I slowly became aware, my eyes creeping open to mere slits, no longer sleeping. I was lying in bed and the sun was shining. It was summertime, and there was no school. The sun wasn't shining through my open window, so I knew it was still early, maybe 9:00 AM or thereabouts. Good old summertime, no school and getting to sleep in until you wake up on your own.
I know I'm less than 9 years old because the house I awake in is the house on the river. It sits upon a hill, maybe 50 yards uphill from the bank of the James River, the one of Jamestown fame, where the colonists first established a permanent settlement in Virginia. Our house was far upriver, near the headwaters. It's still a big old river, though. The banks are made of fine dark silt that makes gooey mud in the rain. At night I lay in my bed and hear the bullfrogs serenade each other in the darkness. The smaller species of frogs also tune in, contribute to summer's noctural symphony. Crickets did their part too. Sometimes it's so loud out there that it's a wonder anyone can get to sleep at all, but we always managed. Across the river lie the railroad tracks and at night you could hear the train coming from a long way off. The faint chugga-chugga finally resolved into a loud metallic rumble, engine roaring and wheels squealing on the rails, then steadily dopplering away in the other direction. Sometimes the heat lightning flickered outside, so far distant the thunder doesn't rumble for me. The lightning was a counterpoint to the softer flash of the lightning bugs as they flickered to one another. We'd chase them after dark, run through the yard like barefoot wild men, capture all we could and put them in a pint Mason jar with holes poked in the lid so they could get some air. We'd set the jar on a table in the bedroom, let them flicker us off to sleep. Usually one of us, my two brothers or I, would screw the lid off to check on them and we'd have a few escapees. Daddy would raise Cain about those lightning bugs loose in the house.
The windows would be propped open with a length of wooden broom handle to let the air inside. The house got terribly hot during the day under the tin roof, the same tin roof that roared when there was a thunderstorm. You'd have to endure the heat until it cooled off deep in the night. You'd lie there so still, praying for a little breeze to come along and break the hypnotic heat. We didn't have air conditioning. No one we knew had it either. We were used to the heat so it didn't make a lot of difference to us. It was just something else to be endured, like the chickenpox or the semi-annual exams at school. We had a box fan we could set in the window to draw cool air in, but it also drew in those tiny red bugs and they'd bite hell out of you. It was easier and less painful to sweat.
Outside the bedroom window was the yard. We didn't have a lawn because that would mean grass and no weeds. Our yard was green but it's not just from the grass. It was a collection of whatever wanted to grow, mowed uniformly by a push mower. Not the kind of push mower with a gas engine, but the old style that got the blades whirring by your effort pushing it.
The lower margin of the yard had a big old black walnut tree. In the fall we'd collect and dry them to crack later for the meats. We called the walnut meats the 'goodies', because they were good to snack upon. They had a stronger flavor than an English walnut, but were still edible. Momma put them in her applesauce cakes.
Momma had a snowball bush growing at the corner of the porch. There are a couple different types of snowball bush, and she had one of each. They produced different size snowballs and the one that's more of a shrub produced the small snowballs while the bush produced the great big ones. The big snowball bush also had huge green leaves shaped like the ace of spades in a deck of cards. We'd stuff the leaves down into a circle made between our thumb and index finger, make a pocket which we'd slam our free hand down on to make an explosive popping noise. At the side of the yard grew a line of lilac bushes and they were also in bloom, delicate purplish clusters of blooms hanging down.
That's one of the things I notice as I came awake, the smell of Momma's lilacs. The sweet, delicate aroma wafted in through my open window. I love the smell of lilacs to this day. The air was so sweet, moist and heavy from the shower of rain overnight, full of humidity and lilacs, not yet hot from the sun's warming. It's still just a little bit cool, just enough to notice. The sheet still felt good over my sun-browned legs.
My eyes looked at the wallpaper, the garish cowboys doing their rope tricks amid the green cactus. It's a kids room, alright. No adult would so much as drop dead in that room among the cowboys. The cowboys would probably drop a loop of rope around an ankle, drag the body off and bury it in the sand to the plaintive wail of coyotes. That wallpaper singlehandedly demonstrated that the phrase 'tastefully decorated' didn't exist in our home. I loved that wallpaper when I was a kid.
I lay there, not fully opening my eyes, not wanting to spoil anything. My ears came online and I could hear Momma moving about downstairs. The stairs were steep, and there were sixteen of them to get to the upstairs where all the bedrooms were located. I knew there were sixteen because I had fallen down them a couple years ago, trying to get down them in a big rush, to get down to the river to see the fish my brother was yelling about. I fell down those steps and broke my arm, all to see a sun perch that was a whopping 6 inches long.
The bed was an old heap, a wrought iron monster with curliqued headboard and a shorter version of the same at the foot. The bottom was a wire mesh that looked like chain mail to me. It held the mattress which was stuffed with straw. There was no box mattress. That old straw tick wasn't very comfortable but I didn't know any better, having never slept on anything finer in my young life.
I lay there, kissed by the morning cool, bathed in the smell of lilacs, and realized my body felt perfect. No aches, pains, bug bites, sunburn, not one single discomfort. That's why I didn't want to move. I didn't want that moment, that few minutes of absolute perfection to pass me by and be lost forever.
My Momma finally came to the foot of the stairs and called me. I didn't answer, hoping she'd go away, back to sweeping or ironing or crumbling up leftover biscuits for the chickens that ranged freely in the yard. No such luck. She called again and I answered and paradise died. I have never experienced an awakening since then that was remotely similar, the perfect morning when I was young and the lilacs were in bloom.