Wednesday, May 28, 2014

with heart-cramping tenderness

I am thinking it's a sign 
That the freckles in our eyes 
Are mirror images and when we kiss 
They're perfectly aligned
--Such Great Heights, The Postal Service

Just finished reading A Severe Mercy. It is a story of the sweetest sort of sternness. But I think I loved it mostly because it contains such a distinct world with a unique and particular flavor. It reminded me so keenly of those summer days at the Rancho reading C.S. Lewis. That summer I was thirteen and read every book of his I could get my hands on.

Everyone has their Idlewilds, their Green Gables, their Hundred Acre Woods, their Bridesheads. In A Severe Mercy, Davy and Van find their Grey Goose, their Ladywood, their Glenmerle, their Oxford. Places of distinct beauty and distinct us-ness. The sort of place where there is room for people to just be people. These are the sorts of places where so many of our precious memories are kept: most of them happy, some of them very, very sad. All of them poignant and sharp, running to meet you the moment you walk into the door. 

This is The Rancho. When I was six, my mother’s parents moved from 724 Catawba Street, located in the modest northern edge of the Raleigh metropolis to The Rancho, on the outskirts of the city. 
At first, I was far from pleased. Catawba Street had everything a grandchild could ask for: pink bunk beds (bunk beds being at this point highly exotic, and perpetually begged for), a back porch where all the grown-ups would congregate (i.e., stay out of our way), and mountains of books to read on the front step with the cats (my favorite being the fairy tales that had holographic covers and panoramic illustrations). 
 But The Rancho. If Catawba Street met all the eager desires of a granddaughter, The Rancho showed you how paltry your desires had been in the first place. Catawba Street was C.S. Lewis’ mudpies we are too content to dabble in, and The Rancho was the ocean that overwhelms and encompasses all our desires. Tucked back from the road, down a winding gravel drive, The Rancho was tucked into acres of Carolina pine forest. 
The backyard that my grandparents cleared was home to several different gardens, a tadpole pond, and a deer feeding stump, where daily, a huge family of deer would come to eat the peanut butter and corn my grandmother put out for them. Venturing beyond the backyard, you could follow any of the color-coded paths my grandfather had marked. If you used the map he created, you could find all the important landmarks: the creek with rope swing, the old dirt path, the woodshed, the alligator tree. Once, my sister and I, wandering in the woods sans map, got dreadfully lost somewhere between the yellow path and the green path as a thunderstorm was rolling in. I distinctly remember my heart rising to my throat as the first flash of lightning burst through the thick Carolina atmosphere. We rushed through the woods, trying to find an exit, until we ran into the stoic guardian of the old path, the alligator tree. Never had I been so glad to see the eerie alligator tree as when we stumbled upon it then. 

 If it is possible, the inside of The Rancho is just as magical as the outside. 
The basement still has bunk beds, the old pool table, the strange old dolls and other toys, and the old plinko arcade game. The upstairs level is just a half-floor, and it looks over the main floor so charmingly. There are two beds: one pink, on one side of the loft, and one blue. At one time or another I have shared these beds with my sister, my brother, a cat or two, or that one trip I was in the throes of young love and slept with my boyfriend's sweat-shirt every night. I felt the separation of a week very keenly. 
Years and years of memories: and the Rancho holds them all. 
 Not to mention that all over this rambling house: from the basement bookshelves to the large sunroom to scattered all over the kitchen table: there are books. Books on books on books. This place is a bibliophile’s dream. As soon as I arrive, my grandmother always pushes several New Yorker or Atlantic articles she’s marked to show me, and recommends a book or five for me to read while I’m staying. Often, I’ll sit out on the Rancho’s gigantic sunporch and read, while watching the hummingbirds dart about the hummingbird feeder right outside the window.
I sat with my grandfather this afternoon out on the screened in porch after lunch, and we watched the birds dance in the sprinkler and peck away at the bird food my grandmother left them.
We laughed as the goldfinches congregated above the feeder, unsure of how to harvest food from this strange object.
A skink got caught inside the porch, throwing itself against the screens, desperate to get out, so I ushered it out the door with a napkin.


But the giant sunporch is home to the happiest of memories. 
It is perfect in all kinds of weather. 
I remember sitting cozily in one of the wicker chairs during an evening thunderstorm, and talking with my aunt about heaven. 
The vents in the floor go directly down to the basement, so you could spy on your younger siblings, and call out to them as they were playing beneath your feet.
The sunporch is one of those places you know you feel at home. 
It is Idlewild and Oxford all in one. 

At the beginning of their story, Davy and Van create a Shining Barrier around themselves: a fortress to protect their love. A way to cherish and preserve their intimacy in the midst of a selfish and distant world.
One feels that perhaps such a thing could exist between Creator and Created. That there are places on earth where the Shining Barrier remains intact. Where one can retreat to to find a bit of sweet quiet in the midst of a loud and distant world.
The Rancho, I think, has its own Shining Barrier. No matter the pain and sorrow that might enter into the memories of that place, there is a particular love that surrounds that homely house, that coats the pine forests with mystery, and sings with the summer tanager by the wildflower garden.


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