Time will steal pieces of you along the way.
That sentence came to me two weeks ago as I rode along on the bush hog of my grandfather’s tractor. He glanced back at me, I’m sure to check to make sure the decoys were alright. His glance went to me momentarily and then back out to the path ahead of us. I wonder if in that glance he thought about the things I did.
As a child, I loved riding on the tractor with my grandfather. Most of the time I sat on the fender beside him. Sometimes I rode in the bucket on the front. On the rare occasion of snow, he pulled a sled behind. I fell off one time, but I got right back on like nothing ever happened. Travel around his property was often accomplished on that tractor.
I remember a lot of walking as well. I followed him around, helping in garden with the tomatoes, cucumbers and corn. I picked apples, figs and mulberries. I worked tirelessly gathering pecans. I never complained and I just did what I was told, because I enjoyed completing those tasks.
There were woods we explored. “Man can be greedy, Melanie.”
I looked up and nodded, with all the understanding I could have at that age. I can’t pinpoint the year but I know I was little.
“He’ll cut down trees and not think of the consequences.”
I’m not sure what brought on the conversation, but he covered the purposes that trees served. Fruit trees and nut trees provided food. Trees provided homes for wildlife. Trees provided shade. They drank up the extra water from a storm. “Sometimes you need to cut down trees, but you have to respect them, too.”
“Granddaddy! It’s a mockingbird in that tree!”
It’s true, since the beginning of time I have always been able to link a conversation to the subject of birds.
He taught me all about waterfowl. He cared for a flock of Canada Geese and assorted ducks. I named them all, some after characters from the soap operas my mother and grandmother watched. I was probably the only person in my elementary school that could successfully restrain a goose or could describe how to trim wing feathers. I remember writing a report on the Canada Goose. On one special occasion, I was allowed to play hookie from school and go to a wildlife refuge and a waterfowl museum. While riding through the refuge I remember seeing hundreds and hundreds of geese. I sat with my little knees under me so I could press my face as close to the window as possible. I was so amazed by all the birds.
“That one has a neckband!”
My great grandfather was with us that day. He praised me for my observation. He was always impressed how observant I could be.
My senior year, I was about to have my mother committed. She had asked me to go to Kmart with her one afternoon and I obliged. I had just gotten home from school, so imagine my surprise when she made a sudden left turn and pulled up in front of the school. “Get out.”
“Just get out of the car!” By then she was crying.
“You’ve lost your mind!”
I finally got out of the car and wandered into the school, desperately trying to pull my thoughts together on how to explain what just happened. Surprise, surprise for me. It was an ambushing for a top secret award ceremony for the arts. I had received recognition for my photography. As I was ushered into the library, there was my grandfather sitting in the front row as proud as a peacock. I’m not sure if he arrived early or beat somebody to get the closest chair to the podium. I never questioned it, but always assumed he was invited by my photography teacher. He was the one that introduced me to photography. He entrusted me with a camera my little spaghetti arms could barely support. He taught me how to focus and how to adjust the settings to make the light meter happy, and he showed me a magical world existed in that little viewfinder.
Turned out that day, my mother didn’t need to be sent to the insane asylum. Looking back, I’m sure my mother was acting the part of a lunatic because a. tricking a teenager wasn’t easy and b. her feelings may have been hurt she wasn’t my honorary family member to attend. (No worries though, my first book is dedicated to her. That is the talent she instilled in me.)
Granddaddy pulled the tractor beside the pond and brought the little wooden boat over. I stood on the bush hog and handed over decoys one by one. Once we were out on the pond, we tossed each decoy. All of them were either made by him and my great grandfather, or they had a tie to our family. Slowly, we collected them back and cleaned them off. He insisted on these decoys being presentable on their journey back home with me.
Once the decoys and I were seated back on the bush hog, he drove us back to the house to tuck them into my Blazer. The ride on the bush hog had the gentle sway that you feel on a train. That in combination of the warm sun relaxed my soul. I reached over and picked a wildflower as we passed it.
Being a grown up is not always what it is cracked up to be. Time has stolen pieces of me. It had taken away my rides on tractors. It swallowed my afternoons picking pecans. I can’t remember the last time I dug earthworms to go fishing in a pond, because time is a thief. What I would give to be knee high to a grasshopper again, or at least knee high to my granddaddy.