Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Walk Back In Time

Daydreaming is one of the most pleasant pasttimes on lazy, hazy summer days. For a brief moment in time we are whisked away through our memory to another place or time away from our current reality. One of the best things about daydreaming is how they almost sneak up on you. One minute you are occupied with one thing or action and, before you know it, you are suddenly swept up in the dream. This very thing happened to me only a few days ago.

The temperature was in the 90's and the humidity was stifling. I had a rare two day in a row mini vacation and as I relaxed on one of those glorious afternoons, I suddenly found myself transported back to the days of my boyhood in central Illinois. Being an only child, I had no aunts or uncles. I didn't even have first cousins. I grew up in a very small family and in a neighborhood nearly completely devoid of any other kids with which to play. In an attempt to keep me from getting too bored and to teach me the proper work ethic, my grandmother would often suggest that I go to her sister and brother-in-law's home just outside my hometown to spend the day. On their property, my uncle annually planted what must have been one of the largest vegetable gardens in the area. It had to be continually maintained.

The Kissel's, Irene and Ed, owned a home which was, at that time, well into the country north of Pekin. They had a handful of neighbors and the neighborhood was a community unto itself. As I daydreamed I was taken back to a time that I believe must have been in the mid to late sixties. Before I knew it, I was standing smack dab in the middle of my great uncle Ed's enormous garden, hoe in hand, weeding away under the hot summer sun. This would not have been an unusual experience! I often did hoeing and weeding chores amidst the bounteous garden.

Ed was never one to skimp when it came to planting a garden. It was huge and contained what seemed to be to a little boy of only ten or so nearly every vegetable known to human kind!! He had the usual tomatoes--tons of them. He had row upon row of sweet corn, the kind that nearly melted in your mouth when you first sank your teeth into it. There were several varieties of lettuce and cabbage. There was one full row of little green onions that I delighted in sampling from time to time in an effort to ensure their quality! He had Bermuda onions, red onions, white onions, yellow onions, and other varieties of onion that I have, to this day, been unable to identify. He had rows of peas and every kind of bean from green to Lima to navy.

In another part of the garden he planted several rows of potatoes which I dutifully harvested for him at the appointed time of the year. That was quite a chore for it required me to dig up each plant and gather in the fresh spud. In still another part of the garden there was the carefully nurtured asparagus plants. Now as a kid I did not like asparagus at all. But as I learned from Joan my wife, a great cook I might add, that in order to cook asparagus properly you did not have to boil it to the point that the color changed from the rich green it was harvested in to a faded color that barely resembled green. The asparagus of my childhood was mush. Much to my surprise and delight, the asparagus of my later adulthood has been crisp and very tasty.

As I stood in the midst of all the vegetables, I closed my eyes. I could feel the warmth of the noon day sun on my face. I breathed in deeply taking in the aroma of fresh, black Illinois soil and the smell of healthy green plants flourishing in the bright sunlight and gentle breeze. All around me was the sound of birds. You see, Ed and Irene Kissel loved birds. Ed built several birdhouses and specialized in the Purple Martin apartment home that stood proudly above the landscape. I could hear the Martins screech as they busily circled the sky above the nearby lake in search of mosquitoes and other flying insects for their demanding young. One thing I noticed is that there was no traffic noises like we might hear today. Just the sound of nature busy in the middle of the summer.

I heard the dinner bell that was rung promptly at 5:00 every evening by Irene to call us all into the last meal of the day. The bell could be heard throughout the neighborhood and I truly believe that many of the families in that small corner of the world ate dinner according to the Kissel bell. That bell was unique. Mounted at the top of a telephone pole, it could be heard for miles. At least that's what I thought as a kid. In reality, I'm sure that it couldn't be heard beyond a couple of blocks away. Occasionally, I was given the honor of ringing that venerable old chime. When that happened, I felt that I had become an adult member of the clan!

In the middle of the season, her table was filled with every kind of vegetable from their garden. It looked like a salad bar! And the taste of those vegetables simply cannot be adequately nor accurately described. Fresh doesn't even begin to capture the taste sensation of biting into a freshly picked tomato!

Sunset in the country was a dazzling experience. After the day's work was finished, the dishes from supper had been washed, dried, and neatly situated in their familiar space in the cabinet, it was time for the family to gather in the expansive yard to talk and swap stories of the day just completed. Often, there was my grandmother and grandfather with grandpa puffing away on one of his beloved cigars. My mother, fresh from her day's work at a local insurance company would join us. Irene and Ed would settle into two of the metal chairs that represented the latest lawn fashion in the sixties. At times, some of neighbors would join us and as the fading light ushered in the night, laughter mixed with talk of the important issues of the day permeated the dusk air.

Because I was a child, I did not fully appreciate the experience. I remember often being bored by the whole thing. Yet, in my daydream, the reality came to me. I was blessed to be a part of a small family that bathed me daily in the love only a family can impart. In my minds eye, I could see the reds and oranges of sunset and hear the voices of my childhood, now stilled, drift through my whole being. And I smiled. What a wonderful gift that daydream was. It was as though I had actually traveled back in time to visit with family who have been gone from this life for many, many years. In my daydream they were as vibrant and wonderfully alive as I remember them being.

As I returned to the land of the present, I whispered a prayer of thanks to a God who sent me this wondrous, unexpected gift and reminder that the love of family is above all else. I only hope that you may be granted a daydream that allows you to discover a segment of your life that you may have forgotten. It is, indeed, a gift to be reminded once again, of how much you have been loved!