When Jason Crouch announced a 500-point giveaway for a childhood home memories, and where the Grand Prize is a whopping $5K points, I called Inna and teased her to write a blog. And then I forgot, but she didn't. She sent me a link and I read the blog in the middle of the night. And I read this long and beautiful blog slowly.
It was like when you change plans and instead of taking a plane, you take a horse carriage, and suddenly you start seeing details, that are not seen when flying at 500 MPH at 11,000' altitude. The air gets thick filled with this intricate mixture of smells, where exquisite aromas of flowers come together with hay and dust... It is not about getting from point A to point B, it is about the journey...
The magic of words. I could try to describe the same, but would most probably fail to do it, and will unquestionably fail to make you feel it. It is like a puzzle, where if you put the pieces in their unique places, it will open a beautiful picture. Inna knows the place for the words.
Somebody flattered me saying that she got the talent from me. If that were true, than she might have taken it all and did not leave any to me.
Meet Inna Hardison, my talented and gracious daughter.
No need to buckle up. It is a slow journey. I hope you enjoy it.
They say dogs can always find their way home, no matter what the journey entails. It's a sixth sense; the particles of past memories, smells, sights and sounds melding into a road sign, a welcoming breeze, a longing...
The orange globe of the Sun was always just ahead of my field of vision, peering intently forward, tilting my head to the right, in the direction of the locomotive bearing me Southward. It was almost irritating at times that the train couldn't outrun it, no matter how loudly the wheels clanked against the steel. The Sun and I chased each other for just over two days every year. Occasionally, I would stick my hand out the dusty window, half my short body hanging precariously over the grass and dirt underneath, and pluck a few leaves from the nearest tree. This journey would end at the closest place I had to a home that was also a house... The home, whose presence I can still smell in the air on certain days, whose tastes wake me up from a deep sleep at night, and whose inhabitants and guests are carried and have carried me through my becoming me... The house my grandpa built.
My best translation of the name of this village is Red Junction. Most places in Russia had the word red in their names at the time, and junction simply meant that's where the trains changed their cargo and locomotives. Just before the train reached my destination, the one narrow line of railroad tracks magically grew to what seemed like at least a dozen, with all sorts of barn-like structures popping up on both sides, and finally, the station with the name of the place appeared. When we didn't feel like riding our bikes a few miles to go swimming, we, kids, came to the train station. Here, passenger trains flattened our coins, and cargo trains carried us away on brief joy rides. We'd hop on the last car and ride for as long as it seemed safe to jump off without breaking any bones.
This place was too small even for the geographically challenged me to get lost in. Hop off the train, and proceed across the pavement and to the left towards the wooded roofs and tables of a makeshift bazaar. I could already taste the sour cherries that I would inevitably buy from a woman with dark creases in her face and a headscarf covering what may or may not have been gray hair. In this place, you couldn't easily tell how old someone was, and rumor had it most people didn't get to live very long.
The woman would collect the crumpled yellow bill from my hand, and pour a pound or so of gloriously ripe cherries into a cone-shaped bag she'd just fashioned out a sheet of newspaper. On impact, the black print would inevitably bleed into bright purples. I was home now. Biting into the skin, as thin as fine silk, bursting with juice that I was told would stain forever, letting it tingle my tongue until the sour turned to sweet...
There was only one main street in this village that all the homes fronted, my grandparents' house being fourth from the institutional-green of the post office. I took my time walking and spitting out cherry seeds, remembering. Few dogs ever barked at me, for some reason. I assumed they liked me. Goats, however, did not. The people two houses over from the post office had a mean goat that tried to gore me last year when I tried to pet it. I was past their house now - remembering not to raid their garden. I could now see just the corner of my grandpa's house, and it was still the green of last year. So they waited - this year I get to pick the prettiest blue. This week, we would paint.
The long wooded walkway went past the garden in front of the house. Right by the window, there were flowers: tall, gorgeous ones on meaty stalks that looked almost tropical. In the next row, there were lots of poppies, dwarfed by the tropical giants in everything but their brilliant inimitable red. The rest of this garden had carrots, radishes and our very own cherry tree, only I couldn't ever wait this long for my first sour cherry of the year, so my tree will have to wait. The all important hand pump that drew water from the well was also there, and I would splash lots of it every morning trying my best to carry a huge bucket of it to water the enormous garden out back. I always paid special attention to watering the tomatoes that were struggling under the weight of fruit. Tomatoes were grandma's, and ever since she hurt her head in a motorcycle accident when my mom was a teenager, she had a special affinity for these garden dwellers. She'd tie them all to the stakes one day, and pluck all the bugs off of leaves, and a week later pull out the best bushes. Next day, she'd put them back into their holes, and I'd water them more carefully this time...
