People say my family’s white wood farmhouse on Old Chicago Road is haunted, and they’d be right that specters of the past dwell there, but not the kind that goes bump in the night or terrorizes young children as they pull the sheets over their heads. No, the haunting here runs deeper. It sinks below the threadbare rugs Poppy taught me to dance on and the root cellar where Mama Rose kept her preserves. It dwells in the very soil itself.
The presence here runs under the fallow ground that encircles our two-story home like dark waters that encroach a lonely island after a storm, and the land remembers.
It remembers everything.
Mama was known as Rosey Jenkins back then. A teacher transplant from Alabama with caramel skin, gleaming brown eyes, and curves that could make the most chaste preacher pause mid-sermon. But it was her Sunday singing voice that first caught the attention of Poppy—formally known as James Bradley, a tall, cocky Irish boy who’d inherited his grandfather’s land. Poppy claimed he finally knew there was a God when he kissed Mama under his willow tree on a summer night in 35′, and she knew there was something magical to the land he owned.
“I think I bagged my own Nina Mae McKinney,” he’d say and she’d always respond with a disinterested look, “And I got Elmer Fudd,” before cracking a smile, “With a touch of Montgomery Clift.”
Their courtship bloomed when James proposed to her a year later. Poppy always went through town with an easy smile despite the occasional whispered joke and sneering stare passers-by gave as they yelled “Jimmy” and waved. Rosey became known as “Mama” for all the strays she took in.
Cats, dogs, and in time, children. I was one of them.
Mama always said farming the dry soil during those dusty years proved nearly fruitless, except for the patch of corn she kept to the side of the house, shaded by a willow tree that had no business growing that tall, that far north. Like Rose, it would get the odd stare when folks drove past, but for my family, it was just as natural as a spring rain that flips to sunshine.
When I first arrived on the farm, the old willow scared me. Its sweeping branches seemed to reach out like tendriled fingers grasping for my dirty blonde hair and pale skin. Mama Rose saw it in my eyes and laughed.
“Child, there ain’t nothing to fear from that ol’ willow. He’s just as friendly as can be, maybe Poppy will get to finishing that tire swing he’s been figuring, so you can get better acquainted with Mr. Willow.”
I beamed. I never had more than a cursory glance at anything I could call my own in foster homes. Hand me down dresses with frayed stitching, buckled shoes that were too tight, and faded ribbons to braid my hair for Sunday service. Even my prized Barbie was second-hand, her eyes and face tarnished from years of abuse. Just like me. Just like every one of my stepbrothers and sisters who washed up, tossed, and forgotten on the shores of Michigan’s foster-care system.
But coming to the farmhouse was different. Its siding was faded, but somehow the paint still gleamed. Its floors creaked, but when Mama and Poppy laughed, the squeaks sounded more like their echoes than haunted footsteps. And every night after dinner, Mama would sing the Gospel as she scrubbed the dishes. I’d sit at the table enrapt, eyes closed, hanging on every note, and imagine an angel had flown down to serenade me. Then Poppy’s low, rich voice would join hers as he dried each plate, and there in my mind’s eye, I’d imagine the earth was rising to meet heaven. It was as if the house was a cracked urn that caught a star, whose light spilled out on all of us.
When kids at school echoed their parents’ comments about our mixed family, it would only take Mama’s sweet smile and voice to soothe the sting. “Good book says ‘the rain falls on the just and unjust,’ so don’t burden yourself with their filth. We all get clean in the end.”
I don’t remember shedding a tear in that house except once. The night Poppy passed. Mama Rose’s endless singing faltered in the kitchen. A dish broke, and she called for help.
“Jenna baby, call the operator! James! James!”
I ran into the kitchen, and my heart sunk. Poppy, a mountain of a man who could climb the tallest willow to hang a swing, carried me to bed each night and woke me with a kiss and wink each morning, now lay like a broken child, swaddled in Mama Rose’s arms.
For a long time, the house was silent then. Mama didn’t sing, and we moved to our day-to-day business with few words spoken, save for grace at dinner. Mama took to gardening then. First tomato plants in the window, then radishes, lettuce, and flowers in the yard. But it wasn’t until she tended that old corn patch that I truly believed our land was haunted.
