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Parlor Tricks

"An old man ponders the past and what he learned there so long ago"
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Published 3 years ago

Uncle Jeff called them bear berries. That hadn't sounded right to Terrance. Now, so many years later, he recalled that long ago moment and curiosity finally lead him to search online. It didn't take long to find a picture of them. They were salmon berries. That was the succulent fruits he had found growing thickly and profusely on the briars out in the woods so long ago. He couldn't even remember the taste of them. Just that they were orange and sweet. And his uncle had been mistaken. Not just about the name of the berries, either.

His parents and he were visiting his mom's parents. His grandparents lived on a small parcel of land on Vancouver Island. Pepe had built the house with his own hands for the small family that was left. He had built more than one home in his life. This one held only the two old folks and uncle Jeff. 

Meme still used a wood burning stove to cook on. Pepe had a greenhouse where he grew all kinds of plants to sell. They also did a little farming. This visit was at the end of May and there were so many lush plants growing out in the woodlands surrounding the settled areas. Beautiful azalea and rhododendron shrubs grew in banks under the spreading arms of the conifers across the landscape. Where ever there was adequate sunlight spilling down from the Canadian skies there was blooming flora. 

Each night he went to sleep in the same bed with uncle Jeff. There was the smell of pines and balsam firs drifting in through the open windows. It differed so much from the familiar odor of warm sage he was used to where they lived in the Mojave Desert. This whole geography was so different. Just as the world had been so different back home in the mixed woodlands down South. But it was so much fun learning about it all.

As Terrance now looked at pictures of the fruit on the computer screen his mind took him back. He was sitting in a parlor with afternoon sunbeams bouncing around the edges of heavy draperies.

He could remember hearing a cricket playing its fiddle concert from a hidden corner of the chamber. He waited for the girls who had invited him over to present themselves. Until that happened he was patient. He sat on the threadbare velveteen covered settee and glanced about the room.

He had seldom been in a house like this. It was so old and cluttered with objects from long ago. And, except for the rogue cricket, it was as still as a blue tick hound that had been run hard in a fox hunt all night and was finally catching up with its sleep. It reminded him of the house where Granny Tillman lived. He had only been there one time when they were calling to ask for donations to the Boy Scouts Jamboree fund. She was not his grandmother. That was just what everyone called her.

This place was like that house of Granny's. What someone called a Victorian. He had learned about architectural styles in the books he read. He read a lot. His mother always wanted him to go out and play. But he was not always interested. He wanted to read. And he learned a lot from reading. He would always look in the encyclopedia if he didn't understand something. First step was always checking the dictionary. He noted that this house wasn't painted like a Victorian should be. It was all white instead of having three colors.

Terrance could tell that this farmhouse had been here a long time. Knick-knacks and trinkets covered every crocheted needlework piece that was hiding the cracked hardwood surfaces of ancient pieces of varnished furniture. Family portraits scowled down from the walls covered in faded flowery wall-paper that curled slightly away from the corners and around the window sills. Every window was decorated with gossamer material over the glass panes and then hung with sagging curtains at the sides that could be drawn to keep out unwanted light or the undesirable gaze of curious passersby. It was old but it was as clean as could be. 

It could get so quiet out in the country. At that time he was used to living in small communities with nearby homes. But that old house must have been a mile away from where Meme's and Pepe's homestead was nestled in a meadow down a pitted dirt road. There weren't likely to be many people going by. All the farmsteads were pretty far apart. He recalled that he had seen no one as he walked there from the small farm. It wasn't a long walk and there was no chance of getting lost. He had just hiked down the dusty road until he got there. 

Now Terrance sat calmly and expectantly after having been allowed to enter by an older woman in a house dress. Her full gingham apron had been spotted with flour that speckled most of the lilac flowers that must have shown vividly when it was freshly put on that morning. That told him that she was probably baking bread for the week and then he smelled the wonderful odor of the hot bread in the oven. They still did that back in the day. She told him to just wait in the parlor. He was doing that. He wasn't really sure why he was here.

His mother told him that morning that the Menninger girls wanted to meet him. Their visit was newsworthy in the small island community and now these girls had asked him to pay a call. The ladies in the house told him to just go over and be nice. As he stepped out the kitchen door uncle Jeff whispered in his ear. He warned Terrance not to go the Menninger's place. Those girls were dangerous. They had a reputation. Jeff was older than he was by a few years. Maybe he was right but his mom, sitting at the kitchen's dinette table, called out to get going or he would be late. She continued sipping her Earl Grey tea as Meme buttered some toast that had been made on the top of the woodstove and scraped up with a metal spatula. He left with interesting thoughts in his head.

He did recall the feel of the cobbles and dust in the road that he walked along. He remembered the screeching of a hawk sprawling across the clear blue sky. It was clear in his mind that visit to the huge old house and what he saw and heard and smelled around him.

For the life of him, as he thought back to that day, he could not remember what happened directly after smelling that delightful odor of bread. He just recalled the two girls sitting beside him. There was one was on each side as they giggled and touched his short butch haircut. He could tell they were about the same age as he. Not yet in their teen years.

Now, as Terrance called back memories of that long ago time it seemed so important to remember it. Odd, wasn't it, how the mind filed some things away and left so much out. Or was it simply there but one needed the right code? So strange. They had traveled all the way up to Canada and across the strait on a ferry to Victoria but so much of that journey was now missing from his brain's cache. Only select thing were still there.

Like those berries and the azaleas and the feelings he had as the young ladies laughed at him as he blushed. How they each gave him a kiss on a cheek. And how completely satisfied he was that he had made a grandly perfect decision to ignore his uncle Jeff's advice to stay away from the sisters.

Terrance looked at the salmon berry images and drifted away as he was wont to do now in his old age. He knew so well how wrong his uncle had been about so many things over the years. Especially when Jeff years later established himself as the Meth King of the Ozarks. But that was a different story.



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