This is a picture of me sitting on the swing on Mama’s porch. I’m five or six years old here. Those are azalea bushes in the yard behind me, and that’s the house belonging to the neighbor who Mama calls “trash.” There are a couple rocking chairs in the foreground–one for Deda, my grandpa. And one for Mama.
Part of the front of the house is visible–it’s a powder blue with white window shutters. I think my uncle helped paint it this color. The house was gray before. There, on the right side of the picture, that’s the kinda-new balustrade. White to match the window shutters. And there are some more azalea bushes. And part of the front yard. You can’t see it in this picture, but if you turned right from this viewpoint, you’d see a great big pine tree.
“I’m gonna chop that tree down, Mama,” I used to say. And she’d let me take a butter knife outside so I could try. I made a little progress every time I visited–until someone told me one day that the tree could feel the knife. That it hurt when I cut into it. So I stopped.
So anyway, there I am, sitting in my favorite place in the whole wide world, my swing, a little pudgy for my age, smiling my awful, too-forced goblin smile.
Here is where I sat with Mama and Deda to smell the rain and watch thunderstorms. Mama taught me how to play gin rummy here over sweet tea and watermelon (she’d pick out the seeds for me). This swing was my space ship when I played astronaut. It was my Rolls Royce when I pretended I was rich. I’d sit out here on Sunday afternoons, smelling my grandmother cooking Sunday dinner, listening to Deda tell stories and rhymes to anyone who’d listen. I’d close my eyes to his voice, and I’d float away with his words.
I sat here in a black suit after my grandfather died, quiet with the rest of the family while we waited for the limousines to take us to his funeral. And I sat here again after my mom died. My family was here, remembering those we lost, and appreciating those we still had around.
“When Jerry was your age, he used to tell me he was going to build me a ten-story house one day,” my grandmother said to me of my cousin, “And Timmy told me he’d give me a thousand dollars when he got rich,” of my brother. “I don’t need the house, but I’ll take the thousand,” she joked. It was a story she’d tell a million times over, and we’d all listen as if we’d never heard it–not because we were being polite, but because we wanted to hear it. She’d brighten us up, even on the morning of her daughter’s funeral, because that’s who she was: a southern magnolia firecracker of a woman who put family first, herself second. My memories with her are tied to this swing.
The last time I ever sat here, on my swing, was in the autumn of my sophomore year. Mama was dead, and I was there to say goodbye.
I remember looking down the length of the porch from my swing that final night–at Mama and Deda’s rocking chairs, at the azalea bushes, at the pine tree that still bore the scars of my lumberjacking. It was now so empty, so void of life. Eerily quiet.
I pushed off the ground to swing, and I closed my eyes. I pictured Mama and Deda with my mom, gossiping and playing cards. I imagined the smell of rain and the sound of thunder. I felt Mama’s arms around me, consoling me after my mom’s death. And for just the briefest moment, I was six years old again, smiling into a camera from my space ship. Swinging as high as I could go. With no end in sight.
When I opened my eyes, the porch was still empty. There would be no more memories here. This here, in this picture, this wooden swing hanging from Mama and Deda’s porch–this is the thing that made me.