When my dolls would occasionally go missing and turn up near their stalks, I took it as forgetfulness with a haphazard shrug. And sometimes at night, I’d wake from uneasy dreams and shuffle toward the bathroom down the hall, where I’d find a light was on when I knew I’d turned it off. On occasion, the kitchen door would open with a rusty creak and I’d pause from reading to look up and ask, “hello?”, before it would silently close again. In the back of my mind, I knew someone, or something was there with us - a kindred spirit sharing our hollow existence, riding the same wind of emptiness we felt with Poppy gone. It never scared me until the night Billy Daggett, the junior varsity quarterback, showed up on our porch.
I was thirteen then, sun-kissed with strawberry locks. I was slim and a smatter of freckles crossed my nose that I wished I could conceal but Mama said made me look like Angela Cartwright. Junior high school was nearly over. I window-shopped Jacobson’s designer dresses every weekend with my friends, pretending the styles weren’t quite right for my look when they headed to the register with their latest purchases in hand. They’d play along with my excuses but we all knew Mama kept me in second-hand wool skirts and sweaters from St. Vincent’s Thrift for a reason.
Boys were on my mind, and Billy noticed me at the worst possible time. My girlfriends and I would sit in the bleachers and watch him and his teammates scrimmage on the field. He was tall for his age, popular with everyone, and could always pull a laugh from the crowd. He had a dimple on his chin that I thought was lovely, and when he smiled at me as he approached, I felt the butterflies Mama always described when she kissed Poppy.
“Well hello, ladies, who’s in the peanut gallery, today?”
We all laughed.
“We got Ms. Ribbons,” He winked at Susan Orleans, and she playfully stuck her tongue out at him then quickly fixed the bow in her hair. “Giggles, how are you?”
Lana Muskgrave swatted at him, “I barely do! Except that one time Mr. Bandurak’s class.” She stifled a laugh.
“And Patches!” He said as he looked at me. All the girls around me laughed.
I braved a smile but I wanted to disappear, and when the lunch bell rang cueing us to return to our classes, I was glad to melt into the crowd of kids rushing to 6th period. My new name was echoed in hushed voices for the next hour, and with each refrain, I felt a little smaller.
I waited after school for my ride, hoping to quietly hop in and retreat to my world of books before anyone spotted me. A cloud of exhaust belched as Mama Rose drove up to the school in our Ford station wagon stained blue and white with paint that better belonged on a barn than a car.
“Hey, Patches!” Billy laughed as I pressed through the smoke to the car door and let myself in.
And heard his friends respond, “What are you calling a dog?”
“Maybe,” Billy replied and their laughter filled my ears.
I sunk mortified in the passenger seat as Mama inched the car forward toward the expressway. “Can we please go faster?”
I wished Poppy had trusted a professional shop more than his own hands. Every inch of the vehicle had been customized and repurposed, from the seat upholstery to the plywood dashboard he’d affixed with a row of red Radio Shack switches whose purpose was a mystery. Despite every motorist behind us blaring their horns, our car hit its cruising speed at twenty miles an hour.
“I just want to die,” I moaned as Mama squinted at the road.
“Baby, don’t ever say that,” she shook her head, “life is shorter than you think, and besides, the day’s not over. Something good can still bloom.”
After I had changed my clothes, Mama called me outside and handed me a spade. “Corn needs tending. I’ve let it languish long enough. Come help me.”
As we pulled weeds between the six rows of stalks that made up the patch, Mama began to hum, and like some sweet summer rain on a parched field, my sadness melted into the soil.
“How long has this been here, Mama?” I asked, watching dried kernels spring up as I tilled thorns from around the stalks.
“Long time, baby, long time.” Mama said, “Poppy and I planted these the first year we were married, and Lord, it was probably the worst possible time too.” She paused and stood as she picked a worm from a leaf. Then she lifted her sun hat and let her hand run across the stalks’ tasseled golden tops. “Less than an inch of rain that year, but it didn’t matter, we got them to grow some anyway.” She smiled as some of that starlight returned to her eyes, “We had a sadness then too, just like you do now. But you can get just about anything to grow in poor soil, as long as you cultivate it. That boy who laughed at you may have been planted badly, but with the right tending, he can change.”
And then she laughed, the same warm laugh Poppy used to pull from her when he wrapped his arms around her waist and whispered in her ear.
“What is it?” I asked.
Mama just shook her head and wiped away a tear. “I’d forgotten they was here, they never left.”
“Who Mama?” I’d asked, but she just smiled.
“Ask me another time, baby.”
Spring flew into the Fall as the last green leaves of Mr. Willow turned blazing red, and the corn stalks grew as high as my head. On an October night, Billy Daggett came knocking at our door, hat in hand.
