Lynda McKinney Lambert, a retired professor of fine arts and humanities, taught at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. She authored the book, “Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage,” by Kota Press. It features poetry and creative non-fiction essays she wrote during her summers while living in Salzburg, Austria where she taught for many years. Lambert also created and taught an annual course each spring in Puerto Rico as part of an inter-disciplinary course with colleagues from Geneva College.
Lynda resides in the Village of Wurtemburg in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, and their 2 dogs and 5 cats. She is active in a writing group as well as a local group of fiber artists in her community. Her art work is exhibited internationally and is in many public and private collections. www.lyndalambert.com
Lynda writes 2 blogs on arts, literature and humanities topics. Her latest book, Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems, is now available: http://www.dldbooks.com/lyndalambert/
Great-Grandmother Speaks of Summer Days
Distant, nearly forgotten, summer days in her rural village moved about silently in the thoughts of Great-Grandmother. Generations of her ancestors walked the familiar paths through the woods that surround her home. Branches hung low with layers of delicate fragrant flowers, a scent that was a mixture of wildflowers. This summer afternoon was so warm that she felt like it was hard to breathe. Wet drops of rainwater dripped on her head and bear arms from the long overhanging branches. She shook off the wetness as she watched her two dogs run ahead. This particular day reminded her of another vignette that seemed so much like today.
Her solitary walk across the wooded ridge that overlooked the winding creek below gave her time to think of the sensitive little girl she always was. She was at home in the natural world of trees and flowers. Birds seemed to call to her in every season; they flew over the meadow grasses and floated across the brilliant cerulean blue sky. She still listened for the crows that usually called out when they passed overhead. She loved the crows best of all.
The old woman recalled childhood days and how she loved to be outdoors in all seasons. When she was very young, summertimewas particularly pleasant because she did not have to wear shoes. When summer rains began, she splashed through the falling water as it saturated her clothing and made her long auburn hair slick and heavy. It clung to her wet shoulders. She stomped down with her bare feet because the water splashed up onto her shorts and trickled down her sun-browned legs. Her toes dug into the puddles of cool squishy rain water in the yard. She moved them around to explore the wet ground, and it felt so good when she slid both of her bare feet through the thick, wet, dark mud. It oozed up through her toes and covered her bare feet.
She thought of autumn when her family gathered up the black walnuts that dropped out of the tree and spread all over the grassy lawn. They were large, leathery yellow-green spheres and the black walnuts were snug and tight inside of the green balls. The children helped to get those walnuts out by rolling them between two bricks to break off that outer shell. They had the most unusual earthy smell, and everyone got greenish brown stains on their hands. There were other kinds of tree-nuts dropping from the trees in the woods and along the country roads. She enjoyed gathering them and her mother saved them until winter time when they were eaten on winter evenings or broken up and put into pies and cookies.
These memories brought to Great Grandmother’s mind other delights that fascinated her in the back yard it was the home of an assortment of chickens. Her father built a rustic wooden chicken coop which stood just behind the gardens. Some days she went inside of the painted wooden building where the chickens laid eggs in nests built into the walls. The hens clucked and twittered softly as she reached under them. They felt so warm and soft, and her hand searched carefully for the freshly laid egg beneath each one. The hens provided a nice breakfast for the children.
Other days, she climbed up onto the roof of that whitewashed coop to watch the dusty-gray chickens scratching about on the ground as they searched for bugs. It was a safe place to sit so that the old rooster, Mr. Cocky-Lockey, could not find her. Cocky-Lockey first came to her home when he was just a little fluffy yellow chick. He was an Easter gift. But as he grew older, his sweet nature began to turn mean and he became a terror to any person who dared to be in his back yard. Cocky-Lockey had long, elegant feathers that were brilliant hues of shimmering effervescent colors. When the sunshine was on this magnificent bird, he seemed to glow with neon flashes of light. His tail feathers seemed like a waterfall of vibrant colors. His beauty belied his true personality. He was vicious and would attack with no warning. He flew up onto his victim’s head so fast he was like a bolt of lightning as he landed hard with his claws outstretched. He tried to tear at the flesh of any poor unsuspecting person who had the misfortune of coming into his territory. His razor sharp spurs were lethal weapons as he patrolled the yard just waiting for his next victim. Everyone in the neighborhood knew to be on the lookout for this bird. We did not need a guard dog, for we had Mr. Cockey-Lockey.
