Come Walk With Me


On August 26, 1991, my sister, Carol, and her husband celebrated a milestone wedding anniversary. Dave is her second husband (her first having been tragically killed in an automobile accident). In honor of the celebration of their twenty-fifth anniversary, I invited Carol and Dave to 'Come Walk with Me' as I took them on a journey of my memories.

And now, I invite you to walk along with us in hopes that you, yourself, are encouraged to take your own memory walk through time.


Important: To maintain the integrity and 'flow' of this composition, I have decided to give it it's own page. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a rather lenthy bit of reading. If you wish, you may Exit now.
Come Walk With Me

Come walk with me
as I wander down the path
of "Yesterday".
The path is long
and filled with bumps
and ruts,
and we may find
a few potholes
along the way,
but the sun is shining,
the air is warm
and inviting,
and the flowers
are in full bloom.
We shall have a lovely afternoon.
So, take hold of my hand
and come walk with me now.
Our journey through yesterday
is about to begin.


Listen carefully.
Do you hear it?
Water tripping over stones.
That is the sound
of the small creek
that runs through the fields
just back of our house.
It ripples quietly and gently
as it carries itself
along its twisting, winding way.
From the bay
into which it empties,
the water of the small creek
which flows past our house
blends with the cold waters
of Lake Ontario.
Imagine that!
The water we watch
flowing by today
will some day
flow into the great river
they call the St. Lawrence,
and, from there,
it will become a small part
of the Mighty Atlantic.
How far our lives travel
without us!

Look.
There we are.
Bare-footed,
pants rolled up to the knees,
we stand in the creek
near the red garages
where Pat Mills
sometimes keeps his car.
We dig into the clay there
and gather it into a lump.
Tomorrow, it will be
an ashtray.
Next day, it will be
forgotten.
At the base of our property,
at the far end of the rows
of raspberry bushes,
clipped and tied with twine
to wooden stakes
hammered into the ground
with a palm-sized rock,
two majestic maple trees
stand silent guard.
The creek, our creek,
passes close by,
giving life to the sentinels.
For years, they have stood there
and withstood nature.
Yet, even they bow down
to a hurricane
named "Hazel".
They are uprooted
and toppled in a breath
and lay down, as if to rest
after a long journey.
A short distance upstream,
a small, rickety, wooden bridge
spans the creek.
The potato fields lie
on the other side.
Dad is standing there
with a long pole
wrapped on one end
with old rags
and soaked in gasoline.
He sets it alight
with his favourite
flip-top Zippo lighter
and burns out the hornets' nests
that somehow appear there,
hanging under the bridge,
year after year.
Later, in the afternoon,
we carry crates of potatoes
across that bridge
and down into the basement
where we stack them,
one atop the other,
in the potato bin
in the corner.
Nearby is a small window
that hinges at the top
and pushes outward
with a reluctant groan.
Outside is the window well
that the small kids
scrunch themselves into
and turn on the faucet
that is attached to a hose
so long
that it will reach
the berry patch.
Across the driveway
we can see the field
that stretches to the street,
all ploughed and ready
for sowing next year.
Along its side runs
the ditch
where Mel and Bob
got stuck one day
and Mom threw them in
after their boots.
And there is old Mr. Gillette,
standing on the front stoop
of his little house.
Beyond, on Prince Edward Street,
Uncle Arthur heads toward town.
King, his German Shepherd,
is harnessed and reined
and pulling Uncle Arthur behind
on his custom, hand-made cart
that looks like a sulky.
Aunt Helen awaits his return
just down the road.

It is Spring, now,
and we kids gather with Dad,
holding our own fire-tending tools,
waiting excitedly
to burn last year's grass
on the banks of the creek.
"To keep the grass under control,"
Dad tells us,
but in his heart,
he knows it is a rare chance
for us kids to play with fire
without getting yelled at.
Tulips are poking their heads
out of the gardens around the house,
and blankets of snow-white
Lilies of the Valley,
Mom's favourite,
remind us of the Winter
just passed.
The trees will soon be green
and the vegetable gardens
are ready for planting.
A stake is stuck into the ground
on either end,
twine stretched between,
and wrapped around each stake
to mark a row.
The wrong end of a rake
makes a perfect trough
for dropping in carrot
and radish seeds.