“So I know we haven’t talked much this year, but I was hoping we could.”
“In time for the freshman dance?” My hunch was he’d made a pass at every other girl in class, and I was a backup.
“Well, I mean I do need a…” he stopped himself, “That’s not the point. Do you want to walk for a minute?” He motioned to the yard, and I looked over at Mama. She nodded and smiled. So Billy and I walked to the willow and paused at the edge of the corn.
“See, I like you.” He started as he shuffled his feet, “I mean more than a friend.”
“Well, we’re not even that, so you’ll have to give me time to catch up,” I said. Billy’s laugh from earlier in the year still stung, but some part of me thought he was cute. Before I could even consider the thought, he grabbed my arm, put a hand on my breast, and leaned in for a kiss. I shoved him backward into the corn. He landed on his backside.
“Excuse me?” I spat and stormed back to the front porch, turning around only when Billy screamed.
“Hey, hey stop it! Ouch!”
The stalks were whipping and waving as if a small tornado were stirring their roots. Billy ran from the field, a look of terror on his face. “What’ve you got in there?” He yelled as he mounted his bicycle.
“What’re you even talking about?” I yelled back, but he was already pedaling away. The stalks slowly stilled, and I felt a slight breeze rise with an echo of children laughing. I turned to see Mama Rose watching from the window, a knowing smile on her face.
Billy wouldn’t talk to me after that night, and one by one, the kids in my class spoke to me less and less. I soon learned I was the girl on the haunted farm, and my foster mother was some kind of witch, spreading her “hoodoo” on anyone who looked at me cross-eyed.
Mama was aware of the presence but she never seemed frightened, even the night I was sure it would harm me. Our pipes were knocking in the attic as I soaked in the tub, a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in hand. The lights flickered and I pulled myself from the bath into my robe. Setting the book aside on the sink, I peered out the window. The wind was stirring Old Mr. Willow’s branches, and the cornfield danced below his shifting boughs. The lights went out, leaving only the moonlight from the windows to guide my steps.
As I walked past Mama’s room I heard her rhythmic breathing and made my way to the stairway that led to our front room. At the top of the steps, I saw our front door was open. I braced myself with the rail and slowly approached it. As I reached for it, it swung wide and slammed three times into its frame. A breeze whipped my robe off my shoulders and I felt cold hands graze my thigh. I screamed and jumped back.
Mama’s stern voice called from the top of the stairs, “It’s time for all good children to go to bed!” She turned back to her bedroom and closed her door.
The lights blinked on and the house settled. I was stunned. I crept back to my room and left my light on for the rest of the night as I slept.
But rumors are like headlines in Hillsdale County, and as 1962 grew into 1963, bigger stories captured our imaginations. Vietnam was in full swing, and by the Summer of 1964, Billy and many boys like him made their way to recruitment centers to find some kind of glory or purpose that eluded them at home.
I saw him one more time in the Fall of 64′. He nodded at me before boarding the bus to basic training. I’d heard he’d lied about his age to a recruiter who was willing to fudge some paperwork for one more warm body.
Then, like the summer Poppy died, there was only silence from his family. A year later, a red and white flag with a gold star was set in their front window.
“He got cut short,” Mama Rose said when I shared the news, “real shame.” She finished her lemonade as we sat on the porch swing overlooking the corn, the tree, and empty fields beyond. “But life is change, good and bad, it all comes in season.”
“What changed for you, Mama?” I asked. The question had been lurking in my mind for years. “That day we fixed up the corn patch, it’s like some switch got turned on again. What was that great sadness?”
Mama Rose nodded, “Yeah, I suppose it’s time.” She took a breath and winced a little as she dug out the story from her memory, like a nettle that always pierces the skin when pulled. “You are not my first child, foster or otherwise,” she began, “Your Poppy and I had two sweet babies of our own, they were twins, and though I can’t be sure, I think they were a handful. Fussing and kicking inside me, to the point I’d tell them to be still so I could get a wink or two.” she laughed, “We named em’ Grace and Mercy. Cause that’s what I’d need to not lose my damn mind carrying them to term.”
I shook my head; no picture of them was present on any wall in our home. No hint of them was ever given. It was almost like Mama recalled some other woman’s life.
“We’ve always been a special family Jenna, your Poppy and I turned heads as a couple and we weren’t always welcome, even in hospitals back then.”
“Oh, Mama. What happened?”
