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Lammas Memory
by MommaWhiteCougar

I don’t know why this has come to me now, on a cool, rainy Saturday following Lammas. I haven’t thought about it in years. But suddenly I remember a sultry Missouri Summer’s day when I was twelve and we lived in a farmhouse on the dirt road to Crystal Caves ­ and there was a boy named Billy Jenkins.

We moved a lot in the short time I lived with my Momma and Frank. This was the second of three houses, and was my favourite. The rutted and dusty road lead only to our house and then on to the caves. The old lady who owned the caves did nothing to encourage visitors, except for placing a rusty and flaking tin sign where the road forked off from Highway 36.

Our house was a good country mile from the highway. It sat with a cow pasture and hilly fields behind it, and there was a small sign on our driveway pointing onward “TO THE CAVES”.

It was located at sort of a Y junction, with the stem leading uphill to the caves, and one arm more or less South towards Cassville and the other arm sort of Northerly to Butterfield via Highway 36 which was at the top of the Y so to speak. In the middle of the Y were several unfenced, untouched acres of buffalo grass.

Needless to say, it was pretty quiet up that way. But there was room for Frank to raise 100 chicks into broilers and no near neighbours to hear him shouting insults and abuse when he was drunk.

One scorching afternoon as July turned to August, I was hanging out under the big walnut tree. The fields sizzled and the earth cracked under the searing Sun. I had a book, but it was even too hot to read, so I just sat staring at the heat waves shimmering on the stubbly cow pasture.

Something caught my eye and as I turned towards the field that led to the caves, I was surprised to see a boy that I recognised from the year ahead of me at school. He was loping easily down the steep hillside with a big grin on his face, which changed to guarded suspicion the moment he saw me.

Billy Jenkins ­ poor white trash. Billy Jenkins ­ one of those kids that Momma always said not to play with. Billy Jenkins ­ if something gets vandalised or stolen, where was he at the time? Billy Jenkins ­ he’ll come to a bad end. Billy Jenkins… It was hard to equate what I had been told with the kid who had just been so happily racing through the pasture.

We regarded each other warily for a moment. He was known as a “right bad’un” and I was both a girl and not really from Cassville at all. We had absolutely nothing in common.

“Wha’ch’y’all doin’ spyin’ on me?” he accused.

“I wasn’t! I live here. What are YOU doing in the field?” I snapped back.

He looked at me sort of funny and came to a decision. “Ain’t no grass down where I live on Townsend Road. Sometime a feller jus’ need to feel the dirt. Y’know?” And amazingly I did.

Billy ambled to the barbed wire fence and looked me up and down. “Your folks home?” he asked, almost challenging me to lie and say yes.

“No, my Mom’s at work at the café and Frank’s gone to the broomcorn harvest. Why?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say no to some water. It’s perishin’ hot.”

I may have been feeling pretty brave, but not brave enough to let someone like Billy into the house. On the other hand, I didn’t want to offend him.

“Look, it’s really hot inside. Why don’t you go sit around the other side of the house by the Rose of Sharon bush? It’s shady there and I’ll bring us something to drink.” He gave me a long look and a knowing grin and then, as they say in the Ozarks, he ‘ankled on over’ into the shade.

I rushed into the house, caught between fear and excitement. Puberty was only just kicking in, but I knew what I was feeling and it was NICE!

I pulled out all the stops and made a whole pitcher of Kool-Aid, found some Oreos and slammed them on a plate then carried the lot out to where Billy sprawled on the grass beneath the blooming bush. He took the drink and the cookies (with a real grin this time) and we sat companionably side by side. I could feel the heat rising from the ground and the only sound was the high-pitched wine of grasshoppers.

The Summer of 1958 was a real scorcher and now at the start of August the buffalo grass stood taller than my head. We watched as the hot breeze made orange-gold waves across it.

Billy picked up the pitcher and his glass and walked across the road, red dust kicked up by his light footsteps colouring his boots and jeans. He stopped right at the edge of the field and turned back to look at me.

“You ever walked in anything like that?” he asked, cocking his head at the swaying grass towering behind him.

Somehow, I had never thought of going into that field, but now, as Billy ambled into the high hay, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to follow him. I took my glass and watching carefully where I placed my bare feet as I crossed the burning dirt road, followed him. Where he led was not where I thought I was going.

The smell of bruised grass rose from beneath our feet. It was like walking in a golden tunnel. When I looked back, the grass had closed behind us. After walking like this for a minute or two, Billy stopped and handed me his glass and the pitcher.

“Now I’m gonna show y’all somethin’ I betcha’ you ain’t never seen ‘afore,” he said.

To my amazement, he started a sort of shuffling dance in a tight spiral which he gradually opened out, causing the grass to be flattened in a circular pattern. When he had made a circle about eight feet across, he flopped down on his back looking at the sky and patted the ground next to him.

I felt a bit foolish, but I carefully set our glasses and the pitcher on the ground and joined him. It was amazing! The world was reduced to a gently undulating circle of gold covered by a sky of unbearable blue. There wasn’t a sound. And the aroma of the buffalo grass was one of eternity and wildness and life.

“There ‘ya go,” was all he said.

We must have stayed there for hours as the Sun moved across the sky. Clouds came and went and this bad kid was better than I was at seeing shapes in them. Billy never laid a hand on me. All he and I did in that sweetly scented secret place was lie close together talking about our fears and hopes and dreams.

All too soon I heard a car coming up the road and I knew the sound of the engine. “It’s my Mom,” I said.

Billy only nodded and stayed hidden in the buffalo grass as I raced to sneak the now empty ptcher, two glasses and plate in the back door before she came in the front.

The following week we suddenly moved once more, this time to Mount Vernon, thirty-five miles away. I never told anyone about that day and I never saw Billy or the field of buffalo grass again.

Maybe that’s why I now remember with a certain sadness that long-ago Lammas when a no-good white trash boy called Billy Jenkins and I lay together in the golden grass breathing as one with the earth.

*        *        *

Lammas Memory © MommaWhiteCougar


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