The first time I saw the ocean I was seven years old, it was winter, I wore my blue faux fur coat and rubber boots. I was small and it was vast. The wind blew salt sea air, shells washed up on the shore. I wanted to stay forever. I stared and stared and stared. We had visited my aunt Helen in New Jersey and then we all drove to the beach. The Atlantic Ocean and seven year old me. It ingrained itself in my loves.
My mom, sis and I lived in Pennsylvania, with my grandparents and my two young uncles. We lived in Centre Hall, in Centre County in the middle of the state. Out our back window was a mountain which is part of the Allegheny’s but bordering the yard was a farmer’s field where wheat grew. I remember walking home the two blocks from kindergarten and stopping by the other edge of the field and studying that wheat. It was beautiful, and golden. Years later me, the hubby/dad, and my four children lived in Kansas and rode one of those huge harvesters like used to be photographed for National Geographic. Our friends had thousand acre wheat fields. It was vast and exhilarating riding around that field, with the endless wheat and sky and wind. Years before I baled hay for our landlord in upstate New York where we rented an apartment in the upstairs of an old house next door to the landlord, across from the hay field and the tippy southern end of Lake Champlain.
When I was six we went to Grange Fair in Centre Hall and my grandmother paid sixty-five cents for me to go up in an airplane for the penny a pound flight. It was like it was just me and the sky. I felt alone up there because the blue sky and white clouds mesmerized me. Can one ever be up in the sky long enough?
The first time I went to swimming lessons at the YMCA in Bellefonte, I refused to get into that icy pool. I stayed home and ran through the sprinkler alone.
The first black people I ever saw were at our home and were visiting from Nigeria. My grandparents worked for Penn State University that summer driving people from other countries around to the area farms because they used to farm…they had a dairy farm with milk cans before I was born. My uncle ( 2 years older than me at age 7 or 8) was afraid there was something terribly wrong.
The first baby I ever rocked to sleep was my cousin Troy. I used to carry him everywhere on my skinny little hip. He melted my heart. Babies are sweet even to little girls.
The first foreign language I ever heard was Pennsylvania Dutch/German. We were driving past Honey Emory’s store to go to Dot’s farmhouse so my grandma could have her hair done and we had to pull into a farmhouse to get water because the car overheated. It was an Amish farm. I peered at a little girl who looked about my age and she peered at me. It seemed like I was far away. But they helped us.
The first time I saw my dad that I remembered I was thirty-three. He had left us when I was six months old. Of course back then no one ever talked about such things. We were living in Dodge City, Kansas and I had a dream about him. It made me track him down. We moved to Tennessee after that and lived not too far away from him for sixteen years until he died. It was a God thing and it was hard but I am glad I didn’t go on not knowing him. When I was little I pretended that the Rifleman dad was my dad.
The first time I wrote a story I had to pretend I was on a wagon train and was keeping a journal. It seemed so real. In Kansas we saw ruts in the trails that are still there from years of wagon trains. May all of our trails be rut worthy.