“Things turned and we lost them, the same night that Poppy’s old car wouldn’t start.” She took my hand. “So we buried them right here at home, right under Mr. Willow. I think they would’ve loved swinging from his branches, just like you.”
I didn’t know what to say. She’d kept them inside, locked away, and I couldn’t imagine the loneliness she’d carried with their memory. Mama looked at me with that old knowing smile that I came to understand was sealing away her pain.
“Poppy always blamed himself for that, so no matter what, he kept that old wagon running from that day on, and you know it works like he’s still here. Even backfires like he used to after a plate of beans.”
We laughed for a time and watched the breeze play across the golden stalks of corn until she sighed, “Sometimes I still feel them around, and it's a comfort. Sometimes I even talk to them, and I’ll be damned if they don’t show me some sign they’re listening.”
I thought of Billy, and the nights when I felt unseen eyes on the back of my neck. “I guess the rumors are true then.”
Mama nodded, “In a way.”
“I don’t know if I like that Mama. I mean, are they safe? Are we?”
“Oh hell Jenna, the world ain’t safe, but at least here, on this land, it’s good.” She sighed, “Besides, they were just having some fun with that boy, maybe keeping an eye on you too. Things are changing so fast these days…having a touch of something eternal, keeps me grounded.”
She wasn’t wrong. The next few years were a blur of classes, high school rallies, and changes. I changed my hairstyle, clothes, and music almost daily, from mod tops to mini-skirts and Elvis to the Fab Four. Change was in the air, it was palpable, and I was swept up in its wave. And with every change, the constancy of Mama Rose remained. With each new movement that hit the news, every outrage and atrocity that blighted my view of our world, her garden philosophy of slow care remained like a stone in unsettled soil. Maybe that’s why I left.
Five months before graduation, I met a man I knew was the one. And at seventeen, I was sure I’d lived enough of life to know.
He sat in the back of a club my friends and I had snuck into and caught my gaze with intense brown eyes that held back an ocean of passion and a smile that reminded me of Poppy’s. It was an open mic, and after a mediocre set by a Stones cover band, he took center stage. His brown skin, leather jacket, and small afro glistened as he recited Langston Hughes and Emmery Evans, pumping his fist in the air. He was a ‘seeker of justice’ fighting for his place in the world. He was everything I wanted to be.
Elijah Korah spoke of the oppressed and the everyday oppressors who hid behind facile smiles, red lines, and political positions. His words were violent, provocative, and fascinating. He made me feel alive and worthy of attention. And after his performance, he made me feel like my voice mattered. He bought me drinks, and that morning, when I quietly crept up to my bedroom with a loose bra and whiplashed smile, I knew I was in love.
Mama Rose wasn’t having it and told me in no uncertain terms where my ‘seeker of justice’ could go if he kept me out that late again. Her dark silk hair now had streaks of silver and the skin on her hands felt thinner. Only her smile remained untouched by time until Elijah came to make amends. before driving us to a Detroit rally. Then her demeanor darkened.
“My sister, you too are suffering in this time,” He said with an easy smile as he took a framed picture of Poppy in hand, “white patriarchy has put a stranglehold on your mind. I’m planting a whole new level, a brave new world. In time the revolution will separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Mama grabbed the picture from him, “I ain’t your sister, boy. I’m old enough to be your mother. And that ‘patriarch’ helped build this place. So take your jive somewhere else.”
Mama was incensed, and I looked away from the scene, trying to reframe it in my mind as some careless misunderstanding we could all laugh about later. Elijah just shook his head.
“Well shit Jenna, you really do fit in here,” he laughed, “Yo Momma’s got plantation thinking beyond the pale. Come or go, but I’m leaving.”
I winced when he slammed open the screen door and stomped down the porch to his black Mustang. Mama noticed my fear, and I’d never seen her so angry. As she walked away, she mumbled, “planting a new level…I’ll plant my foot up his ass.”
“Mama, how can you be so rude? He’s fighting your battle. The same one you and Poppy had all those years ago, the same one that took Grace and Mercy!”
“Don’t bring them into this,” she held a finger to my face in warning. “He may claim to be fighting darkness, but you cant sew division without reaping hate.”
Elijah laid on the horn, and I cringed again before turning to follow him. I couldn’t stand to look in her eyes. I’d never seen her pass judgment on anyone before, and somehow she seemed smaller for it. I paused in the doorway, “I can cultivate love in him, just like you always say, Mama.”
“Not if he’s a weed,” she replied.
