THE HARRIKAN: as defined by the southern writer William Gay
“It’s a wilderness in every sense, a place to where characters flee when pursued, where fringe types have been forced to dwell provisionally; and it must be ventured and crossed en route to freedom, or at least the elusive idea of it.”
As soon as we arrived dad and grandpa parked themselves on the front porch in their usual places, grandpa in an old worn painted rocker, dad on the steps. There they would sit like sentinels for the next two days, until they were either called to eat, or to do chores the women couldn’t handle. Which were few, if any.
“Timothy Wayne,” mom kept calling. “Where are you? It’s too early for you to wander off. I told you, no wandering through those thickets until this afternoon. You have all week-end!”
I managed to avoid my mother’s keen eye, sneaking past the kitchen window without her seeing me. I hid behind a stand of forsythia bushes growing on the hillside in the front yard. Below me beckoning, was a seemingly endless thicket of viny brambles, blackberries, Virginia creeper, scrub pines…an overgrown labyrinth of un-chartered twists and turns leading to real hidden places. Who knew what sorts of treasures lay waiting?
I looked up through yellow tracery. Smoke from the cook stove in granny’s kitchen curled into the early morning sky. An old grey-green barn loomed just next to a dirt road leading to the house. Outside the entrance to the barn, grandpa’s beautiful white mare was eating her breakfast. Sun reflected from her mare’s massive back; the fringe of her mane hanging nearly halfway down her side. Several barn cats in a variety of mixed colors and sizes darted past her twitching tail. Chasing to be first at the bowls of milk granny was placing next to the pump.
I watched her as she stepped off the porch into the sunlight. A thin starched figure. Lavender. Radiant. Lit from within. She wiped her hands on her apron, looked up into the clear cerulean sky with reverence, sighed as if to pray. Pausing briefly to caress the cats, she turned and went back into the house to finish breakfast.
I smelled frying bacon, knew of warm biscuits laden with apple butter, could almost taste eggs, from the many chickens happily roaming the side yard, slowly simmering in a cast iron skillet. I wasn’t hungry. I loved granny’s cooking, but I loved the freedom of the Harrikan even more.
By this time, mom had circled the house searching for me. She stopped by the front porch steps. “Paul,” she said. “Have you seen that boy?”
Dad casually pointed to the forsythia bushes.
I was caught.
I liked when mom had something important to say to me. She always got down to my level. Kneeling next to me, she said, “If you don’t eat breakfast honey, you won’t have enough energy for your adventure.”
We walked hand in hand up the hillside, me dropping yellow flowers in a trail behind us.
The cats scurried.
The screen door opened.
“There’s our boy,” said granny.
Millions of seconds in slow motion, like flashes of silvery metallic confetti suddenly tossed in the morning air, mirroring back the boy I once was.