Warm, summer days
are filled with
youthful laughter,
relieved at the end
of another school year.
Across the creek,
we can hear
the 'clop-clop'
of horses' hooves
as Mr. Ingles
guides his sulky
around the track.
Further across the fields,
at a bend in Butler Creek,
where the water runs
slow and deep,
and sheltered beneath
a pair of grand maples,
a sod dam has been built,
holding back the water
to make our own private
swimming hole.
The heat never seems
to bother us
as we play Red Rover,
King of the Hill, or
Red Light Yellow Light.
Evening comes too quickly
and we sneak in a game
of Kick the Can
before bed time.

Autumn is here already,
and the trees put on
their rainbow-coloured robes
before undressing for
a long, winter sleep.
The days are cooler, now
It will snow soon.
Thanksgiving has already passed
with a big turkey dinner
complete with mashed potatoes,
gravy, cranberries,
macaroni salad and baked beans,
and apple, cherry, raspberry,
and pumpkin pie for dessert.
And now, tomorrow,
we will stuff ourselves again
with Hallowe'en candy.
Our home-made costumes
are ready to put on
and we have carefully
mapped out our routes
in our heads
that will take us
to all the best places:
Mrs. Palmer's for home-made cookies,
Alvin O'Connell's for popcorn balls,
MacIntosh's for candy apples
and home-made fudge.
Mom has her thinking cap handy
to try and guess all the names
of the little goblins
who appear at the door.
When Halloween is gone,
we know that Christmas
is just around the corner.

The world is white
with Winter's blanket of snow.
Deep snow drifts
fall victim to our imaginations
and become elaborate forts
with secret tunnels
shooting out
in all directions.
The lawn at the side of the house
becomes a skating rink
where everyone gathers
to play hockey.
Novice skaters
skitter around the edges
on nervous legs,
holding tightly
to a chair.
The hill behind the house
becomes an Olympic
toboggan run.
And then it is Christmas.


A strange whistle blows
far in the distance
and we all run to the street corner
to catch a brief glimpse
of the new diesel train engines
as they zip along the tracks,
towing their long lines
of clacking cars to another place.
The wig-wags are gone now.
Wooden gates lower to block traffic.
Progress, they say.
And now, sadly,
just a short way down the path,
we run to wave a teary 'good-bye'
to the old steam locomotives,
chugging along with their
chug-chug sound and their
lonesome, forlorn whistles
screaming in despair and resignation
as they pass by on their way
to uselessness and antiquity.
Across the tracks,
on the street corner
just past the dry cleaners,
we sit on the grass,
waiting anxiously for a truck,
laden with freshly-harvested peas
from the north.
It slows as it rounds the bend,
and, suddenly, a million kids
attack en masse,
furiously grabbing armsful of vines
before the truck is able to escape
down the road to the pea factory.
Then we sit and wait again,
victoriously eating the booty
we have so craftily nipped,
until the next truck falls victim
to our ever-hungry fingers.


We are picking tomatoes for Grandpa Simpson
and marking the crates we have picked
with our own trademark symbols:
a small, green tomato set into the corner;
or two in opposite corners;
or a withering plant stem.
We always have cool water to drink,
there, in the rum bottle
wrapped in yesterday's newspaper
and left in the cooling shade
of a tomato plant.
Grandpa's Ford stands silen
at the end of the rows,
waiting to take us home
at the end of the day.
"Bend at the hips," Grandma says
"Not the back."
We feel the bone-jerking thrill
of the old Ford truck;
a ride
that has not been experienced
since the days of
two-horse buckboards
and Colosseum chariots.

Summer passes ever onward,
the evenings growing steadily cooler.
We set alight piles of old tires
and watch as the warming,
rubber-smelling,
smudge pot smoke
drifts across the fields,
chasing the icy frost
back into the darkness.
The monster known as
a threshing machine,
with its squeaky belts
and clattering mechanics,
faithfully and bravely
makes its rounds
from grain field
to grain field,
with dozens of Simpsons
in beleaguered tow.
With its drive belt hissing,
the hungry mouth
greedily chews up
twine-tied sheaves
of oats, barley,
buckwheat or timothy,
spitting out the chaff
into an ever-growing mountain
and carrying the grains
into a waiting truck.
At night, we drag ourselves home,
our hair filled with bits of straw
and our arms and legs prickled
with thousands of blood-red pin pricks.
Exhausted, we fall into bed.
The work is hard and tiring,
but it builds strong minds and spirits
and unbreakable family ties.


