On the 4th of July, Jeff, our across the street neighbor showed up with cups of homemade ice cream, a Mona Lisa smile and twinkling eyes.
As I spooned it in I saw myself taking a turn with the ice cream hand crank at uncle Bill’s place out by a strip pit near Weir, where the Fowler clan came together and the smell of barbeque and honeysuckle hung low across the humid afternoon. Heard my parents, aunts and uncles loudly talking in the cabin, the air heavy with the tang of Lucky Strikes, Jim Beam and Budweiser. At dusk, I watched my cousins and I having water fights and dumping freezing water scooped from washtubs down one another’s backs as bats careened madly overhead.
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Driving south on Joplin near the college last Tuesday I looked over to see a couple of girls lathered with lotion laying out on towels in their side yard, one on her belly, the other on her back.
I drifted back to a hundred degree day in 1969 when I pulled in Linda’s gravel drive in a Crawford County Highway Dept. dump truck to see her baking in her two piece suit on a towel in the grass behind her farm house, her dad intently circling a nearby field on his tractor, her quarter horse, Dusty, slapping flies with his tail as he skeptically eyed me over the fence, her mother pinning white sheets on the clothesline. Drinking in the scent — the hot mix of grass, horse sweat, Bain de Soleil and bleached clothing that moved ever so slowly in the humid air across the yard — I watched Angus cows head for the cool of the pond beyond the old red barn and looked up to see, high in the blue, blue sky, a hawk rivering the air without moving its wings.
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Our neighbor, Elaine (four doors west) has blackberries growing out back of her house by the alley.
Last week, as Arlo and I passed, I spied a ripe one. When I plucked and ate it I had an immediate vision of my father beside me picking in a the tangle west of Cow Creek, caressing each berry like an old love, heard the plunk of the first one in the bottom of a Folger’s can, saw my mother rolling dough in a snag of light on the big, round oak, kitchen table, and my brother devouring cobbler on the back step as my sisters played in the clover near Pirnot’s chicken yard - a flock of pigeons circling slowly overhead and back to their roost on the high school’s upper ledge.
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A little further along, Arlo and I passed a ditch in which a crawdad had erected a mound of mud, the leavings of its burrowing.
I stopped to peer into the entry/exit hole and saw the ditch out front of the old homeplace on Crawford Street in Frontenac. Saw myself carefully pick up one of the prehistoric looking beings behind its pincers and chase my sisters to the porch. Heard the ching, ching, ching of the metal chain on the steel flagpole in the schoolyard across the street. Saw myself riding with grandpa Matt and Brazz Riffel in grandpa’s ’53 Chevy pickup — a rooster tail of brown, Kansas dust following — to park just off the road and climb over the dirt dumps to fish, using for bait the tiny, baby crawdads they’d gotten by seining a small, muddy hole. Heard grandpa softly whistling, "You get a line I’ll get pole …" as he lifted his cane pole and swung his line out over the water — iridescent green dragonflies darting and hovering all along the tangled shore.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org