thoughts forever on the page…
Never to be forgotten…
          But bound tightly…
To eternity.

The trip to “The Grade” was adventure… indelibly recorded in the memory of a nine year old, preserved and enlarged in importance throughout his entire life.

Edwina lived alone on the old homestead, settled before the turn of the Century when Grandpa Peter Brandt emigrated from Denmark. The large two story house with veranda and filigree trimming, had long ago dimmed, its glow of eloquence dulled and peeling paint. The home—and the rundown barn, milk porch, chicken coop & sheds, were clustered on the front part of the three acre plot, and a gazebo was nestled in an orchard of fruit trees toward the west side of the house. It had been the showpiece of the area…enclosed with a gleaming white wood fence, and tall overhead gate fronting a curved driveway…it was elegant, elaborate, pruned and polished—built when money was not a concern—a proud exhibit of their prosperity, and as a reminder too, before the time of struggle, before they had become wealthy. When Peter Brandt had been around, the acreage was in pasture and crops, and had a token cadre of mild cows, horses, chickens and geese.
Edwina now had an old dog called Stubby, a few laying hens, and geese (that hissed and chased me…and, during one of our Sunday family visits, one bit my Mother on the leg. I can still see and hear the commotion when my Father caught that goose by the neck, spun it around with a circular throw and sailed it flapping and squawking over the roof of the chicken coop!)
 
Not being tended for many years, the land had returned to near pristine purity, and in my mind and heart was an immense stretching forever wonderland. After the market crash and following the depression—and the loss of their fortune—it was necessary for Edwina (now living alone) to close up the big house except the kitchen and her bedroom, and a small sewing\sitting room heated with a black pot-bellied stove. The upstairs bedrooms, formal living room, and dining room were all kept closed-suspended with their history and faded glory.
 
But, the gazebo was still spectacular. It had been crafted by an old world carpenter, and had retained its brilliance with repair true to the original spired roof cupola design, with a new set of stairs and railings, and fresh paint on the ornately tooled spokes and carved banister...a place for noisy family picnics, or in solitude to feel the serenity of summer days. For a boy of nine with an active “make believe” imagination these surroundings were an entire world –without boundaries.
 
During the summer, my Mother would leave me to spend entire days with Grandma Edwina. Edwina was about 70, but still very active/strong and fiercely independent. She had an earned reputation for being a strict disciplinarian—stubborn with her formidable tenets with skinny rigid posture, stern facial expressions…and often folded her arms across her chest (in proper and perfect alignment) to emphasize her deity. My Mother characterized her as “a difficult woman!”
 
But for me, her “Sunny-boy,” she had tolerance and fondness—which was her enunciation of revealing shrouded but genuine love for her grandson. It was many years after her death before I would begin to understand or appreciate the life of this proud DAR woman, and the experiences that chiseled her character.
 
It was past the gazebo—beyond the orchard before you got to “The Grade,” that I loved. Now, I know “grade” in adult terms only meant - up a hill…but then, in my imagination, it was a PLACE...a stage… a monument to exploration and adventure. The journey to “The Grade” meant ritual preparation that Edwina always made for her “Sunny-boy.” For such a small boy to make such a long trip, it was first necessary to “take some nourishment”…in my mind I had titled this rite as “Tea with Edwina.” Her manner was prim, very precise and purposeful to the observer, with proper custom and decorum…and somehow a revival of gracious times past when she was hostess at parties for the ladies of the DAR, or being pampered on one of her genteel travels in Europe. When Edwina served tea, she formally arranged the remnants of her chipped fine china with napkins folded next to cup and saucers. At the large old tin sink, she would pump well water into a blue granite kettle; boil it on her wood cooking stove and when ready poured it over loose tea leaves in the cups. And then she would pause, stand next to my chair peering down, and repeat the ceremony of choice…you could either have one teaspoon of coarse sugar or a drip or two of cream, but NEVER both—it was unnecessary extravagance to indulge with BOTH. It was always the same…I chose sugar, she took the cream, but the lesson in the offering was constant. Sometimes too, would be one hard tea biscuit…but only one.
 
She kept a wide brimmed cloth sun-bonnet on a nail next to the back porch door, that was part of my being prepared for the trek to the “The Grade.” She would tie the strings from the hat brim securely under my chin, hand me two pails, walk me out to the back of the barn and send me off alone to the “The Grade.”…My first stop was the vegetable garden that Edwina carefully hand plowed, raked and planted every year. I was instructed to pick four ripe tomatoes, two cups of green beans, some of the leaf lettuce, and gather eggs from the laying boxes in the chicken coop…her menu didn’t vary much. I learned to leave that pail of her dinner order to be picked up on the return trip, and continue on with the journey up to the “The Grade.” There were many attractions that detoured the journey…grasshoppers to catch, sometimes a rabbit, a field mouse or garter snake to chase, and a mirage of phantoms in the prairie grass to conquer. At the farthest corner of the acreage, on a hill at the top of the grade where the fences joined, Peter Brandt had planted blackberry vines. During the years after his leaving, the vines had grown and intertwined through the fence stretching out in both directions—and yielded bumper crops of sweet juicy blackberries. The berries were shared with birds, rabbits, and fox, but especially enjoyed by me. I would stand on that hill in the farthest corner of my world, smile at the sky and eat an inordinate amount of sun-warmed blackberries. My hands and face would be stained with purple juice until my Mother scrubbed me in the washtub that night. It was with a reluctance to leave this special place that I would slowly fill the pail with berries to take back to Edwina, feeling the summer day at the “The Grade’ slipping away….
         
….But escorted with the explicit etched memories of a nine year old—held precious for recall in full fidelity—you can transcend the years, go home again, and embrace the moment…in full splendor.

 

 



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Recent Short Stories by this author.     All Short Stories by this author
  • Freedom Is Never Free (Friday, February 03, 2012)
  • Love Everlasting (Wednesday, January 25, 2012)
  • From Father to Son (Thursday, December 01, 2011)
  • Babble (Thursday, December 01, 2011)
  • Father's favorite excerpts (Thursday, December 01, 2011)
  • It Had Been A Long Year (Thursday, November 17, 2011)
  • Love is for the Birds (Friday, September 30, 2011)
  • Haunting Eyes-Part Two (Friday, August 19, 2011)



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