When I was very small my grandfather lived on what was called the college farm. In his kitchen stood a glass canister like the ones you’d see in a doctor’s office, but this one filled with soda crackers. Net-bags of peanuts in the shell lay ready to yield to my thumbs not just the meat, but the woody scent. A bowl full of walnuts and pecans served as centerpiece. It looked like, and maybe was, a cross-section of a tree, bark still attached. In its center an array of picks bristled on a perforated cork, like quills on a porcupine. I would sit for hours (at least it seemed like hours to me) mastering the leverage of the nutcracker and working every scrap of nut meat out of a walnut shell.
In the living room, a corner near the door was full of scrap lumber and hammers and nails and saws and drills. I generated a lot of sawdust with these. In a bedroom my sister and I found a box of toys--a plastic soldier, a doll perversely clad in red fur, a stuffed monkey. My mother said they had been her toys when she was little. Inconceivable relics from the days of dinosaurs.
Things were always growing there. I saw, for the first time, newborn kittens, blind and shivering, each paw like a domino with its pink pads, the claws fine as thistles. Puppies, too; Grampa’s black dog would lie on the kitchen floor, puppies shoving each other out of the way to suckle. There was always a runt who got left out, and I thought that was a great injustice. I chased mice in the backyard where a pony named Sugar lived. Once I chased a mouse under a board. I turned the board over and found a nest of pink baby mice, and they were blind too.
The garden stretched to the horizon. At pea-picking time we went along the rows with kitchen bowls. I ate the English peas raw when no one was looking. I was too short to gather the corn, but I helped shuck it. The husks felt like vinyl, and inside, among the strands of silk, were green and black caterpillars. They moved their heads around awkwardly, as if they’d just been awakened. Maybe they had spent their whole lives eating corn from the inside and had never seen the light before.
Photo by Wayne T. Allison