Memoir: A Portrait of Summer

There were always harvestmen on the bricks.

When I was a child, a younger one than I am now, I passed the summer days at my home away from home. While my nana, my guardian, was at work those days, I went to stay with my Grammy. Her house was always special, almost as special as she herself. She was a woman from a different time, long ago when dust still gripped Oklahoma and children walked uphill both ways to get to and from school each day. There was a certain smell in her house, one that I’ve gone too long without smelling to describe in understandable terms. It smelled like comfort. The air in that house was different from anywhere else, full of floating cat fur and the memories of the four children that were raised there long before my existence was even thought of. It was a place away from all other places, warm and welcoming and full of orange juice and toast. Full of love.

There was no, and will never be again, other place like her backyard. I practically grew up there, you know. A small hole in the fence let me talk to the girl who lived next door, a girl I could never forget but who’s name I’ve long since forgotten. She also had a little sister, another name lost to time. Most days, though, I played by myself. I hardly remember what it is that I used to do all those years ago, save for a few snippets. I once drew a cat on a piece of paper and put it up in one of the trees, trying to get one of Grammy’s cats to notice it. I wanted them to be friends, but he was too smart for me. I remember the Hannah Montana song player I used to have, loaded with only three songs that I knew by heart at the time, songs that I would sing and dance along to out on the patio. Sometimes I still remember my shock when I found a bird laying in the thick green grass, how horrified I was when I flipped it over and discovered that it was dead, its insides missing and the bones of its ribcage on display as ants laid claim to the body.

But most of all, I remember the harvestmen. They were still daddy long-legs to me back then, long before I discovered their true name and the fact that they weren’t actually the spiders I thought they were. I remember the way they congregated on the corner of the house, next to the living room window and above the hydrangeas.  I remember the poofs of blue and pink flowers and the beautiful green leaves that grew around them. I remember the harvestmen, too many for my young self to even consider counting, with their brown bodies all pressed together on the red brick. Sometimes where they gathered was covered in a dark, cool shade from the tree I once put a drawing of a cat into, and other times they were pelted with the hot July sun that everyone around here has grown weary of.

Even when the sun was at its hottest, I would get goosebumps as I watched them. Long legs, too many legs. I’m not sure if my arachnophobia started because of them or because of an event beyond my reach of memory, but the chills I got then as I saw them move around are the same I get today if I see a spider scamper across my own patio. Too many legs. The thought of them crawling on me, each leg brushing my skin as it walks, never ceases to send a chill down my spine. Was I really afraid of them, though? They were spooky, I know I used to think that. So many of them with so many legs, how could a little girl who didn’t even know their real name not be spooked by them? The only thing I remember being truly afraid of around her house was the side yard. There was no logic in that fear, in my unreasonable belief that a witch lived down that side yard and would attack me if I went there.

There was a rose bush along the walkway in the front yard, beautiful trees flanking the driveway, and daffodils that bloomed in the spring and managed to stick around for a couple of months before the heat eventually claimed them. In 2008, during the summer Olympics, I remember running around in the front yard while pretending to be an airplane. I was carrying athletes to and from their events, flying right through the drizzling rain that evening offered. I remember running through the sprinklers every summer, I remember going back inside and eating rocky road ice cream on the couch with my Grammy.

My Grammy is gone now. Her time came when I was twelve, during the heat of the summer. I suppose it was fitting in some weird, poetic kind of way. Summers were always marvelous things when I was that young, full of wonder and excitement and flowers and green grass in her backyard. And then summer claimed her, the doctors unable to do anything because of her age. Too old for the surgery, too stubborn for her long treatment sessions at the cancer center, too far gone. The summer stopped being a magical time. I stopped playing in the yard, basking in the sun and then sitting in the shade of the trees. I never again visited the graves of the cats she had lost, never again talked to the girls next door through the hole in the fence.

I remember that summer. The heat made its way inside as she was always cold, the days passed mind numbingly slow as nana and I sat in her house for hours each day to keep her company until one of nana’s siblings, one of Grammy’s other children, came in for the night shift. I remember wishing that it would just be over. I wanted her to make it, I wanted her to see one last Christmas with the family, but summer claimed her the way it claimed the daffodils that bloomed in the spring. Now a new family has my Grammy’s house. The lawn is no longer lush and green the way it used to be, one of the driveway’s trees has been cut to nothing but a stump that refuses to die, the rosebush has died, the daffodils no longer bloom.

I wonder, sometimes. Would this new family let me into the house? Would they let me walk the halls, just one last time, remembering all of the fun things I did when I was young and the summers were pure? Would they let me go into the backyard, do they still feed the stray cats the way Grammy did, do the trees still shade the yard in the perfect way they used to?

And I wonder if the harvestmen still gather on the brick.

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