Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pine Needles

One side of my grandparents’ yard was a sloped grove of pine trees. When we were kids, my brothers and I would make elaborate mazes and forts out of the blankets of pine needles beneath the trees, digging and tunneling with our bare hands until the dark soil under them was exposed and we had created enough paths for a good game of chase in the shade. I never thought to take any pictures of our pine needle wonderland, but this favorite picture of Papa and Grandma shows some of the pine trees down the slope behind them.

And thanks to online mapping and its incredible “street view” feature, when I look up my grandparents' old address, I can see a bit of that same view from the opposite perspective, looking up the hill toward their house: The trees and their pine needle carpet and all of it in the shade that made it feel even more magical.
My grandmother died exactly five weeks after my grandfather, over Memorial Day weekend of 2001, and a week or so later, before the property changed hands and the new owners moved into the house, I made one last visit to my grandparents’ house with my then-boyfriend. After giving him an extensive walking tour of the mostly-empty house and yard, I asked him to lock the front door for me. While he did, I sat down on the brick steps of the front porch, breathing in those pine needles one last time, and fumbled around in my overalls’ pockets for a tissue that wasn’t already in wet shreds. Finding none I wiped my face on my his shoulder. “How do I leave?” I choked out. “How do I just leave now?” We never came up with any answer besides the obvious: You just do. You have to, so you do. What’s amazing, we decided that afternoon, isn’t that it ends and you find a way to go on, but instead that two people can love each other enough to create a home so good and so beautiful that their granddaughter would want to show it to one of her friends and tell him all about it.
Today after my run, I walked around my current neighborhood a little and stopped at a yard nearby with its own small patch of pine trees. And for the first time since that final visit to Papa and Grandma's house nine years ago, I bent down to separate a plush carpet of pine needles with my bare hands until a hole appeared. The neighbors, if they notice the hole at all, will likely suspect an animal had been digging there today, but they will never know how much that "animal" wanted to keep burrowing until an elaborate maze had been constructed in their yard. And call out to her brothers that it was ready and we could start the chase now. And laugh and shriek with them over every frantic slippery step that resulted in falling into a pile of pushed-aside pine needles. And look up every now and then, with pine needles and dirt in her hair, to wave to her grandparents as they smile down at her from the living room window.
As Old Friend and I headed toward the car to leave Papa and Grandma's house for the last time that day in 2001, I scooped up a handful of pine needles and a pine cone to keep at home with other treasures. Today before walking away from the neighbors' yard to walk home, I took only pictures. How do I leave? How do I just leave now? You just do. You take what you can and move on.


FlowerLady said...

Very nice post Val. I love the scent of fallen pine needles on the ground on a hot summer day.

Have a great day ~ FlowerLady

The Favorite Things Guy said...

KUDOS, Val! Thanks for joining my blog. I'm going to enjoy reading this favorite little place in the web.

--Favorite Things Guy

Val said...

Thank you both. And yes about the pine needles' scent, FlowerLady. I can't believe I didn't think to say more about that in this piece. :)

katie jean said...

My grandparent's lived in SF. Luckily it's just 1 1/2 hours away from me. I ask my husband to drive by everytime we are in the city! It always pulls at my heart strings, the memories of my childhood and their love. I still shed a tear :)
I feel lucky to have those memories! And thank you for sharing yours and reminding me :)

Keri said...

What a beautiful post!

Val said...

Thank you too, Katie. :) I haven't seen my grandparents' house since that last visit--I couldn't bear to see it now, I think. It's great that your husband gets to see it with you, though. It's wonderful that you can share it with him that way.

And Keri! Hello and thank you. I'm always tickled to find you here. :)

Anonymous said...

I love to read your family stories Val... you have such a wonderful way of "taking me there"... I could feel & smell the pine needles and saw grandparents beaming smiles as they looked at you both playing, you have such beautiful memories, thank you for sharing them.
And I know what you mean about going back to their home... I tried to do that and was so sad, I would have rathered remembered it the way it used to be, thru my minds' eye.
Love you!!

Val said...

Hi, Madai. Thank you. :) And yes, I don't want to go back for that reason. The new owners had big plans for my grandparents' house like tearing down sheds, knocking down walls, etc. I could have lived without hearing the details of their plans, and I certainly don't want to see what all they've done to the place. Here's to happy memories, right. :)

Anonymous said...

Val - well said. How does one move on? One just does..taking the love and memories and leaving the rest behind. Love you. Cheeze.

Val said...

I love you too, Marylou.