Thursday, September 13, 2012

Early Birth Memories, Part 1

When I was a girl, no older than 11 or so (I remember because I'd not started shaving the dark, thick hair from my legs and I used to use the scissors from my Nana's office drawer to chop away the fuzzy stuff as I idly thumbed through glossy pages of Reader's Digest in her bathroom), I visited my grandparent's farm in Killen, Alabama late one summer. Their farm was strictly cattle, and most of them had names. They were officially a business venture, but unofficially great stomping pets that both my grandparents had grown remarkably attached to.

I remember having a secret fascination with birth of new things from a young age, and secretly hoped and prayed that my grandfather's favorite heifer might give birth sometime during the long weekend of my family's stay at their home. My younger and brother dawdled the hours away, plunking out tunes on my Nana's warbling old piano and trying to convince young calves to skitter up and let us pet their soaked sandpaper tongues. My grandfather would get up early in the morning and shellac his dark, dark hair with hairspray, put on his heavy denim button up shirt, and then saunter into the kitchen, singing silly old ballads about swamp witches and war, saying "Well, good mawnin', Lizbuth!" (My grandparents are the only people in the world who called me by my middle name, and I always found it strangely endearing. )

Periodically, after we ate piles of buttered toast and grits powder with ground black pepper, he'd walk out to his old farm truck with the slow barreling gait of a bulldog on a mission to do whatever it is that bulldogs do. His skin was deep and lined from years of fishing and woodworking and long hours spent in the sun, and unusually dark for someone of his English descent. Underneath heavy jet black eyebrows, his eyes were watery with aging, but their color was deep and warm, like very dark chocolate. They were probing and playful in turn, and it was always something of a puzzle to me which of the two to expect next. His nose was very flat, and he claimed that it was the result of his older sister holding him down as a child and squashing it down with her thumbs when she was angry with him. I picked up the habit of playfully threatening my younger brother with the very same fate.

At some point between the newspaper and lunch, Papa would whistle down another cup of coffee and hum in a voice that sounded like John Wayne's, if his voice had dropped an octave and been rolled in gravel and dark molasses. I loved to hear him chuckle, a deep, throaty sincere rhythm like no other laugh I've heard since. He'd raised the ceramic rim to his flat, square mouth and announce to my grandmother as if she were inside the cup, "I'm going up yonder to look in on that heifer." 'That heifer', we all knew, was actually referred to her face with deep affection from him as Sunshine. And Sunshine's belly was exactly the taut, glossy bulge of calf that I'd been silently willing to listen to the moon's call for several nights in a row. When I thought about it, my stomach did flip flops of mysterious excitement.

I'd stick my pointy little nose between the thin, metallic blinds and breathe in dust while I watched my Papa stride in his bib overalls out to his pickup, where he'd undoubtedly smoke a cigarette when he thought my brother and I weren't looking. Earthy, knuckle-dragging, lumbering with purpose, hips swinging jauntily from side to side in a masculine fashion; that was my grandfather's walk. After he pulled down the gravel road, my brother and I would shove sun-striped feet into sandals and  tear off after him, ignoring our Nana's hollering from the kitchen, asking where we were off to. If we'd told her, she wouldn't have allowed us to go. Better to claim ignorance than miss out on something potentially more thrilling than the constant drone of sports television.

My father had pointed, rounder elvish features that more closely resembled my own, with circles on the apples of his cheeks and a pert, puckish nose like the one I saw in the mirror and on my brother's face each day. But his eyes were the same warm, dark coffee color as Papa's, and his walk, from behind, was identical. He'd already sauntered out into the field after his father, which was promising. One person out in the field checking on a pregnant cow was routine; two adults out in the field meant something new and exciting was coming. And so there was; Sunshine's belly was visibly clenching, and instead of her usual friendly greeting, she was stamping her feet and rolling her eyes for the men to stay away.

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