We work, and we play,
but never do we play
as we do at our family picnics.
There we are,
gathered on the lakeshore
We have already collected
neighbouring picnic tables
and have lined them up
into a long, uneven,
snaky row.
They are covered, now,
with paper cloths
and are heaped high
with more food
than is ever necessary.
Watermelons are sliced
into thick, mouth-watering slabs
and piled high on silver trays.
Potato salads, cabbage and
macaroni salads,
meatballs and chicken,
cold cuts of all sorts,
beans (both 'baked' and
'pork and')
devilled eggs and pickles,
carrots, celery and radishes,
and more desserts
than I can possibly mention.
We ladle ice-cold lemonade,
home-made and bitterly refreshing,
lemon pieces floating on top,
from milk cans that,
years from now,
will sit in someone's home
and remind them
of how life used to be.
After bellies are stuffed
come the games:
three-legged races;
potato-sack races;
wheelbarrow races;
water-filled balloon toss;
raw eggs balanced on spoons
and clenched between the teeth
and raced across the grass;
fruit-flavoured Life Savers
passed down the line
from toothpick to toothpick;
and the always-popular baseball games.
A final romp on the beach
and it is time for home
and bed.
Sleep will come easily tonight.

Unlike this night:
Christmas Eve.
Sleep is elusive, unwanted.
We fight the Sandman,
but the time comes
when we can no longer
keep away the sand
and we close our eyes.
Sleep is the victor,
at last.
Morning comes quickly
and the younger ones awaken early,
trying to be quiet
as loudly as we can.
Finally, Mom and Dad
heave a sigh
that can be heard in Smithfield
and let us all come downstairs
to see how the gifts under the tree
have miraculously multiplied ten-fold
overnight.
And then
we have to wait even longer,
until we have eaten breakfast,
to discover what treasures
lie hidden in the wrappings.
One of us is chosen
to play Santa Claus
and pass around the gifts
one by one.
Each is carefully wrapped
and marked 'to' and 'from'
on a winter-scene gift tag.
Have you noticed yet
that Santa and Mom
buy their paper and tags
at the same store?

Afternoon.
The tree is empty now.
The paper has been carefully
picked up and packed away
for next year.
What couldn't be salvaged
sits near the wood stove
in the kitchen,
to warm us once again
as tomorrow's kindling.
Every toy has been played with
and clothes have been tried on
for size.
Mom and Dad lovingly thank us
with 'It's just what I've always wanted'
and secretly plan which gifts
will be tucked away
in the back of the closet
or hidden in a drawer
of their dressers,
never to be used,
but always kept
and forever loved.
We pile into the car
to join the rest of the families
for a grand Christmas dinner.
Here, in this clearing,
are all the Christmas dinners
we have ever had.
Over there is the Christmas
where we all somehow managed
to fit ourselves into
Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Jim's
sunporch-turned-dining hall.
There is our kitchen
with tables set up
in a big "L".
Uncle Lloyd had
plenty of room
for everyone.
Uncle George made room.
Over here is
Grandma and Grandpa Simpson's,
and here, Uncle Gerry's.
And look there!
Uncle Jim and Aunt Dorothy.
I almost didn't see that one.
But here is the best of all:
the first Christmas dinner
in Grandma and Grandpa Brown's
brand new home
when we almost got stuck
in a snowdrift.
I would love to stay
and look some more,
but we must be moving on.

We always look forward to
visiting Grandpa's farm.
The fun we have
playing in the hay mow
until Uncle Archie chases us out.
Standing around a half-barrel,
lying on its side
over a steady-burning fire,
sucking hot maple syrup
through a long piece of straw
we have taken from the barn.
Drinking fresh, cold milk
right from the cooler.
Trying to lose ourselves
playing hide and seek
in the vast cornfields.
Taking wary steps around the bull
which Uncle Archie always keeps
just inside the door.
The day comes, though,
when the new highway,
the 401,
forces us to detour from
the road to Grandma's house.
Never again can we travel
the road we have always loved,
and waited to travel.
These days I wish
never to forget.