My purchased cherries now fully gone, I would walk in through the mud room, purple-tongued and deliriously happy to have the fat, nameless cat rub against my leg, and dive into the many arms of whoever was staying at the house at the time. Most summers, the extra company included at least one of my three uncles and aunts and a pair of my nephews. That meant a few evenings of fishing on the lake and then a few dozen fish, with their heads still on, drying on the clothes lines in the back of the house.
The smell coming from the narrow gulley kitchen, or rather from the wood burning stove occupying the entire room next to it, told me grandpa has been at it for a few days. Not until years later would it hit me that the effort was for my benefit.
On some evenings, grandpa and I would go to the place he ran where they showed movies, which was a very long walk, and he'd let me be the ticket-taker. That's how I earned a free ticket. On weekends when we weren't fishing or digging out our patch of potatoes, we'd hop on the train for a few hours' journey to the woods to pick mushrooms. The women would pack us a huge satchel of food, replete with freshly plucked veggies and a saltshaker, and we'd bring home baskets of wild mushrooms. I don't remember how I knew which mushrooms were good, or when I learned it. Somehow, we all just always knew.
The house itself was a haphazard collection of rooms and corridors leading from room to room. There was no hot water or any central plumbing, but I don't recall thinking it either odd or the least bit inconvenient. Some rooms had a distinct purpose, like the stove room where I'd choose to sleep on some nights, if it was warm enough on top of the stove from earlier cooking. The fat nameless cat would inevitably join me. Turning to the wall, if on top of the stove, made you smell whitewash, while turning away you'd smell whatever was cooked on it.
For as long as I remember, most of my time there was spent just outside the house. There were a few kids around my age who kept me company putting into action the latest adventure we read. I recall running on neighbors roofs with war paint on and feathers in my hair, armed with a hand-made willow bow and a handful of arrows - that was James Fennimore Cooper's era. None of us got in trouble for it. Other times, we'd sit in the little kitchenette around a table with a scratched vinyl tablecloth on it and tell stories. Sometimes, my grandparents' friend would come by, and she was the best at telling scary stories. She drank too much, but everybody loved her, and I'd sit on her lap and listen to her talk about gypsies and such. On those nights I would be too scared to go to the back garden where the outhouse was, because gypsies prowled at night, stealing little children, so I'd pee just outside the house, where the pig dug up the concrete enough to expose warm dirt, smelling of earthworms.
I am told that my mom and all her siblings were born in that house; supposedly some kid-catching bucket was involved. Eventually, they all left to only come back for these visits. Everyone my grandparents ever talked about when I was a kid was buried at the cemetery a few miles from this house. They all walked the main street on their final journey. At least once during my visit we'd all go to the cemetery and sit there next to tombstones of people I'd never met, and grandpa would pour two shot-glasses worth of cognac for some and vodka for others, and toast to them, drinking the one and leaving the other on the ground, according to the dead-person's past preferences. My grandpa himself was a cognac man, and I remember thinking when I was little that his shot glass would always be full of cognac if he should ever die, and that I had to make sure of that somehow.
In this house, my grandpa had a stroke, and the doctor said that if he ever recovered, cognac was off limits. He laid on a couch in the TV room in a semi coma for months, and then he woke up. Two years after that my family moved for good. My dog, the best dog in the world, stayed with my grandpa as company, as a reminder, as a sign that I will come back, same as always - purple-tongued, hungry for my gardens with their occasional wormy apples, roof-top adventures, mean goats, and the overall feeling of belonging that for one reason or another I always had in my grandpa's house. I was ok in his book...
The cemetery there didn't get my grandpa or grandma or any of the other visitors and dwellers of that house. At some point it was decided that everyone would be better off moving to one of their children's places. The house was put up for sale, wood burning stove and the gardens and all, and a family of some kind moved into it. The trains still stop there for an inordinately long time, and the women still peddle their fruits and veggies to the white-skinned northerners, heading to the Black sea. There is an empty shot glass somewhere a few thousand miles away waiting for that toast. Someday, my kids and I will fill it.
Someday, I'll be home.
Copyright (C) 2009, inna hardison. please, don't steal from the starving artists, it's illegal and well, just plain freakin' wrong! :-)
Inna Hardison is the owner of Ha Media Group, a full service small kick-ass ad agency.
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