After a heavy rain, the valley was a river, and my grandparents’ 48-acre farm in western Pennsylvania became a playground of puddles. Sure, we built dams from burlap sacks and sand to avoid flooding and took shelter inside by a toasty fire when a storm got too rough, but the rain also brought with it a whole new book of adventures to be written, and I was more than willing to take its blank pages and run. I crossed bridges as a conquistador with a stick poised like a rifle at my side. I raced an old metal scooter across an open field and watched its wheels grow worn and rusted. I solved mysteries in the lush forest of trees and rushed into the valley to rescue bugs traveling down the river. A little rain never kept Penny and Rose’s grandkids indoors for long.
But on a rainy Saturday in the Summer of 1968, a little storm tested the courage of an even littler child, and that is where my tale begins…
Keith and Rosie were throwing a party in the barn that night, and the girls were all abuzz awaiting the arrival of Aunt Kathie’s handsome date from Chicora. We all banned together to haul the heavy speakers, guitars, and drum kit down the valley as rain tapped lightly on their wooden cases. Though I was all but six-years-old with berry-stained cheeks and a groundhog’s build, I marched triumphantly with the teens to the great white doors of the barn holding a single cymbal like a trophy above my head.
My cousins were legends, my idols, true rock ‘n rollers who donned well worn Levi’s and Jimi Hendrix tees as they walked from plank to plank to avoid the mud and wet hay of the barn. I stood on a hay barrel directing their every move like a conductor, my trusty dog Little Girl, whom we all just called “LG”, at my side.
The guests trickled in at 8 o’clock to the sound of tuning guitars and I took my place up in the hayloft to get a bird’s eye view of the action. If the adults truly wanted to keep an eye on their kids, this was the spot to hide, but I wouldn’t tell them that for another twenty years. Tonight, the loft and all the teenage mischief down below were mine.
The rain started to pour and lightning cracked so loud I was certain it struck the roof, and poor LG took off like a horse to the races, down the stairs and out into the night. I ran after her without a second’s thought, threading through a mass of bodies to the barn doors. I caught a glimmer of her in the moonlight and sprinted as fast as I could in her direction, shouting her name any time my little lungs could manage. Before I knew it, I had ventured through the trees, well past the pond, and the beloved farm on Butternut Road felt miles away.
Dusk turned into darkness and the loud bass from across the pond faded into rolling thunder. I sat beneath an apple tree shivering with nerves and cold, but worse still was the thought of LG lost somewhere out in the wild, lost like me and scared. Minutes seemed like hours under that apple tree, and I swear I caught a sliver of the sunrise through the dense morning fog. But Penny claimed he found me sound asleep at midnight, with LG in my clutches, keeping me calm and warm.
I was sick with a cold for a solid week. Rose fed me chicken noodle soup and hot herbal teas, and though she always had a way of making her grandkids feel special, that one week in the summer of 1968 was especially hers and mine.
As the years went by, the tale grew taller; I had been lost for days, not hours; the storm had rattled the rusty hinges on the barn so intensely that one door flew off into the night sky like a magic carpet; the drummer who played that night was “so cool,” “like way better than Keith Moon, man” and was going to be a huge star had he not been drafted and died in Vietnam. The party guests grew grander and better looking, and their names more famous throughout our memories. Names like Brenda, Gloria, and Tom Cunningham, and that handsome guy Aunt Kathie dated from Chicora; names quietly etched under an apple tree and immortalized. They were larger than life and the farm that welcomed them larger still.
Some nights, when I tuck my children into bed, and I hear the taxis blowing their horns, the soft jazz from the restaurant below, heels tapping swiftly across the concrete—the city street alive with a new kind of dreamer—I think of the crickets and whippoorwills, the cacophony of wildlife that once did their darndest to drown out Penny’s snores and sing his grandkids back to sleep. I can smell the daffodils, the muddy soil at my feet, and the rough bark of the apple tree at my back. And as I rest against the names of those who came before me, my sweet children end their prayers and say, “Amen”.