I have a mystery from my childhood that I go back to again and again. I spent lots of time as a little girl at my grandparents' home in the Alquina, Indiana countryside. The air was filled with the humming of bees as they seduced the pollen from Grandma’s hollyhock bush and the constant thrumming of cicadas singing their hot summer song. Everywhere I looked were fields of corn whose frizzy tassels sang a sibilant tune of their own. The old barn held many adventures for a little girl with a big imagination. Old tools with unimaginable purposes hung from the rafters, ladders to the hayloft begging to be climbed by a little girl with a big imagination, and the earthy smell still lingering from long ago horses that pulled the sleigh. Seated on its cracked red leather seat, I picked up the reins that were draped over the side of the sleigh, jiggled the rusty sleigh bells still clinging to their brown leather strap, and giddy-upped to great adventures on the open road. Evenings, Grandpa and I sat on the porch swing- watching fireflies light up our night in nanoseconds.
While Grandpa was at work during the day, I mostly tried to stay out of Grandma’s way. Sometimes she kept me busy swatting flies and paying me a half a penny per fly. I guess I was on the honor system as to how many I actually killed. I really wanted that half a penny if it didn’t come out even, but she always rounded down, frugal lady that she was. If I had been good and not bothered her with lots of “silly questions,” she would sometimes reward me by allowing me to cross the road to get the mail. There was very little traffic on Rural Route 3, when I looked to my right I could see the neighboring farm down the road. When I looked to my left I could see the narrow ribbon of road uncurling up a small hill, dividing the cornfields. On one steaming hot afternoon with the promise of a frosty glass of hand squeezed lemonade if I went out for the mail, I ventured across the road to the mailbox. And that’s when I saw something lying at the edge of the road in the gravel. It was about the size of goose egg and shaped like a capsule. The thing was enclosed in a membrane, the color a combination of brownish-red and bruised purple. I tapped it with the toe of my sneaker. Nothing. I looked around for a road kill that it might have been squeezed out of. Nothing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I knew I’d better check the mail box and get back to the house before Grandma realized I was taking a long time. For some reason I wanted to keep my discovery to myself, like it was something I shouldn’t have seen. It was my secret find to ponder. I looked in the mailbox and among some bills was a letter from Grandma’s sister Grace. Good. That would keep her busy for a while and I might be able to sneak back across the road and gaze at my find.
After the letter was delivered and my lemonade was gulped down, I left Grandma fanning herself at the kitchen table reading her letter from Aunt Grace. I quietly closed the screen door in the living room and hurried to the gate. It creaked when I opened it, but Grandma’s hearing wasn’t very good so I wasn’t too worried. No cars. I ran across the road. Still there. Glistening in the sun. It seemed to be swelling up. Whatever was contained within straining at that thin membrane. I heard the screen door slam. Grandma shouted at me to get back across the road. When she asked what I was doing out there, I told her I thought I had dropped something. I’m not sure she bought it, but she was cooking dinner and wanted me to set the table. When Grandpa got home, I was tempted to show my find to him. Something stopped me. I never told anyone. I still don’t know why.
I think it has to do with living in a family with secrets. We had apocryphal stories like other families, but we were never allowed to ask questions so the stories behind the stories were never told. There was always something missing, something always lurking in shadow. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to this find in the road. It was my secret, not someone else’s. I didn’t ever have to tell anyone if I didn’t want to. Then I could be just like every one else in my family.
Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse