A little story set in Snohomish …
My proper but mischievous grandmother had one firm rule about cussing: If you must do it, do it in the barn. I believe now that her unspoken message was "animal behavior belongs with the animals," but we didn't hear that subtext back then. We just thought it a tantalizing and dangerous invitation.
Of us seven girls, I only remember one who regularly took Grandma up on that offer. "Dang it," the girl-whose-name-I'm-not- telling-you would whisper, when she just couldn't take the pressure of being seven anymore. Sometimes I overheard her. Sometimes I didn't have to. She'd come moseying out of the barn with that satisfied look on her face, and I'd know the old building had stripped her of all her troubles.
I spent the majority of my growing-up summers living on my grandparents' farm in Snohomish. And I wasn't alone. Whether my grandparents extended the invitation to bless us or to bless our parents didn't much matter. We seven cousins packed our bags the first day of summer vacation, hit the farm running, and didn't look back until September started making noise.
When the sun broke through our dreams and drove us from our beds, we girls would gulp down breakfast, yank on our cowboy boots, and head for the barn. We ventured out now and then, of course — to chase cows, climb trees, ride ponies, and beg Grandma for a cup of sugar for dipping rhubarb stalks — but our home base was Grandpa's barn. To this day, whenever I walk into a barn (and I do, every chance that presents itself), all I have to do is close my eyes and draw in a big breath, and I'm instantly short again. The perpetual dust inside drifts through a sunbeam like miniature snowflakes, I'm surrounded by the heavenly tang of manure, and I can feel and hear the stomp of cow feet or horse feet or girl feet slapping the concrete floor.
Our favorite thing to do in the barn was to climb up to the hay loft and make mazes with the bales. It took all fourteen of our skinny little no-muscle arms to lift and stack those bales, but unity of purpose kept us grunting and puffing. We'd take a whole morning to create the perfect hay maze, then spend the rest of the day hiding around corners and trying to scare one another.
Grandpa let us sweep the broken bales and loose hay out the window. When enough had accumulated in a heap below that second floor window, we'd jump. The worse part of growing up was saying good bye to that rush. There's little in the adult world that offers the same freedom as leaping from a second floor window. For just a moment there, you and your sixty-five pounds don't belong to earth.
One summer day, while preparing for a jump, my middle sister Megan took off her spanking-new, bright green tennis shoes and set them off to one side of the window. If her plan was to spare her new shoes an afternoon of dirt, she didn't think it through. After repeatedly jumping in the hay, running over the grass and across the dirt path and up the grimy stairs to repeat her performance, the feet she planned to plunge back into those new shoes were beyond filthy. But she never got the chance to dirty her footwear. One shoe went missing.
Though we looked high and low and everywhere in between, though we moved hay bales and checked corners and took a pitch fork to the pile outside, we never found that second green tennis shoe. No one ever found that shoe. I like to think a family of klepto-crazed field mice lined up while we were giggling in the pile of hay below and dragged that green shoe down a secret hole. In my best imaginings, it became a mice family heirloom … and the story, a legend.
A piece of my sister lingered in that barn, long after she outgrew hay jumping and pony rides. And that's just how it goes when you've sojourned in a place. Whether we plan to or not, we leave pieces of ourselves wherever we travel. Those little markers, little breadcrumbs, show we've been this way.
I hope you're conscious of the pieces you're leaving behind today. Someday, someone will hold up that breadcrumb and tell the story of you. Make sure it's a good one.
