02 May 2010

In the Shade of the Oleanders

I sat between my grandparents in the same aluminum folding chairs we’d sat in countless times before. The shade from the wall of oleanders on the west side of their yard now stretched nearly to the garden on the far end. The tall stalks of the delphiniums still cast their own shadows, but the shadow from the oleanders would soon outreach them.
The scotch on the rocks in my glass was getting easier to drink as the ice melted, but I still didn’t like the taste of it. It was fiery and cool at the same time, like my grandfather. He held his glass of straight scotch from the top, his pinky and ring finger stretching down the length of the glass while the stubs of the other three fingers barely curled over the top. He’d lost those fingers as a teenager, playing with blasting caps. He’d never told us the story, but my mother had whispered to me a long time ago what she knew, which wasn’t much. His silence about the incident was to be taken as a warning.
Gram sat with her bourbon and water, clinking her ice cubes and looking toward the garden. We were all surprisingly quiet and I understood that we wouldn’t have many more summers like this. Looking at my grandparents, I understood that, and I wondered if they did, too.
We talked about the drought and how the mine was going to reclaim the copper in the tailings that stretched alongside the main drag in town. We talked about things that didn’t really matter much, and I wished we could talk about how we loved to sit here outside together in the heat of the summer, our bare feet in the cool green grass. I wished there was a way to stop and sit here, listening until I knew all their stories in my heart, beating the cadence of their lives in measured time.
Much later, when the time came to divide the treasures they had gathered over a lifetime, I found the scope and breadth to be too much. The photos were too moving to look at, being only moments captured while the sequence was sometimes lost. There were letters, some even written in my own hand – a childish hand – that drew me in until I found myself enveloped in the memories they described. They spoke of triumphs and births and news. And while they left me with cool tears of remembrance and love, none mentioned the summer afternoons in the shade of the oleanders.

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