It all seemed different when this was the place to come to, the place we longed to visit in summer. When even as children we were eager to drive five hundred miles, across farmland and woodland as it unrolled into prairie. Different than when we came to be here, be from here.
Down in the draw where spring rains ran, in August the dry bed gave up arrowheads, glints of metal, sometimes a cracked bone. We knew these things, but not their names. Then it was Indians and settlers. We didn’t know Dakota, Ojibwe, Mandan, Cree. Although nobody knows who had walked here then, who left those things in the dirt.
Sometimes we helped hoe in my grandmothers garden, around the beans, or on the hills where the shoots from the melons and the squashed slowly snaked out their long fingers. We looked at the dirt more, saw the ladybugs on leaves. Beetles and crawling things whose names we didn’t know, who seemed more frightening when not known. There were big worms in the rich black soil and we gently worked them loose and tried to drop them down the backs of the girls’ shirts.
My sister always wanted to organize. Games. Hide and seek. We slunk down low along the sides of the house, in the garden. The voices of the adults, aunts and uncles, words wafting disembodied from the screened-in porch. Talk about mysterious adult things. The voices rising and falling, occasionally sharp. Some of us whispered on the far side of the house. “Who is arguing? Is someone mad?” Thinking we should stay out of sight.
Flowers grew beneath the kitchen window. Sometimes we sat under it, hearing the clinking of dishes coming from the cupboard. The scrape of a spatula on a skillet. Thick smells, dinner. A roast perhaps. We ducked down there, waiting to be called in. Sometimes my grandmother rang an old dinner bell that you could hear out across the fields. We went inside to wash, inspecting each others’ arms for ticks, our clothes for signs of dirt.
The tire swing hung from a low limb of a cottonwood. The youngest kids wanted to swing again and again, forever and ever. When the game got too long my older cousins flung the tire as hard as they could, in wide arcs, tire and kids sailing up in a blur into the branches, falling hard on the late summer ground. Frightened calls and then crying, Christine running up to the screened-in porch to tell the parents, but my aunts already coming at the sound of their cries.
Later, when the house was ours, I sat in that swing. Usually still, staring out at the quiet prairie. Staring but not seeing, my mind away in other worries, fears, sadness. Before Laura, about Laura.
The old windmill still stood, with only three twisted blades. Sometimes catching a gust, slowly turning, the rusty bearings groaning. My grandfather said once, “I should take that down. Some day a bad gust will catch then and it won’t be able to spin and that’ll be the end of it.” A storm blew it over when I was away at college. The yard seems empty now. Somehow it always seemed more empty after it became my yard. My cousins still visited, we still ran around the lawns in the late summer. But it was never the same.