We drive up the blacktop road toward sunset, my parents and I, the old Ford pickup laboring up the hill. Turning into my uncle’s gravel driveway kicks up a small cloud of dust. The truck wheezes to a halt, and the dust settles as we climb out and walk to the house.
Across the blacktop road from the house is a tree-lined field with cattle grazing quietly in the dusk. They are a motley bunch, a mix of Herefords and Holstein crosses, too bony for good beef cattle, too stocky for good dairy cattle. My aunt’s little Jersey is the only princess, with her fawn-colored coat, her delicate hooves, her big brown eyes. Aunt Lou keeps the milk cow so she can churn her own butter; she thinks it’s better than store bought.
At the side of the yard is my aunt’s garden. Honeysuckle spills over the woven wire fence, scenting the humid air. The first two rows of the garden are flowers: zinnias, marigolds, snapdragons, daisies. The rest is food for the summer, and for preserving: beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers for pickles, canteloupes, watermelons.
In the shade of the back yard, past the chicken coop, is her mother-in-law’s wildflower garden. Miss Blanche transplants sweet william, violets, and trillium from the woods, watering them faithfully. Their colors are paler and more delicate than the sunny flowers in the other garden.
Tall, old oak trees and maples shade the back yard and the front yard during the day. Now that the sun is slouching down below the hill, birds rustle the branches as they settle in for the night. They fuss and squabble in the trees.
The old clapboard house is painted white; the tin roof is shiny. There’s a dogtrot hall running through the middle, with a couple of large rooms on either side and a kitchen in the back. For many years there wasn’t a bathroom.
On a summer night the most important room is the front porch. This is where we all sit and talk while night falls. There is a porch swing, where I sit with Miss Blanche, and two wooden rocking chairs for the two men, tired from a long day in the fields. My mother and Aunt Lou sit on metal chairs in the front yard, hoping for a breeze.
The women’s voices are low and even. The men rumble in baritone, punctuated by my father’s laugh. Miss Blanche and I are quiet as it grows dark, waiting for the tree frogs to begin their high piping. Lightning bugs blink erratically in the yard. The humidity settles in the hollow like a ground fog.
“Look,” Miss Blanche says. A deer broaches the mist in the hollow, sights us, and floats away into the dark.
Soon, the moon will rise above the hills. It is time to go home.