It is the early 1950’s. Not a hundred years ago, but in this old head it feels like it could be. Mom wipes some flour off her house dress, tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and hands us a basket of apples with a handle big enough for two little hands to share. She tells us to deliver this to grandmas house. Together, remember, mom tells my brother. Keep your little sister with you, wait if she gets behind, don’t walk on the road, watch for cars. No stopping! Grandma is waiting for you, so off you go. Dad and I will be over for supper soon.
That’s lot of rules and instructions, and I’ll never remember all of them. Neither will my brother, but that’s simply because he choses not to. He bends and breaks rules all the time or makes up his own. I admire him greatly and trust him implicitly and will do whatever he says.
Grandmas house is easy to see from ours, even though it’s a bazillion miles away, up a winding laneway at the top of a hill. I love to go to grandmas and I’m thrilled to be big enough at last to walk there with my brother. I like to keep my eyes on our destination as it gets closer and closer with every step. I like how the dry gravel dust puffs up and coats my shoes. Ron likes to stop and dawdle and kick things, and jump down into the ditch for an amazing stick or a funny rock. I am on the look-out for big bad wolves. If I tell him this he’ll just laugh at me, so I don’t. I imagine the house of Red Riding Hoods grandma looking just like this. It is made of stones and has big white pillars holding up the roof over the porch where one corner points in and another juts out. No one else outside of a story book has a veranda of such magnificence.
There are big white outdoor rocking chairs waiting to be climbed on, and the wonderful smell of flowers cascading from buckets and beds all around. The last leg of the laneway is very steep and the basket is ten times heavier than when we started out. I am dusty and thirsty and hot.
Grandma always whoops and fluffs up her apron and acts completely surprised to see us when we land on her doorstep. She says funny things like ‘land sakes’ and ‘mercy’ and is always calling out for Will. That’s grandpa. He never answers, but eventually he will show up from the barn or the field or the woodshed quietly going about his business. Grandma is never quiet. She’s the very opposite of that. It’s always crazy and noisy wherever she is, with banging pots and clomping feet and non-stop out-loud thinking. Years later when I learn about ‘inside voices’ I realize that grandma never had one.
She takes the apples and plops herself into a chair. Fetch another sharp paring knife Will! Don’t you children touch these knives! Oh, the apples are grand! Apple Brown Betty for supper, there’s nothing better. Will, fetch some kindling for the cookstove! And the stove is where that stick you brought into my house is headed, she tells my brother. No sticks in my kitchen, and empty those rocks out of your pockets young man, they belong outside on the road! Here’s the dipper. Go out to the pump and get yourselves a drink of water! Run along now! Shoo!
Ron and I escape back out into the sunshine, drink as much cold sweet water as we have the energy to pump, and then go looking for garter snakes in the long grass. Grandma thinks little people should be seen and not heard, but she talks so much that we never really have to say much to her, so that’s one rule that’s pretty easy to keep.
When night comes and I curl up in my little bed with my tummy full of sweet Apple Brown Betty, sleep comes easy. The long walk on short legs, all the sunshine and fresh air, plus a head full of grandmas random exclamations have done me in. I want to go again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that! I want it to be summer forever. I want to always have dust on my shoes.