Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What You See

Here is my son Henry when he was barely two. He is staring through the fence at the house my great grandfather built in Cadillac Michigan. This house loomed large in my childhood. Although it was sold out of the family for a number of years, my grandfather owned the property next door so we always knew it as the family farmhouse. My cousins and I always had a feeling it was haunted. I think my father thought so, too, but never admitted it officially. He laughed off things like that, though late at night after a few drinks, he would tell a story about the room upstairs where his grandmother had died - a story about himself as a ten-year-old boy running across the field after bringing the cows in - and seeing the white gauzy curtains in that upstairs window, floating out on the balmy summer wind, seemingly beckoning to him. He was so spooked that he accidentally whacked a hornets’ nest with the stick he had been using against the trees to herd the cows. He ran home with his shirt yanked up over his head, and still got stung. Like most of my father’s stories, this one had a humorous punch line, an ending that veered away from the supernatural beginning, the unknown becoming known.

What you don’t see in this picture are the remains of the old barn and silo out back, the cabin where we spent many summer evenings, the battered picnic table, and the rope swing in the tree. What you don’t see is what is coming: the new house we built next door and then sold, the red maple in back we planted when my father died, his ashes that we scattered in the woods behind the field behind this house. You don’t see Henry grown now into a lanky thirteen-year-old California boy who still remembers Michigan even though we haven’t been back in several years. You don’t see Henry’s brother Ethan, who was likely squirming and kicking wildly inside me – seven months pregnant – when I took this picture. But in a sense all of these things were maybe already there waiting to happen, like a sudden gust of warm breeze.