My childhood was played out in front of the backdrop of a large farm in Kennedyville, MD. The house was old and rambling, a white three-story maze with wooden floors and rusty faucets. My sister Kate and I bloomed there, learned things we were too young to know there, built the foundation of who we later became on that sprawling farmland, upturned by plows and overheated dogs.
When my mother was there, which was on and off for a number of years, the farmhouse would be alive and pulsing with her attempts at familiarity. She would cook huge dinners, and if it was summer, we would sit on the screened-in porch on the side of the house, eating fried tomatoes and baked chicken, Kate and I listening to her and Dad’s easy laughter, laughing along even when we didn’t know what it was for. We were so eager to be a part of their shared happiness, since seeing it seemed foreign and very much a novelty. I would sit, my legs Indian-style in a lounge chair, watching as they brushed against each other, Dad complimenting Mom on her fried tomatoes. I’d look down at the ones on my own plate, slicing into the sugary crust on top and savoring each bite as I rolled it inside my mouth.
When my mother was absent, which was most of the time, it would just be Dad, Kate and me, and for the most part, we’d entertain ourselves. Dad would read, till the garden, or fish. Kate and I would climb the huge oak tree in the back yard and perch like wrens in our tree house, sweating and shrieking and keeping watch over the land. At night, Dad would grill ducks or geese outside, Motown music swirling through the air from an open window. Kate and I would stand on the picnic table, stomping our feet on the wooden slats and clapping in time, singing along, “Ain’t too proud to beg, sweet darlin’, please don’t leave me girl…”
Once, as I was dancing with abandon on the picnic table, barefoot and twirling, I felt my feet begin to sting, hot like after walking on summer asphalt. I jumped from the table and sat on its bench, pulling a foot onto the opposite knee for inspection. I gasped and winced at the sight before me. The bottoms of both of my feet were covered in splinters. In my frantic dancing reverie, I hadn’t noticed the sharp wooden spears making their way into my skin. As soon as I saw the splinters, they immediately began to sting like I’d stepped on a nest of hornets. I hobbled dramatically over to Dad as he manned the grill, whimpering and pointing at my feet. He lifted me up and pulled my foot up to his face, squinting in the fading light, straining to negotiate what he was seeing into something that made sense. Once he realized what he was looking at, his eyes grew wide, his mouth became a grave line in the middle of his face, and he shook his head slowly.
“Looks like we’re gonna have to do a little surgery,” Dad said in a serious voice.
He took me into the house, the humid air making me instantly sticky as we walked through the screen door and into the kitchen. He carried me like a baby into the living room, and laid me on the coffee table, on top of the Newsweek and Time magazines that covered the top surface. Dad ran upstairs and grabbed tweezers and Bactine, and pulled a chair up to the end of the coffee table, his body hunched over to begin his work on my feet, which looked tiny in his hands. He began pulling each splinter carefully from my feet, dabbing the Bactine on the hole that was left after each one was removed. I stayed completely still, paralyzed by the pain running up my ankles and into my calves. I focused on the round light fixture above where I was laying, my eyes blurry with tears that ran from my eyes, across my temples, and into my hair. He worked solidly for an hour or so, making calming sounds when he heard me suck in a breath in surprised agony.
“Almost done here, Meggers,” he said, his eyes inches away from the soles of my feet as he scoured them for any lasting remains. His brows were drawn together with concentration and care as he tended to the many tiny slices the wood had made.
Finally, it was over. The wet heat from the summer’s humidity had formed a tight bond between my body and the magazines beneath me. As I sat up, I could feel my skin stretching as I peeled myself from the slick magazine covers. Dad had wrapped my feet in gauze and I squealed a little as I stood, the pain shooting like flames up my legs. Dad saw my struggling limp, and scooped me up again, taking me out to the screened-in porch, placing me in my favorite lounge chair. As he settled in on the seat next to me, Kate came in from the yard, and crawled in beside me, lightly touching my bandages, a solemn look in her eyes as she placed my feet in her lap protectively.
“Storm’s coming in,” Dad said, pointing at the clouds cloaking the starry sky. We turned our chairs to face the field outside the porch, and got ready to watch the evening’s entertainment together.