Look over there!
Between those trees.
A narrow path leads off
to the right.
I almost missed it.
It doesn't look very well-used.
It has become rather overgrown
with weeds and grass,
and the branches of the trees
are bent down into a bower
where the sun shines through
and sprinkles silvery sunlight
on the green below.
Watch your step as we see
where the path leads.
It bends to the left,
so stay close.
I don't want to lose you.

This is strange.
I don't see anything.
Do you?

Wait a minute!
There it is!
No, you can't see it.
You have to close your eyes
and sniff.
Can you smell it?
The stinging brine
of the large pickle vats
at Dyson's.
The fish scent
of Joe Shewman's boat yard.
The acidy stench of creosote
freshly poured
on our gravel street.
The lake breeze
blowing onto the beach.
Autumn leaves
burning on the roadside.
The warm, moist aroma
of the corn silo.
The thick, leather smell
of Jay Mills' tack shop.
Lilacs blooming in the Spring.
Raspberry pies
baking in the oven.
The drift of cedar
from a Dad-made hope chest.
The electric air
after a Summer thunder storm.
The crisp, clean freshness
of a frosty Winter morning.
The woody smell
of Herm Frances' wood shop.
The newly-sawed lumber
of the sawmill.
The hint of angels
in Sunday School.
The motor smells
of the old,
two-wheeled tractor.
The wispy, mind-lightening scent
of a sheet of public school
mimeographed paper.
Freshly-mown hay.
Indeed!
Even the smells of our youth
are ours to enjoy once again.


We are back
on the main path once more.
Quickly, now.
There is still much more
to see.


We are picking cranberries
in Cranberry Marsh
near the old farm.
Not much remains
of the old farm, now.
Just a few stones,
mostly hidden in the brush
at the base of the hill.
A hint of a foundation
that once held up
a loving home.
No matter, though.
We came for the cranberries,
and we will enjoy them
with our Christmas turkey.
And now, we are way up north,
spending the day
not picking huckleberries
as we had planned.
Instead, we spend the afternoon
trying to retrieve
a set of car keys
which Aunt Alice
has mistakenly locked
in the trunk.
We stop a car,
the same kind as Uncle Claude's,
but the keys don't fit.
Bob finally crawls through a hole
when we get the back seat out
and passes out the purse.
But now it is time
to go home.

Party time!
With Euchre,
and square dancing,
and fiddles ringing
far into the night,
and the little ones
anxiously
and excitedly
sneaking peeks
through the banister rails.
Here is the anniversary
for Aunt Bea and Uncle Jim
when a balloon filled with confetti
is popped over their heads
with a pin stuck through
the ceiling grate.
The Legion is the setting
for Grandma and Grandpa's
wedding anniversary,
with an hilarious mock wedding
complete with overalls,
corncob pipes,
and a shotgun.
Here is Mom and Dad's, too,
where they are about to find out
that the table and chair set
they are using is a gift
from the kids.
And here, the surprise party
at Little Lake,
where friends and family
gather together to bid them
congratulations and love.
Sadly, yet happily,
our last time together
as a family.
And yet . . .
We can never, ever,
be apart,
as long as we have this path
to walk.


And now, the road branches.
"Forever" leads off to the left;
"Special People" to the right.
Let's leave the left path
for another time
and follow the other
for a little while.


Oh, dear!
A million paths lead out
in all directions.
Over there is a group
marked "Simpsons",
and there, one marked
"Carol".
That, I think,
is the one we shall take.
It looks a bit foggy ahead,
so forgive me
if I fail to see everything
clearly.

