Day Eight: Romance and Row Crops
The world is so full of magic when good memories are born.
Sometimes the people around you are magic too.
My memories of my aunt, Rebecca Barnes, take me back to fighting dragons from castle towers and sipping chamomile tea in the forest. I remember spending hours in the kitchen, baking hundreds of sugar cookies for a church function, only to wake in the morning to an empty, and quite sticky, countertop.
The “cookie monster” was a frequent visitor at our house.
Saturday morning melted the years away and I felt the magic happening just like I did in our tiny farmhouse where Rebecca and I made so many memories in the years that she lived with my grandparents, 13 years and a thousand miles back.
We danced around her present-day Omaha, Neb. kitchen, fixing breakfast and exchanging nonsense about writing cookbooks and opening coffee shops. The smell of detergent as we did laundry, and honey as we baked bread, took me back to to the hundreds of Saturdays we spent together years ago. She picked out my outfit and did my nails as I sat, criss-crossed on the floor like the four-year-old she knew.
All the while, Magellan visited on the deck with his new explorer pal, Amelia (a gift from his great auntie). They seemed to be hitting it off, so we left them to it while we leisurely packed our things.
I did keep an eye on the buttery oatcakes cooling on the counter, halfway expecting the cookie monster to have swept in upon my absence. I don’t think the cookie monster would have been a very big fan of oatcakes though…
Having been moved out of our house and on the road since August 1., the relaxed morning of “home” at Rebecca’s was both appreciated and hard to leave. We left Omaha after lunch, arriving outside of Chicago around 9 p.m. Most everything in between was an empty blur of corn and tobacco.
We stopped for gas in a little Swedish-American farming village of Annawan, Ill (population 878). On our way out of town we came across my new favorite roadside attraction of the entire trip.
A few miles down a gravel road, on the way to the interstate, a little wooden homestead sat on the corner of a cornfield. The sun slid down the green stalks, splashing amber light against the small shack that had been vandalized in nearly every hue of the Skittles rainbow. The peeling colors were only amplifies by the lazy sun’s procession over the hill.
“Ooooh! Stop!” I squealed in the direction of the driver’s seat. It was too much for me to handle.
I tumbled out of the car, limbs flailing, eager to feel the cracked paint against my hands and smell the ancient cedar against the growing corn.
I held my palm against the old shack, taking in all the shapes and textures. After I was satisfied that my brain had successfully downloaded every color that had been layered against the wall, I poked at a half-open door hanging on a single hinge in the front.
Looking over my shoulder to the left, looking over my shoulder to the right, I stepped inside.
Sunshine poured through the rickety rafters, revealing well over 14 inches and sixty years’ worth of paint cans, rollers, and brushes. I picked up a dainty blue roller and scurried back outside, matching the color to a small pair of initials I’d remembered seeing against the back wall.
The date below read 1962.
As we drove away I pictured a stalky Adrian Nilsson with and a blue-eyed Brigit Bergman sneaking up the lane with a bucket of leftover blue paint. I could almost smell the leather of a large letterman’s jacket hanging from her shoulders and the aquanet hairspray holding her high ponytail in place.
She’d climbed up on his shoulders to reach the perfect corner, no doubt.
They’d seen the world as magic, no doubt; looked into each others’ eyes like magic, no doubt.
Looking back on the magic I remember from my Aunt Rebecca, I can see that the castles were really blanket-forts, the forest was a few tall tumbleweeds caught in the fence outside the yard, and the cookie monster was really my father.
I wonder whatever became of the young Swedish lovebirds who’d commemorated their love so long ago. Had the magic lasted for them? Or are the vibrant blue initials on a shack wall in Illinois all that’s left?
Although pixie dust is only suspended in the air for a moment, and life’s mirrors and trap doors surface with age, the magic I remember in Rebecca will never change. Although she’s grown up, settled down, and started a family of her own, to me she will remain the sparkling fairy godmother that could make a princess dress out of newspapers and a tiara out of stray nuts and bolts.