Elijah blared the horn once more, and I left. I didn’t return. I dodged my friends for the next few weeks and spent the nights in Elijah’s arms. Only in the mornings when he’d leave to meet with his comrades did I think of Mama Rose and the sadness I’d left on her face.
The rallies took up my nights, followed by drinking at clubs and parties in backroom venues, where revolution was the topic of every conversation. Once or twice Elijah came to blows with drunks who slurred an insult or nasty look our way, but I always felt protected. I knew there was some deep anger in him. I just needed time to weed it out.
At meetings, Elijah drove the discussion and was lauded for his ideas. My voice was sequestered at the back of the room. When I dared to share my thoughts and concerns to disinterested faces, Elijah would immediately step in, to better paraphrase.
He only chastised me in private. Sometimes with a look, or a word, sometimes with his hands.
But when he refused to take mine in front of his brothers and sisters, I knew I was nothing more than a trophy, to be used and forgotten, just like the Barbie I once owned.
I was already missing home when the riot broke out in the bar down the street from us on the night of July 23rd. Elijah had been drinking and snorting, as was his habit now, and he raced for the door when the brotherhood came knocking.
“Get on your coat, Jenna, the revolution starts tonight!” He yelled as he grabbed his jacket. And I followed, thinking maybe it would shake him from the bitterness I knew he felt when he looked at me after we made love.
Police were everywhere. Hoses dowsed young men against the walls of stores, and bricks went flying over my head, bashing other young men in uniforms. There was no controlling the chaos.
Elijah looked gleeful as he raced behind members of the mob, handing them pieces of glass, rocks, and anything else that could be used as a weapon. To my right, two of Elijah’s group hoisted a trash can through a store window before snatching the television displayed within.
“Take it all my brothers! Bleed them dry!” Elijah laughed until I reached for his arm. I needed to know it would stop.
“Don’t encourage them! We can’t let our struggle…” I started, but he slapped me away.
“Our struggle? There is no OUR struggle. Don’t you ever think you can understand our struggle!”
“I’m sorry…” I tried, and that same easy smile I first saw on his face had twisted into a snarl.
“You don’t know the first thing about anything we’re going through, and I’m tired of warning you.”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the car. I slapped him, and he replied with his fist until I stopped crying, until every inch of my face screamed with pain. Then he stumbled away, leaving me to bleed and think on my lesson. The weed in him was reaching to inflict more justice on anyone else in his way.
I remember leaving my purse with only two quarters in hand and drifting like a ghost through the crowds, fires, and screams to a phone booth. With shaking hands, I dialed my lifeline. Mama answered with my name as if she’d been waiting. I mumbled the cross streets and not much else.
“Hold on baby, I’m coming.” She said and hung up.
I spent the rest of that hour curled up in the phone booth. Sirens flashed, feet raced, blood flowed, and the world vomited its horror around me. Then, like Don Quixote atop his donkey, Mama slowly pulled up through the mob in Poppy’s blue and white station wagon and paused next to me. I reached for the door handle.
“Jenna, get your ass back here!” I turned to see Elijah stride toward me. I pulled away as he reached for my arm again.
“I didn’t say you could leave,” his hand became a fist but his knees buckled when Mama pinched him by the ear and yanked him back.
“Boy, you don’t get to say another damn thing. I’ve had enough of your foolishness!”
Two white officers approached us and laughed. “Good to see your Mama’s putting some sense into ya.”
“Back off pig!” Elijah slapped away Mama’s hand. “She ain’t my Mama, and I don’t have to do shit!”
I shook my head and pulled the door open. I slumped into the seat as I locked the door behind me. Mama got in and drove that old wagon right next to Elijah as he stared at Mama with contempt.
“That’s how you gonna play it then? Don’t think this is over!” He threw a bottle that smashed our back window, but Mama didn’t seem to mind. The officers tackled him to the ground, but Mama only hummed the Gospel and leaned forward on the wheel as we crept away.
The drive home was silent, I was waiting for her harsh words to fall on my head. At first, Mama didn’t say a thing. She only ran her fingers through my hair for a minute when I started crying.
“It’s okay honey. Sometimes weeds gotta come up before the world swallows them again.”
That night she drew me a bath, and I soaked for hours. The cuts on my face were dressed, but the black eyes deepened. I slept most of the next two days in my old bed and was only awakened by a breeze from the window Mama left open in my room. The sun was setting through Mr. Willow’s leaves, and I heard the faintest laughter fall across the corn. I wanted to bury the last year of my life in that patch, but I knew I’d have to wear it as loudly as the bruises on my face. Everything I thought I knew about the world and my place in it was broken. Only the sound of sparrows in the fields and the smell of Mama’s cooking made any sense.
