The summer I met my grandparents for the first and last time.
As published in Pugwash Memories - An Anthology by Edith McFadden Croft - New Brunswick
The Leaf Green Cabin
I could hardly see my feet for the rain. I could feel them well enough being sucked down into the mud, mud thick like chocolate icing, again and again. Every-so-often, one of my feet would come up out of a mud hole without my Flip-flop and I would have to stop and pull and pull to free it. If I held it up to the rain and turned it, it would eventually wash clean. Then I'd balance on one leg while I slid it over my rain-cold bare foot.
We had walked a mile in the rain and mud and had another mile to go on this southern Manitoba back road.
After an hour of fighting to keep his old four door Chevy on the road, Dad had lost control and driven the car into the ditch. We had all piled out in our summer clothes. Me in shorts, a flowered top my mother had bought me for this visit and my Flip-Flops.
My brothers and sister, much older than I, ran ahead and I struggled to keep up with Mom and Dad.
I remember I was six and had never been to my uncle's farm. My dad's brother owned cows and used work horses to haul logs from the bush to cut for winter firewood. Uncle said he would show me a deer's antlers and let me ride Bonny-Lass, the prettiest work-horse.
Wet and muddy to our knees we arrived but instead of walking up to the big white house, we stopped at a small green cabin and washed the mud off our feet in a white basin a nice old lady handed each of us kids in turn. The cabin was painted a green that reminded me of leaves. But not the real kind, the candy kind. Those little green leaves that were covered in sugar and tasted like mint. White and green striped curtains covered the windows and yellow flowers bloomed by the porch door.
An old bed spring pressed into use for a hammock hung between two thick trees. A quilt was laying across it, soaked form the rain.
When my turn came to wash the mud from my feet, the old woman said to my dad that I should stay with them for the night. I didn't want to stay in the cabin with these two old people I didn't know. I was a bit scared when the rest of the family marched up to the big house, leaving me alone with the strangers. I wanted to shout "No, I want to go with you, Dad!" But the old people's faces smiled at me very kindly so I said nothing.
They brought me in and she made sandwiches and macaroni for supper in the small kitchen off the living room. I remember a pink stove.
The old man lit a fire in the hearth and spent most of the evening watching television from a red sofa in a room which walls were lined with books. The old woman knitted and I played on the rug with a model of a horse I had found on a side table.
When I got sleepy I curled up on the smaller sofa and wrapped myself up with a knitted blanket.
The old woman asked, "Don't you want to sleep in your own room? We made it up for you, see?"
A huge four-poster bed, one that seemed built for a giant or a monster, occupied almost half of one of the two bedrooms. I couldn't see through to the other bedroom because the door was open just a crack but I wondered if the old people slept in a monster's bed too.
I stared at the giant's bed, at the heavy covers and the white, cobweb like fabric hanging over it (that swayed back and forth like a witch's gray hair from the evening breeze seeping through a tiny open window), and felt I might disappear; vanish in the night if I slept there. A giant's bed whose owner would come and steal me in the dark. The bed itself might eat me alive as I slept.
"No." I answered. "I want to sleep here." I sank into the comforting cushions of the sofa, curling up beneath the warm knitted blanket so they would know I meant it.
The two nice old folks stopped trying to convince me, said goodnight and disappeared into their own bedroom, closing the door behind them. I never saw those old people again.
When I was nine years old we returned to the farm. The car, a newer model Chevy with tail fins, kept to the dry road and we slowly bounced around on the pot-holed driveway. Dad parked by a leaf green cabin.
A memory itched in my mind as I looked at the run-down shack. The paint was peeling off in strips and all the windowpanes were broken. Weeds surrounded it and leaves and moss had accumulated on the tarpaper shingles.
The bedspring hammock was still there between the tree trunks; it's quilt ragged and dirty.
Dad and uncle led the way inside. "Be careful." Dad warned me. "It's old. Don't fall in the hole."
I froze in step at the sight. In the center of the floor of what once must have been a living room was a gaping hole five feet wide. The floor's wood was splintered and jutted out everywhere. It was like staring into a terrible maw with its broken jagged teeth. Like a giant had taken a bite out of it.
In the kitchen a tiny pink stove lay on its side, its oven door hanging from one hinge like a torn lip, it's interior back and oily. Straw lay in the corners, along the wall edges and anywhere the wind had chosen to drive it. Animal droppings littered the floor and an old sofa with stuffing oozing out sat against the far living room wall. The fabric was stained and its color faded.
The cabin stunk of animal pee and mold.
Dad and Uncle flipped through some of the dusty books that still lay on the shelves over a cold, empty fireplace.
From my frozen spot, I stared into the bedroom. The one that had held the giant's bed. But the room was empty. Nothing lived there now.
I remember thinking that, somehow, between the time I had sat in the kitchen eating sandwiches and slept on the sofa beneath the knitted blanket, the cabin and everything in it had died.
And the old people who had disappeared through their bedroom door, had died with it.
I stared at that door. It was still closed. And behind that door...?
You could not have gotten me to open that door for anything in the world. Not for a million dollars.
"Dad," I asked. "Who lived here?"
Dad turned from his discussion of a book on diabetes and looked at me oddly. "My mother and father. Your grandparents."
He said it in such a way, that I ought to know.
The old people who had lived and spoken to me for an evening? And had disappeared behind the door? And when the cabin had died?
I never did open that door.
The last time I visited my Uncle's farm was seven years later. The first place I wanted to visit was the leaf green cabin. I walked through the tall weeds on the path that would take me to it.
The time was summer and the day warm, bright and living.
But the cabin was gone. Indian Paint Brush and wild wheat grew in the spot now. All that remained was a depression in the soil.
That and the rusty bed spring hammock. Even the tattered quilt was still there.
I often go back to the farm in my mind and remember the old folks and the leaf green cabin that lived for a while and died. I smell the wheat and feel the farm air and I am moved by the passage of time.
We look with our eyes and things disappear from view in a breath or two.
We look with our hearts and time stops.
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