I never knew, when I was little, what grace it was to live in a warm house, to be free from fear of war or starvation, to run in the back yard with my brother, to have a father who spoke kindly to me.

I did not realize, when I was ten, leaping through the moist and mossy woods, acting out dramatic stories with my friend Diana, what fertile memories I was storing up. These fireplaces, snow-covered meadows, hideaway forts were storehouses of inspiration for poems I would write fifteen years later.

I never dreamed, then, how beautiful was our old, drafty house in Keene, New Hampshire, with the blue-painted door and the purple lilacs lining the yard. I merely was intoxicated by it all, possessing only the dimmest sense of gratitude. Now, looking back, I see how rare it all was. And part of me yearns for those long-ago days.

Tonight, I read a scene from a short story by Wendell Berry in which his character Andy Catlett recalls a visit with his grandparents:

We ate and said little, for all of us were hungry. The food, as I see now but did not then, looked beautiful laid out before us on the table. And never then did I know that it was laid out in such profusion in honor of me. It was offered to me out of the loneliness of Grandma’s life, out of her disappointments, her cravings for small comforts and pleasures beyond her reach, to which Grandpa was indifferent. When I had washed down the last bite of my second piece of pie with a final swallow of milk, my stomach was as tight as a tick. I am sure I said “That was good.” I may even have said “Thank you,” for I was ever conscious that I was traveling alone and therefore in need of my manners. But time has taught me greater thanks.

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