Mama called me down for dinner, and I found a full spread of my favorite meal; cornflake potatoes, brisket, and cornbread waiting for me on her finest linen tablecloth.
“Glad you slept some. They say a storm’s coming in tonight,” she said and thunder rolled in the distance as if God heard.
“I don’t deserve this,” I whispered.
“Baby, you’re home. You always deserve this,” She drew me to the seat and took my hand as she sat next to me. “I’ll say grace.”
The screen door exploded open with a familiar kick. “Lord, thank you for the justice that your hand will enact!” Elijah’s voice called as he stomped in.
His face mirrored mine, with fresh bruises and a split lip, “Because your honky-ass daughter got me arrested.”
Mama faced him, “Get the hell out of my house, boy! You’ve got no call being here.”
Elijah looked her over once, like a falcon studying a sparrow, and then he struck her to the ground.
“Miss Oreo, I can be anywhere I damn well please,” he laughed, “And it looks like you prepared me quite the spread.”
In my eyes, Elijah had mutated into every snide comment, careless remark, and unkind face I’d hid myself away from. His eyes were broken mirrors that reflected how small and insignificant I was. And as I watched him stand over her, for the first time in my life, I felt my fists clenching with rage.
I launched myself at him, but his grip caught me at the throat and squeezed. I ratcheted my fingers around his, but the more I tried to pry at them, the tighter his grip became. I couldn’t breathe. I was desperate. I had unleashed evil into this place, and it would destroy everything I loved.
With the crystal clear voice I remember from my youth, Mama stood and commanded him to stop. “You want a meal, young man? Fine. Let her go and take a seat.”
Elijah instantly released me and air filled my burning lungs. I fell to my knees and scanned the room for something I could use to hold him at bay. Mama Rose knew my mind and put out her hand.
“Jenna honey, stay put. There’s a time for every season.”
The wind shook the panes of glass in the kitchen, and from the corner of my eye, I saw beyond the porch. The corn patch was stirring as if a giant was pulling itself from slumber.
Elijah took a knife from the table and speared a slice of roast into his mouth. As he gnashed away, he brought the knife to Mama’s throat. “You made me look a fool, and that’s something I can’t abide.”
The screen door rattled, and the house creaked in response. Elijah paused before staring down at me, “Now, before I finish saying grace, why don’t you ask for some mercy?”
“Honey, they’re already here,” Mama’s voice seethed, “Now I said sit down.”
Elijah’s hand twisted around until I heard a bone snap and his knife fell to the floor. His curled sneer dropped quicker than his legs as some unseen force shoved him into a dining chair.
“What in the hell?” he exclaimed and shot back up before the dining table flipped on end, smothering him with our meal, the table cloth, and the table itself. He screamed as the debris rolled around him like a python, and dragged him out the door, across the porch, and into the corn patch.
His screams were answered with crashing thunder as Mama Rose hummed and cleaned up the mess. Elijah’s curses became muffled as if the land was engulfing him, and I started for the door, but she stopped me.
“Now is a time of culling, child. Best stay in til it’s done.”
The rain pelted our roof through the night. Old Mr. Willow’s branches waved low to the ground, and the corn stalks responded in kind. The next morning was quiet. Birds sang. The storm had passed. Mama had returned the kitchen to its former state, and I wondered if the night before had been some fevered dream. I walked out to the corn patch and found a few ears had been broken, but no trace of Elijah was found.
I didn’t ask her anything more about that night. We both knew what had happened. After some years, when Mama passed, I buried her next to her babies under the willow tree. I knew she’d keep the twins at peace.
Time has changed my freckles into laugh lines, given me family to hold and a place on this Earth. Mama’s worldview makes more sense to me now. I can’t tend to the world’s overgrowth, but I can make a difference on my own soil.
Some things have changed of course. The fields got smaller and the city grew, fiber optics replaced our telephone lines, but people and their problems stayed the same. And some things are eternal, like Mama’s voice laughing above the fields.
I’ve forgotten what Billy Dagget looks like; I can’t tell you the words to the songs I loved at seventeen. I can’t quite recall Poppy’s smile as I once did. I know I’ll never replace Mama Rose’s singing.
And in time, I’ll fade into the soil too.
But even if my face fades from every photograph and my name disappears from every record…
I know here, the land remembers.
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