Great-Grandmother stopped for a moment to watch the dogs sniffing along the side of the damp trail. She sucked in her breath for a moment and seemed to savor a new memory. She thought of her favorite childhood foods. They were all gathered by her Father. He would carry home an assortment of freshly picked mushrooms he collected in the woods. He knew precisely where each kind of mushroom grew, and exactly when each would be ready for picking. Like all woodsman in a rural area, he knew the ways of the woods and brought its bounty home for his family of four children. There was always plenty to eat because of her Father’s skills in hunting and gathering.
Great-Grandmother was the oldest child in the family. She might be found in the gardens where she made deep trails and gravel roads through the dark rich soil. She liked to play in the dirt with her dump trucks and brightly painted metal cars. She was an unusual, solitary child who did not play with baby dolls or have tea parties with her friends. She read about dainty girls who liked those things in the books she brought home from the library. She enjoyed reading about the tea parties and the adventures of young children in the books. But, that was not really her world. It was the Earth that she connected with. The Earth in all its many manifestations became her muse from the earliest days of her life.
Great-Grandmother told me one day, “I guess I am getting old because I am now in my 70s.”Even though she was growing older, it was apparent that she still loved the feeling of the Earth beneath her bare feet. She liked to feel it in her hands. She often sat on the ground with her strong, slender legs spread out as though she wanted to cover as much ground as possible with her lithe body. She encouraged us to lay on the earth under the majestic pine trees in the shade. We children often reclined on the Earth with her and we all laughed, told stories, and dreamed together. It felt so good to lay there as she looked up through the sky holes in the tree above. We lay there, flat on our backs, pasted down onto the surface of the earth like a magnet. Together, we gazed into the canopy above us, and beyond into the heavens.
She spoke gently as she told us,
“Our bodies need the earth. We were created to be one with the earth. Remember, the first people were made from earth. The Creator has a special love for the Earth and He has an everlasting love for the people he made, too. The Earth helps us remember where we came from.”
My body felt so heavy when I was flat on the soft pine covered hillside. She spoke again and said, “The Earth is a “positive charge and people are a negative charge. It is necessary for us to join our body with the Earth’s surface to become complete. We are just like a set of magnets- the positive and the negative charge have to be together for the magnet to work properly.”
Our unconventional Great-Grandmother spoke to us one afternoon about a day she thought about from the time when she was a very young girl. She reflected on it for a little bit of time and I noticed she seemed like she was far away from us. Her eyes were the color you only see when you look deep into the bottom of the creek, when the sun shines down on the surface of the flowing waters. Sometimes, her haunting eyes looked so pale in the afternoon light, as we lay under the pines on this little hillside outside her cabin.
After some time, she laughed out loud for a few seconds and then began to tell us a story.
“I believe it was probably near the middle of summer because the days were smoldering and languid. The bright sun was high in the sky very early in the morning that particular summer. The grass was discolored, like the tan straw that snapped as I walked on it. There were some leaves, all shriveled and curled up, there on the grass, too. I heard the sound in the hot afternoon breeze. It was a symphony of insects, all singing together like a high pitched chorus. Was it the locusts? I really can’t recall exactly where the sound came from, but it seemed to me like the sounds were coming from the sky and the trees - even from the grass. I walked in my bare feet, across that dry golden grass and I could smell a slightly musty scent in the air that day.”
Great-grandmother paused for a time and she took a deep breath. I thought she was trying to bring in as much air to her lungs as she could. Her entire body seemed to heave, to take in the afternoon air. She inhaled through her nose. “She held her breath for a long time,” I thought. I heard her begin to release her breath and she exhaled through her open mouth. I watched, as she did this many times. She relaxed more and more. I could almost feel how she was settling down as I watched her and listened to the quiet sounds of her breath and the radiating sounds of the insects that seemed to surround us. This day was so peaceful.
