Cradled in her favorite worn crimson velvet chair, legs draped over the arm rest, she traced her small fingers over the cover of her grandmother’s old photo album, feeling the raised decorative scroll work. She turned to the picture she always did. The first time she saw the photo was shortly after her grandfather’s death, less than a year ago, on display at the funeral home.
She had memorized every detail of the picture. The faded black and white photo was taken on their wedding day, her grandfather’s gentle fist resting over his breast with grandmother’s hand resting in the crook of his arm and her head slightly bent in towards her new husband with the slightest hint of a smile on her face. Grandpa was standing ramrod straight, looking uncomfortable in his new suit and vest, probably bought for the occasion and never worn again. Sara had no memories of Grandpa wearing a tie, even on the rare occasion he went to church with Grandma on Sunday.
Sara looks at the eyes of her younger grandfather, the eyes that made her feel special and always glad to be by his side, playing games, singing songs, and going out with him to the fields of his farm. The ache for her grandfather was still there, as a splinter inside her, made fresh again by looking at the old photo.
“Grandma, I’m going outside and play.”
“Well, I reckon you’d better, this is your last day here. Your mother will be here this evening to pick you up."
The wind whipped Sara’s hair as she stepped outside and looked at the mountainous cloud bank in the distance. She walked toward grandfather’s tobacco barn in the distance, the barn’s outline like a tin cut-out against the bright bank of clouds. As she walked past the dairy barn she avoided looking at the front, it’s two small windows, like staring eyes and the sliding barn door open, like a gaping mouth. The dairy barn always gave her the creeps.
Sara approached the barn where tobacco was hung to cure in the Fall, then taken to a warehouse in the city to be sold. She slid the huge door open just enough for her to slide in and drew it closed. There in the middle of the empty barn was the Minneapolis Moline. Grandpa called her Minnie. It was the tractor which killed him, falling on him when he turned onto a steep grade.
The intense farm smell filled the immense inner space of the cathedral like barn. The smell of oil, leather, twine, and soil blended together, lying upon her aching heart. She thought that the sadness surrounding her family and the farm would never lessen. The sounds of creaking wood on wood pressed by the wind made it seem as though the barn were breathing. Sara always imagined the barn to be floating above the farm, as though a barn shaped hot air balloon. She felt a drowsiness come upon her and layed down in a pile of straw.
In the dim light she was startled by her sudden awareness of a figure crouching next to the tractor, as if inspecting the wheel. Sara got up as quiet as she could but the crouching figure stood up and looked at her, freezing Sara in her tracks. Her heart started to pound and she felt the blood run to her face. The man smiled. “I’ll bet your name is Sara.” Sara was too shocked and embarrassed to speak thinking there was something about the man that was familiar but it was hard to see his face clearly in the dim cavernous barn. The man started to sing the song about bringing in the sheaves, the very same song she and her grandmother sang in church that morning. The same thought ran through her head ‘what are sheaves?’
“I think of sheaves as hands of tobacco that your grandfather used to hang in this barn to cure. It’s a harvesting song of thanksgiving to God.”
Sara asked “Did you know Grandpa?”
The man smiled with inward looking eyes, as though relishing her voice but did not answer. He motioned Sara to the door which he cracked open for Sara to look out. The barn was floating in the air high over the farm. She looked up at his face in full light and it was her grandfather’s face as it appeared in the photograph. She buried her face in his denim overalls and cried his name.
“Look over there, it's your grandmother.”
Sara could see her grandmother in the backyard far below calling her name.
“You’d better get back Sara.”
She looked up into her grandfather’s smiling eyes that seemed to be fading into nothingness and then he was gone, but not before she heard him, as a whispering faint thought. ‘I’ll be around boogie-boo.’
Sara awoke to the faint sound of her grandmother calling her name and ran out of the barn all the way to her grandmother in the backyard.
“You think Mom will let me stay another week with you?”
Her grandmother smiled.
“I don’t see why not boogie-boo.”