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*****
False Memories
Book I: Thumper
by
Stephen Martin

Chapter Two: The Farm In Spring, Part One



Reprinted from the South Shore Puzzle Journal,
No. 53, August 2010
     "It won't always be like this," my father says, steering the Rambler up Chandler Street and through Tatnuck Square. I can still smell the sweet perfume of my mother's see-you-next-Saturday-have-a-happy-Easter hug. "She's just not strong enough right now to take care of you for the whole Easter vacation,: he says, keeping his eyes on the road. He's glad I'm going. I can tell.

     "But don't worry, Claire and Georges and I will take care of you," says Gram in the front seat, a hint of gingerbread danger in her voice.

     "What are you going to do," I ask, "spank me or pop me in the oven?"

     Gram laughs with her mouth closed. It sounds like, "Hmf, Hmf, Hmf." She says, "See now, you're just like your father. You spend too much time alone or in the company of adults. You're only six and you act like a little grownup. You need to be playing with kids your own age, like Beau and Marlene."

     We're on our way to Aunt Claire and Uncle Georges' 40-acre farm and forest in Orange. Gram's going to stay there for a few weeks to help Aunt Claire take care of old Great Aunt Minnie. My father will go back to Worcester and pick me up next Saturday afternoon. I do like my cousins Beau and Marlene and I know I'll have fun with them. It's just that I worry about my mother. I hope she gets lots of good rest so she'll be stronger next week.

     Beyond Airport Hill on Route 122, we stop at the Paxton Navy Yard and gobble down delicious cheeseburgers in a little boat-shaped restaurant named the Brick Steamer. They make the best coffee frappes in the world. I take mine out to the petting zoo in the back yard. My father gives me a nickel to buy a Coke from the red cooler beside Bruno's cage. I open it and slip it through a slot in the bars as far as it will go. The big old brown bear takes the blue-green bottle between raggedy paws and drinks it in five seconds, snaking in his long tongue for the last few drops. Then he goes back to what he was doing, rocking back and forth, shifting his weight from his left feet to his right feet.

     Back on the road, as he does every Spring, my father identifies all the flowers we pass - yellow forsythias, daffodils and jonquils, purple crocuses and pink-white magnolia blossoms. He always calls them tulip trees but I don't correct him any more. This is the first time we've gone to Orange without Mom. It makes her happy just to ride around and look at the Spring flowers.

     Going north through Barre and Petersham, past perfectly spaced rows of tall straight pines, standing like soldiers at attention, I fall asleep on the mohair upholstery and wake up to the crunch of tires on gravel and the excited barking of the dogs. I wobble out of the car with a mohair rash on my cheek and the sweet tang of new-mown grass tingling in my nose and throat.

     Gnome and Butch circle me on the front lawn, frantically licking my hands. Gnome's bark is sharp and bright - Butch's is a low cough.

     Gnome (pronounced "Ganome") is a frisky, shiny black Labrador who seems always to be smiling. Her real name is Lady Gnome (pronounced "Nome") of Elmwood Kennels. She has a large bump of knowledge on the back of her skull, which means she's very smart. She jumps up on me and we tumble to the thick, soft grass where she lets me - begs me - to scratch her all over.

     A mutt, Gentle Butch is older than Gnome - he sits down beside us and holds out his right paw, softly whining until I reach out to shake it. I kneel to give him a big hug. He likes me because I like him, and I like him because he likes me. He rests his chops in my lap, looking lovingly up into my eyes while I scratch his thick, brown mane.

     "Hey Thumper," calls Aunt Claire from the big brown farmhouse. "You're going to miss lunch if you don't hurry up!" Gnome and I race to the kitchen, Butch following behind.

     My father and Gram join Uncle Georges on the porch. I sit at the kitchen table with my cousins Beau, Marlene, Paulette and Georgie. Beau and Marlene are about my age, Paulette is a few years older and Georgie's a teenager in high school. Aunt Claire is serving up baloney-and-cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise, mugs of tomato soup with Saltines and tall glasses of milk. After lunch Beau, Marlene and I go out to play in the woods until Aunt Claire calls us for supper. We have to go to bed early tonight so we can get up in time to go to the sunrise service in the morning.
***
     It's two-thirty on Easter Sunday morning. Beau and I are outraged at being awakened in the middle of the night, as much as we were at having to go to bed before it was dark. But we have to get up, feed the stinky chickens and gather their sticky, matted eggs. After washing up and eating a great big breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes, we all pile into Uncle Georges' green Buick and take the long ride to the Cathedral of the Pines for sunrise service. Beau, Marlene and I fall asleep in the back seat, me in the middle, their heads on my shoulders.

     The soft hiss of wind sifting through ancient pines and the sharp cries of invisible jays are the only sounds as we pass through the misty predawn forest. The fragrant Cathedral's floor is so fat with fallen needles that our feet spring back from each step. The needles provide a comfortable cushion when we reach our mountainside vantage point, a gentle slope not far from a stone pulpit jutting out over the void, silhouetted black against the glowing horizon. Other families gather as the mist lifts and the trees turn from gray to green.

     The cloud-streaked sky blooms slowly, breathlessly, finally erupting in a grand, gleaming display of purple and yellow, pink and silver, and robin's egg blue. A hawk glides by. Screaming once, it arcs into he valley far below. I realize I've been holding my breath for a long time. A robed priest is standing by the cross of stone. He reaises his arms and, like the angel outside the holy sepulcher, proclaims, "He is risen!"

     Prickling with goose bumps, I turn to look at Beau.

     "Jeez," he whispers, wide-eyed.
***
Copyright by Stephen Benjamin Martin
All Rights Reserved
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