She continued her story:
“The days were so intense and hot that my skin felt sticky all the time. My hands seemed like they were dipped in wet glue and I kept trying to separate my fingers. My long sun washed hair felt wet from sweating when I played in the trees that summer afternoon. I kept thinking about how my body felt so hot and dirty, but I was aware of the stifling heat of the early afternoon. I am sure I must have looked so very small to anyone who observed me as I stood beneath the large leather-textured tree. I was a small girl but I was bold and strong. Neighbors called me ‘a wild child.’ I suppose that was because I was always in my bare feet and I ran across the hot gravel in the driveways and the sizzling pavement. My feet were thick on the bottoms so I really didn’t feel the stones or the heat that much!”
“I glanced up into the gnarled branches, with their downward movement towards the earth. The Apple tree had a central trunk and then in just about three feet from the ground, it has split itself somehow into three parts. I can still remember how I felt the pinch on my bare feet and how it felt to wedge each foot, carefully, into the low separation to begin the climb upwards into the tree
The old tree always felt like it had strong, throbbing muscles and the skin of it was crackled on the branches that reached out in every direction over my head. The tree trunk and branches felt cool and rough. It was so shady under the tree, and I liked it because I felt like I was all alone in this entire world. Shimmering dapples of sunlight filtered through the thick leaves and the little spots of light danced on the ground all around me. It made me think I might be dancing on a stage. I was all alone on that stage like a ballerina. I was always a star. The shimmering lights streamed down all around me and all over my body. Some days I danced in circles below the shady tree.” Great-Grandmother smiled and her eyes were closed as she seemed to be watching herself dancing. Again, there was a silence and shortly she began to speak of how she felt when she danced in the beams of sunlight as a little girl.
“At first I spiraled in a tight circle. My feet went faster and faster as I continued twirling about on the grass beneath the tree. I felt the breeze pulsing on my outstretched arms. My arms seemed like airplane propellers, moving round and round, we dipped up and down, and my arms seemed to be taking me far away into the sky. My hands vibrated and tingled and I opened them wide as they led me off into the obscure distance, in my imagination. I thought I will fly like a bird! If I fly long enough, my arms will turn into wings and I will be a shiny black crow! I will travel between the two worlds bringing messages back and forth from the underworld. My slender fingers spread wide apart, as the forces of the wind made them feel fat and tight. The light and I were old friends and we spun together in ever widening circles, around and about, under the tree, until we could barely breathe.”
I always knew this hulking giant tree was her favorite Apple tree. She told me it was a protective, sheltering hide-away. I knew this ancient Apple tree stood just behind our neighbor’s gray concrete block garage. As Great-Grandmother recalled, “it was the only tree that stood in my neighbor’s yard. I could not say that there were no other trees, but it is this giant one that I can still remember so clearly. It must have been very old and looking back on the scene through the lens of my memory, It seemed to me it stood as a sentinel that separated the garage from the rows of garden plants.”
I can tell you, for sure, Great-Grandmother knew for a certainty, this tree separated and divided the back yard but it also connected Heaven and Earth. In her childhood adventures, it was the space between here and there - between the present moment and the future. The tree stood as a vertical division in a horizontal, verdant landscape – an axis Mundi. For Great-Grandmother, this tree was magical.
My Great-Grandmother knew then just as sure as she knows now about secret things. She is familiar with hidden places and what they signify. This wise woman discerned the life inside of rocks, and the tears that were inside the rocks. She had the gift of imagination. Silent and quiet things are most often unnoticed by people who can never visualize them.
Some people call my Great Grandmother a “seer.” But she really cannot see very well because she said she has sight loss. Occasionally, our Great-Grandmother talked to us about seeing with her inner eyes. She calls this her “intuition.” She says, “I see special places that people with good eyesight have never understood. Those people who take a quick look don’t see what is all really there. They never learned that looking and seeing are different things. Seeing takes a very long time to do. When you remember to trust your inner feelings, then you will see very well, my dear children.”
The secret places are all tucked away in our Great-Grandmother’s memories. One by one, over the years, she shared them with her children and her grandchildren. Even now, today, she shares these memories with me, her Great-Granddaughter. Great-Grandmother continues to be the storyteller for our family. Just like the Griot in an African village, Great-Grandmother is the one who preserves the clandestine memories for our family. She continues telling the stories that give her descendants the information we need on our own personal journey through life. I am satisfied because she will continue to hold the ancient recollections of our ancestors in her own soul until the time is right.
© Lynda McKinney Lambert