“I am really here, right now. Really. Right now. Here.” An odd, stilling, deep breath would go through me, and I’d experience an escape from my ever-spinning thoughts. The yellow walls of our large kitchen came glowing into my view, and I saw I was in its dining nook where, at table, I sat with my back to a window full of glowing Atlanta sunlight. Yes, here. right. now. was in the midst of a vivid energy field lit and warmed by sunlight, cooled by the drop-down window on the kitchen door. It brought in fresh Piedmont, high pressure air, and a slight scent of red clay earth, damp still with morning dew.
I took for granted this morning brilliance, the 300 feet of open space that formed our backyard and led to a tall railroad bank at its rear. On its side, it dropped down a gullied path through woods that led to a bottomland and a deep creek. I thought every backyard–certainly every one on southwest Atlanta’s Erin Avenue–fought something called erosion, visible as gully-washer rains carried loose red soil down to the right-hand, flattest part of our yard.
This slight plateau led to the leanto from which our Welsh pony stuck out his brown, scruffy-eared head and whinnied. The area was large enough to serve as a small softball field, unbothered by the yard’s sloping rise on its left, uphill again to a level that lowered the railroad bank down to barely ten feet high. Yes, our backyard, our whole street, lunged up and down as if above some mountainous faultline. Our house, and the one next and just above it, had front lawns that were either slightly elevated from the street, or in our case, sunk a few feet below the sidewalk at its edge. Daddy and our neighbors made conversation of the various ways they contrived to keep their front lawns from washing away. Only three houses up from us on the curving hill of the street, stood a home that had landed atop its steepest part. A concrete stair came down from it and split the white-painted concrete block wall that held in the great bulge of red earth that supported its insecure growth of lawn.
Our red soil bled onto, and stained, everything. Daddy, who made industrious helpers of us, his three pre-teen daughters, simply hosed concrete, and avoided our backyard and its soil-saving swathes of weeds and ground cover on the hilly parts. On the side that was flat, dusty and fallow, our tomboy middle sister used the ground for a softball field near Tony’s leanto stable. It was Daddy’s Saturday sport and chore, swing-blading tall dusty weeds, or watering both the slick gray concrete side porch and the green, weedy, front lawn. As wartime accommodation in the 1940’s, this land, once neglected as untenable, had been developed by a hardy builder. At the last house, the red earth sank as deeply below the road curve and the sidewalk, as, on the other side, it rose steeply above us. The builder had put a long iron-fenced bridge from the road, across the sunken soil to that high-basemented house. We had loved our own place since the day that Daddy took us to stand on the bare floorboards and look out over the woods below, through two-by-four framing sticks that still lacked windows.
We had just, in the rented half of a Virginia-Highlands home, overcome, with an evil-smelling shampoo, the last of the headlice we had brought home from our summer visit to Norfolk, Virginia, where returning ships of troops and sailors, had gifted the population with these incredibily itchy scalps. Mama had helped us keep secret what Daddy would have found a failing of the grandmother we adored, Mama’s mother. This fearless and joyful old Yankee had come south in 1907 for her health, married, stayed, and raised seven children and considerable political Hell. Now, relatively tamed in Virginia, a member of Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, grateful for city life, public transportation, a mail pickup box at the corner across from her Colonial-style home, and glad to cook on a gas stove instead of the one she left in rural North Carolina, heated with scraps of stove-lengths gathered in the backyard in time to cook a meal.
Yes, that was then, and this is now. If I am really here. right. now, I am cooped up like the chickens in Grannie’s long ago-new home in Warren County, North Carolina. There is just one feeling; we are tightly cooped. My little dog Blondie sleeps away her sorrows until fading daylight tells her to whimper and jump back and forth for our hour’s walk. If my personal share of two apartment buildings called St. Mark’s Towers, is cramped, the surrounding grassy grounds, the edging cypress trees and multiple shady liveoaks, are wide open. Blondie’s imperative daily exercise-need, and my own, get me out to walk near the river-bordered marsh that stretches seven miles over to St. Simons Island. Fresh ocean air wafts in over the marsh and creeks, and elation barely suppressed takes over both of us. Blondie, obedient and good-tempered, is allowed to run and does so, airborne for many yards, her short legs stretching fore and aft and her long ears flying out like wings.
When you stop and think “I am really here. Right now.” and breathe deep, what do you see, or remember seeing?