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“Granny, can we go yet?” we ask.
She pats our heads with wrinkled hands.
“Go fetch me some potatoes.
And Terry, remember, no more unwanted pets.”
We giggle as we remember and race off
running down the hallway outside.
The old farmhouse whitewash is cracking off.
We peel a little and round the corner.
There it is. The old cellar door sunk deep
in the earth like one of Granddaddy’s eyes.
We walk slowly toward it.
It’s older than Great Aunt Agnes and
has its own feel, a looming presence.
Sally breaks the tension and rushes to it.
She struggles with the heavy oak door.
We go and help her lift it.
Mark moves the rusty lock from the hasp
The chain’s broken, so we need no key.
Oak lifts out of the loam with a boom.
We huddle around it and smell the scent
of Granny’s preserves and old vegetables.
Terry ventures a hand inside.
We grab our lanterns from his chubby fingers
and each light their own.
Our faces are bathed in a shifting glow.
Emmy goes in first, one leg at a time.
We see her light bob in the darkness.
Mark’s next, and soon we’re all climbing
down the worn wooden steps.
This is a place of no words.
The air is quiet and seems disturbed
by us daring to come in.
We reach the last step.
The earthen floor is cool and hard.
We bend down and trail our fingers across it.
Terry breaks off, searching for the grave
of his brown field mouse, no doubt.
Others leave to find Granny’s potatoes.
A small group of five is all that’s left.
Emmy leaves to look for Terry.
Soon everyone slowly trickles off by themselves.
I reach out and feel the inscriptions on
the cool field -stone walls.
I can almost feel the sweat
that went into these walls.
I raise my lantern and read
“Sally Ann died here. May 19, 1890.”
I read another.
It says “Max + Annie” inside a heart.
I walk toward the left.
My lantern’s glow pools onto
rotting wooden shelves.
Old empty preserve jars sit there like bones.
Silken spider webs stretch between them.
I leave it be. It’s a monument
to generations long past.
Farther on I reach a newly hewn shelf.
It’s filled with jars and straw.
I pull a clump away.
It reveals a warty squash safe in its nest.
I pull the straw safely up.
The squash will stay in its cocoon.
I hear some quiet squeaks.
I look from the walls to the lanterns
that bob like ghostly will ‘o’ the wisps
in a silent, underground marsh.
I reach more shelves.
One has jars of Granny’s apple preserves.
I lick my lips and take one down.
Maybe Granny will serve it tonight.
I trace my finger along the old mortar.
Echoes of long-dead ancestors are in the air.
The stone and mortar are the voices.
I clutch the preserves tightly.
Maybe it’s time to leave.
The damp air is heavy with the dead.
“Terry, Emmy! Sally, Mark!”I call out their names.
Lights dance toward me.
I see Mark has an armload of potatoes.
“It’s time to go,” I say as more crowd in.
Groans rise from Anne and Franklin.
The rest are quiet.
They are ready to go.
Sally leads the way to the stairs.
We retrace our path, this time going up.
Heaving at the oak lid, we swing it open.
We clamber into the sunlight,
look around, then see Granny.
She’s waving at us.
Arms full of preserves and potatoes,
we break into a run.
West Jordan, Utah
Sapello, New Mexico
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Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven't even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.