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Red Bank Road
by Carole Bugge

It is July
The midday heat settles over the grape arbor,
lazy as a sly caress
coaxing the plump purple grapes into early ripeness
The hazy light breaks through the white lace curtains of the South Parlor
Outside, the rusty old pump brings well water up from its secret underground bed
sweet and clear and cool as the whisper of mourning doves courting under the
spice bush,
It shivers and ripples in thin tin cups
sparkling in the sun—blue, yellow, and pink metal cups
the perfect and only vessels for drinking well water
cheerful as the grin of my uncle's beloved black and white collie

It is not just this particular day in July,
but every July past and each one yet to come

We are just children, but we know these things,
because we know this house, know its secrets
as our parents did before us
and their parents before them
We know the broad boards of the North Parlor that creak in the winter time
cranky as an old woman's joints
we know the smoothness of the front stair railing,
perfect for sliding down—forbidden, of course

We know the shadow cast by the grand spinning wheel at the top of the stairs—
spooky, like a spider's tendrils
or the crooked fingers of a witch
we know the secret smells of the attic—musty, damp, warm as the basket of
Val delivered alone underneath the tool shed one frosty winter night
surprising us the next day with her hungry, wriggling offspring
We know the feel on bare feet of the stone terrace that surrounds the house
like a protective moat
and which stone lilts to the side when stepped on, uncertain as a tipsy sailor on

The knotty, termite eaten bench on the front porch that Grandaddy made himself—
scarred and proud as an old war veteran
the porch swing, hanging from its silver chains—
not just a porch swing, but:
a space ship
a horse
a magic carriage

We know which path leads through the woods to the wild blackberry patch,
and which one leads to the sledding hill that twists and slides down to the
and at what hour the sun slides across the terrace,
to linger on the drooping branches of the old weeping willow,
long and silky as the hair of a water nymph
as it broods over the thin stream snaking in from the woods

We know the taste of Grandmother's beef gravy,
the sweet crunch of her butterscotch cookies,
the sudden swirl of meringue crowning her famous lemon pie
we know these things for what they are:
and we love the house for the memories it contains

In our collective memory is stored every Thanksgiving turkey
served at the big oval table
in the great dining room bordered by ten doors
and every Christmas morning, lined up youngest to oldest,
bellies tight with anticipation
waiting with bare toes twitching impatiently
to see what Santa has brought

Every family ritual has been played out with these ancient walls—
every passage of birth and death, lovemaking and quarreling
has found a place to rest within the wood itself,
burrowing in like an animal in search of warmth

These things are known to us
and will always be known
even if other families come and go
and other footsteps clatter down the rickety crooked basement stairs we once
to watch the epic ping pong battle between Cousin Jacques and Uncle Wayman

The house will hold them close within its walls
as our mother held us
and her mother held her before us
waiting for our return
to claim our memories once again

It is July
and the midday heat settles over the grape arbor


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