Here is the spot, I think,
where Carol is giving me
a carriage ride.
Somehow, she loses control
of the squeaky buggy
and rolls me into the ditch.
I, being much to young
to do anything about it,
simply continue my tumble.
And here, a bit further ahead,
are some photographs
of me holding tightly
to Carol's skirt,
as if, in the event
she decides to repeat her attempt
to dispose of a pesky little brother,
she is going with me!
Now, we are in
the basement of the Baptist Church.
The tables are set,
and people gather
for a delicious dinner.
Carol is there,
eyeing the tempting dish
of coleslaw
set in front of her.
How odd, she thinks,
that there is so little.
She takes her share
and slips a forkful
into her mouth.
Her eyes open wide.
Beads of perspiration
break out on her brow.
Her body temperature raises
a few degrees.
Carol has her first taste
of horseradish.
The evening is damp now.
It has been raining
most of the day.
Carol and I are walking
up across the tracks
toward the Catholic Church.
But it is not Grandma's
we are going to.
We stop at the pea factory
and load a laundry basket
and a wheelbarrow with peas
that have been left to dry.
If the police come along . . .
It is another night.
Patricia is sleeping.
Mom is working late.
Carrie Craig shows up
at our house around ten
with a ton of smelt.
Dad, Carol and I
set about cleaning them.
Carol won't do the heads.
She can't stand
those fishy eyes
looking up at her.


The mist is heavy now,
but I can see a building.
It looks like the parsonage
in Colborne,
and there appears to be
a wedding taking place.
I can't see much
of the ceremony,
but I see clearly
the parade that follows.
Patricia and I
are in the back seat
of a car.
Mom is in the front,
and Mrs. Cook is driving.
I remember, now,
looking forward to it
for weeks:
horns blowing,
people looking at us,
excitement filling the air.
There is only disappointment.
Mrs. Cook drives too slowly.
No horns.
No people looking at us.
No excitement.
So much for my first wedding.

April Fools Day.
Mom tells us that
Carol has a baby daughter.
I am an uncle.
Of course, we don't believe her.
April Fools on us.
We believe her
when daughter number two
is born.

The mist is clearing away.
Something is wrong!
It's late at night.
The younger ones should be in bed,
but one peeks through the stairs.
Mom is helping Carol
put on her coat.
Dad is ready, car keys in hand.
Carol is crying.
"They said he would be okay!"
I didn't understand until later.
Carol is living with us now.
Nadine and Lori
become a part of our family
for a while.

Damn!
Why does the fog clear away now!
Patricia and I
are sitting on the sofa
watching Abbott and Costello
in "The Time of Their Lives".
Mom and Dad are away
visiting Grandma.
She's very sick.
Carol is watching us.
The phone rings,
and Carol answers.
It is around 4:30.
She comes into the living room,
crying, and mumbling
through her tears.
I hear, and tears fill my eyes.
Patricia asks "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I say.
But it isn't 'nothing'.
It is something very real.
Grandma is gone.
We all cry that night.

Another night,
and Mom is helping Carol
pull on her coat again.
They are both smiling,
Carol looks anxious.
"Do you think
he will like me?"
Carol meets someone this night
we can all look up to.
(We have to,
unless we are talking to him
from a second-storey window.)

Two young men, now.
One is ex-army.
The other is still
flying around the country
in company planes.
The kitchen floor is dirty,
and they decide to wash it
the Armed Forces way.
There is that look
on Mom's face
when they turn the pail
upside down,
pour out the water,
and proceed to mop it up.
You have to admit:
the floor looks pretty good now,
doesn't it?
Dave visits us often.
I'm not sure
if it is to see Carol,
or to get
a good, home-cooked meal.
(I hear that
where he eats at work
is a 'mess'.)

Another wedding.
Nadine and Lori
lead the way.
Dad follows,
proudly escorting Carol
down the aisle.
Mom sits there,
watching through
tear-filled eyes.
In front of them,
waiting anxiously,
is Dave:
Carol's husband-to-be.

Their memories become their own, now.
And we must leave them
to walk the rest of the way
alone.
And so, on this, the eve
of your wedding anniversary,
we wish you, Carol and Dave,
a very pleasant stroll.
There is your path,
waiting for you.
But, take your time.
You have a lifetime to enjoy.

Remember this
as we leave you here:

Memory is the power
to gather roses in Winter.

Happy Anniversary,
Carol and Dave

August 26, 1991

by Little Brother, Neil


The preceeding may be printed for personal use only.
No portions may be published without the expressed permission of the author!


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