Snohomish Pumpkin Hurl & Medieval Faire What could be more fun than hurling pumpkins from a Trebuchet? Afterward you can watch sword fighting and a jousting theatrical troupe. (September 13-14)
Schack-toberfest The urban pumpkin patch at this 4-day event features 600 blown-glass gourds and pumpkins. Enjoy glassblowing demonstrations, face painting and a raffle.(September 26-29)
The Great Pumpkin Glow. Gather at Craven Farm for storytelling, a 3D Pumpkin Adventure, hay rides, a corn maze and more. (October 26)
Historic Downtown Snohomish Trick or Treat Kids in costume receive treats from the downtown merchants. (October 31)
Foster Farm's "Wizard of Oz" Corn Maze For one of the best corn mazes around, visit Foster Farm in Arlington. (Oct 1-31)
More years ago than I'd like to admit, I sat in my grandparents' Snohomish farm kitchen and waited for my bowl of red beans … the kind that had cooked all the live-long day in a basting of bacon (and bacon fat) …. and which was destined for scooping with the whitest of white bread, slathered with room-temp butter. Salted.
Can I interest you in a bowl?
That kitchen. It used to be the mainstay of a home; the heart, if you will. But then it turned itself into a galley, as if we had all been pirate-ized. (I myself have a galley kitchen, but if I have any say in the matter, that will change soon.) For a brief bit there, we pretended that the kitchen was NOT the gathering place of the home. Instead, we put more weight on the living room. But how could a room devoid of tastes and smells and bubbling pots ever compete with a kitchen?
Today, home buyers are looking for that integrated, updated, chair-populated gathering place. They don't want a galley kitchen; they want a kitchen with a big island in the center, and lots of chairs for the visitors that will flock for a taste of whatever you've got in the pot. They want a livable, holistic, spacious focal point that will nurture all who linger and gawk.
Looking for a new home? I'd like to suggest you allow yourself to get kitchen-centric. Say "no" to the smaller kitchen. Wait for that home with the gathering point. You'll be all the happier while you're stirring that pot of beans.
We missed the Evergreen State Fair this year. I don't know how that happens. I am always so determined that we're going to go, but sometimes August slips into September and our chance disappears along with it. There's always the Puyallup, but it's not the same thing. All my best memories are from the Fair in Monroe. And of all those memories, the most precious to me is the last time I went with my grandmother.
She announced one day that she wanted to go. In itself, that request doesn't seem odd, but I'd actually never thought I'd hear it again from her. Though only 61, Grandma had been stopped cold by arthritis. 'Old Arthur,' as she called it, had cruelly plucked from her all her delights: trips to the mall, trips to Seattle, trips to the Fair. Arthritis had stolen her legs and hands, wrung the energy from her bones, and confined her to a chair near a window, from where she could watch life but no longer participate in it.
Grandpa perked up at her suggestion. "If you want to go to the Fair today, then that's what we'll do." I watched him watching her, and saw determination in his eyes. "How many scones do you think you can eat?"
"At least two. And an ear of corn from the VFW booth," she said. We didn't waste a minute. I helped Grandma brush her hair, Grandpa got her shoes and purse, and off we went.
Monroe, home to the Evergreen State Fair, wasn't far from my grandparents' Snohomish farm. We were there in under twenty minutes, even counting Fair traffic. Grandma endured the slide from the car to her chair without a word. Nor did she utter a syllable's worth of complaint as we traveled the gravel-covered parking lot.
As we walked toward the admissions gate, I saw her staring toward the right end of the fairgrounds, where the whizzing carnival rides were in full neon frenzy. "Shanny, what's that long, skinny ride over there?"
I followed her gesture and saw the ride in question. "That's the Zipper, Gram."
She watched for a split second and said, "I think I'd like to ride the Zipper today."
I made a sound not unlike a snort. "No, Grandma, you don't want to go on the Zipper." I looked at Grandpa and he looked back. My expression said, What is she thinking? but his sent an entirely different message. What I saw in his eyes was, Isn't she something?
True to her word, she ate a butter-slathered ear of corn and two scones. She also nibbled an elephant ear and shared a purple cow milkshake with Grandpa. We watched a man demonstrate the new-and-improved way to slice vegetables, watched a woman clean a spill with a must-have chamois, and watched loggers climb poles, chop wood and roll logs in a make-shift pond. We got our rings cleaned. We listened to the stock car races and even found a low-enough hole in the fence so Grandma could have a peek at the cars flying around the track.
Maybe it was that race that got her going again. "I think I'm ready for that ride now," she said.
I decided not to fight her. We'd go on a ride, but the Zipper was out. "Grandma, if you feel well enough for a ride, let's find one that won't rattle you. The Zipper is too wild." I scanned the jumble of machinery and saw one that looked innocuous enough. "Look over there," I said.
Grandma looked. "You mean that big circle of swings?"
"Doesn't that look fun?"
She kept looking. "Not really."
"Sure it is. They'll strap you in and then it lifts and spins around. I'll bet we'll be able to see everything from up there."
I felt a little embarrassed as we wheeled Grandma up to one of the swings. I could see people nudging each other and whispering, as if we were forcing the woman to ride carnival rides against her will.
I fastened her safety belt and locked the metal bar. "I'll be in the swing ahead of you."
The ride started. We lifted and began to spin. Against the force, I twisted in my chair and looked back at Grandma. Legs dangling in the breeze, she sat straight against her seat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and a polite smile arranged on her face.
The peaceful, gentle ride didn't last long. We got her back in her chair and wheeled past the onlookers. "That wasn't so bad, was it, Grandma?" I asked.
"No," she said, "but now I'd really like to go on that Zipper." If she went on the Zipper — which wasn't going to happen — it would mean I'd have to go with her. I took in another earful of Zipper-screaming and another eyeful of tumbling cages and decided I'd have to find a less frightening alternative.
I spied the Matterhorn. "How about that ride?"
We wheeled her up, helped her into the alpine-decorated cars, and started off. This time, she perked up. As we rolled up and over the curved track, she started yelling. "Faster! Faster!" We did go faster. We whipped along that track like a couple of medal-bound bobsledders, with Grandma yee-hawing right in my ear. After several minutes, we finally began to slow down. Grandma squealed her disappointment. "Don't stop!" But the ride operator on the side of the track just laughed. As we rode past, he yelled back, "I'm putting it in reverse — just for you!" And off we went again, with Grandma yelling out her delight.
I felt dizzy as we climbed out of our car. That ought to do it, I thought. But Grandma had a different thought. "Clifford, tell Shannon I want to go on the Zipper."
I begged Grandpa with my eyes to side with me. But I should have known he could never say no to her.
"Shanny, take your Grandma on the Zipper."
I walked to that ride with all the joy one would feel walking to a guillotine. I felt ill as we climbed aboard one of the barely-secured cages and I heard the click of the lock. Grandma, however, looked like a sixteen-year old who had just gotten her driver's license. "Let's see how fast we can make this thing spin."
I didn't have time to argue. The ride (and my screaming) began. Up we went, and then around, and around, and around. "Lean into it," Grandma ordered. "Help me spin us faster."
Could she not hear my screaming?
I screamed myself hoarse. Grandma giggled through the entire ride. And when we finally, mercifully, slowed and stopped at the very tiptop of the ride — upside down — Grandma kept laughing. I kept screaming. Until eventually, she gave me a nudge in the side. "Shannon, you're embarrassing me."
I stopped screaming and turned to look at her. Grandma's hair, like my own, hung straight down from her head. Her eyes were teary from laughter; with a gnarled finger, she wiped one escaped tear from her cheek. I could just see the ground below through squares of the cage near her head. Near our feet, I saw the sky. And the whole thing was suddenly so absurd, I had to laugh. We hung there together like two teenage friends, stuck in a moment I've returned to a hundred times in my mind.
Grandma's arthritis came back in the months that followed. It came with a vengeance, angry to have lost her for that short period. That trip to the Fair was our last together, but it was the trip that meant the most to me. Among the many things I learned from my grandmother, the lesson she gave me in that between-earth-and-sky moment was one I value most. Age, it turns out, is a relative thing. And unless you convince yourself otherwise, you're never too old to fly.