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Book I: Thumper
Chapter Two: The Farm In Spring, Part Three
Reprinted from the South Shore Puzzle Journal,
No. 55, October 2010
It's Sunday morning. Uncle Georges is taking Beau and Marlene to Cousin Reggie's house for the weekend, leaving me alone with Aunt Claire, Gram, Great Aunt Minnie and the dogs until my father comes to take me home.|
I've been playing with my hand puppets up in the attic all morning. The big cardboard box that the new meat freezer came in makes a great stage for an imaginary audience. The puppets' soft plastic heads smell good. I've half chewed off the black tip of Mickey Mouse's nose and Donald Duck's blue hat. Pecos Pete's cloth body came unglued but I keep it in his head so it doesn't get lost.
The show's over. I'm bored. Besides, I thought I heard something in the long attic's far end, dark with old furniture, trunks and clothing racks full of old dresses and suits. Pete's body safe inside his head, I run down the long staircase.
"There's nothing to do," I complain.
Aunt Claire doesn't look up from the wooden ironing board set up in the middle of her big country kitchen. "Why don't you take the dogs and go out for a walk in the woods?" she says.
Grabbing a walking stick from the back shed, I call the dogs and head past the hot house and the woodshed up the old cart road, a gentle Spring breeze at my back. Gnome races eagerly ahead, Butch stays at my heel. My father taught me the names of all the flowers dancing in the meadow - delicate pink mayflowers, lavender hepatica and tiny, trembling bluets. By the old stone wall at the forest's edge bloom yellow coltsfoot and deep blue violets.
A big, fat woodchuck lumbers across the cart road at the southwest corner of the meadow and disappears into a tangle of old uprooted stumps and vines behind the stone wall. We turn left into the rolling pine grove, past the good, strong pine bough lean-to Paulette helped us build last summer. Maybe it was that woodchuck that kept scuffling and snuffling around outside that lean-to. Beau, Marlene and I were really scared the first time we slept in it but after that we didn't care.
At the old spring, I scoop the pine needles off the surface of the water left in a dented-up bucket and prime the old pump. After refilling the bucket, I take a drink of cold, pure water from the tin cup tied to the handle. This is the first time I've ever done it all by myself. Butch laps from the stream, waiting to see which way we'll go. Gnome has gone exploring. We hear her thrashing happily through the underbrush, never far away. The dappled sunlight is warm on my back. The woods are happy today.
I decide to follow the stream downhill. I've never come this way before but I know that sooner or later it ends up going under the road into the pumping station reservoir, which then feeds the State Forest Trout Brook.
The stream winds on, now flowing gently through the pine grove, now running more quickly under sassafras, maple and canoe birch trees. Suddenly it drops over a foot-high rock ledge into a magical little hollow, hidden from the world by ferns and rocks. I stop and stare down at the tiny glade, lined with thick mosses, bright green in the sunlight beaming straight down through an opening in the treetops.
Butch and I scramble-slide down and sit on the soft, warm moss. He snorts and rests his chops on my knee. I can hear children laughing inside the tinkling waterfall. A nearby mockingbird is singing a song whose melody always changes.
I take a deep breath. A heavenly scent so strong I can taste it blooms brightly in my head. It's coming from a small cluster of purple grape hyacinths clinging to the stream's edge, inches from the waterfall. I carefully pick one tender stalk and cup it in my hands. Pressing it to my face, I breathe in its sweet promise - that a god who can create such sunlight and beautiful flowers and trees and dogs and mockingbirds would never let good people burn in Hell forever.
This place will always be my little Shangri-La, my secret hideaway where I can be alone in peace - my church, because my God is here, as He is at the Cathedral of the Pines and everywhere else, all at once, right now, even in my mother's sweet-smelling room.
"God loves us all, Butch," I whisper, scratching behind his ears with both hands. We lie down together in a cradle of warm moss, listening to the laughing water and our mockingbird lullaby until we drift off into dreams of elves and woodchucks.
I think I hear my father calling from far away. Gnome is licking my face. The sun has moved on. Jumping up, I say farewell to my beloved Shangri-La, knowing I'll be back some day. Walking stick in one hand and flowers in the other, I follow the dogs back up to the spring, through the pine grove and down to the big brown farmhouse.
On the way back to Worcester I curl up in the back seat, fading hyacinths still clutched safely in a pillow of fists. I fall asleep silently repeating my hopeful prayer - "Thank you, God, for loving us all. Thank you, God, for loving us all."
Copyright by Stephen Benjamin Martin
All Rights Reserved
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