Folio · 2017

Spirited Hill

Angie Farnworth

Hurrah, for all those trips to grandma's that didn't end with someone barfing in the backseat.

Let's hear it for all those individuals who have barfed in the backseat.

For centuries, the place was nothing but a giant mud hill with rocks. At least that’s how I saw it. No one else has told me anything different. To the right, there is an old shabby house painted black; the hoofed shingles hung off the edge of the roof; some of the windowsills were unhinged, hanging crookedly by the corner, and the unkempt garden grew upward along the front of the house, like shriveled beanstalks. The house always gave me the creeps, and I hated driving past it, let alone, being forced to enter inside.

Sometimes, my mother would let us play at the empty lot next door. For our size, the hill was pretty steep. My siblings and I had to clutch on to the weeds and secure our footing against the grooves of the quarry to help hoist our bodies to the top. We marched around like the pioneers entering the valley for the first time, gazing at the town below; it was mostly pear colored pastures that were trying to survive the harsh summers and wired fences to keep the horses and the pigs from crossing the streets. When either my mom or my grandma called us back down, I always jumped right onto my butt and slid down the muddy hill, hopping off the edge of a tall rock, and making a dramatic touchdown, which was really me biffing it and landing on my hands and knees, occasionally scraping the skin and tearing holes through my jeans. My mom and grandma always hated whenever any of us kids did that (especially grandma). Her lips would purse and she would look down at us with crossed eyebrows, pointing out how messy our pants have gotten, and how we have ruined perfectly good clothes, and how we needed a change out of them immediately.

Grandpa, however, would look at us and chuckle.

“They’re just kids, Cara,” he said, but grandma continued to murmur about our filthiness.

Hurrah to “Daniel Boone and the Bear,” grandpa’s best bedtime stories!

Let’s hear it for those who tried to roar as ferocious as he.

There were days where grandpa would take us out for ice-cream. Playing on the muddy mound and ice-cream are the two things that I remember most when we came to visit great-grandma Betty and when my grandparents were in town.

“My brothers and I would climb that hill when we were your age,” grandpa once shared, smiling as we drove past the muddy hill. The shabby house was where great-grandma Betty lived, but my grandpa grew up further down the road. I wish I had listened more. I’m sure he had great stories about all the different adventures that took place on that knoll.

Just prior to her passing, my grandma and grandpa bought the giant hill with boulders.

The great incline is still there, but now there is a huge three-story house built through it, and the crags have either been moved or replaced with smaller, more aesthetic ones: stones that were more blue or maroon and smooth, than ugly, dumpy or lumpy. The weeds are pulled every spring beside freshly planted peach and cherry trees and azaleas, daisies, and summer roses. The mud is hidden under the seeds of lush green blades and a fountain runs down the steps at the front.

My cousins and I still climbed the place, only instead of rocks, we climbed stairs.

Hurrah, for those who received a colorful box from grandma’s basement with a picture of a small wheelbarrow holding flowers in a garden, and opened it to find a thoughtful house-warming gift: "WELCOME" spelled with various sized blocks.

Let's hear it for those who spent twenty minutes opening different tubs of Cool Whip in search for actual Cool Whip.

Let's hear it for those who volunteered to bring leftover food home--grandma's got a Cool Whip tub for that. Hurrah!

We seemed to prefer spending our time inside the hill—that is to say, grandpa’s basement, snacking on food-storage and looking through his old personal treasures of his past, like pictures of his father. My great-grandfather. They looked almost identical. My great-uncles all tell me that my great-grandfather was a generous man, and if I thought my grandpa was funny, then I didn’t know what funny was.

Let's hear it for grandpa who asked, "what lives in a desert?" anytime he wanted dessert.

Hurrah to those who tried to seriously answer, "what lives in a desert?"

Let's hear it for those who answered skunk.

My grandparents kept this rotating photo album. The album held a few dozen photos, and there was a dial on either side that you could rotate to flip through the pictures. It didn’t belong in the basement, but we often brought it down with us, scrolling through the pictures of us grandkids, trying to spot if any new pictures have been added in, and laughed at how ridiculous we all looked, but I knew we were all secretly counting how many pictures of ourselves made it into this rotating photo album, measuring each other to see who was the favorite grandchild.

My grandpa had this globe. It was mostly brown and fading, slightly wrinkled and delicate like aged skin. It sat inside a wooden table and wobbled if you spun the world too fast. I never saw grandpa use it as a reference. I guess he didn’t really need it. But his hand always rested on it when he checked in on us playing.

We didn’t care that the basement didn’t come with any walls. We played hide-and-go-seek, crawling over boxes to use as cover and stuffing ourselves in shelves, trying to blend in with the other miniature statues and dolls of children grandma like to collect. More often than not, most of us kid would gather at the edge of the stairs, peeking our heads around either corner, prepared to flee the moment we spot the Seeker approaching.

Let's hear it for those who worked so hard to put on a three-act play in the basement.

Hurrah for those who endured watching those three-act plays.

I remember my cousins and I would listen to music and analyze the lyrics the best way our nine-and-eleven-year-old brains knew how and wrote plays about how the music made us feel. To us, it made perfect sense to mash together songs from Evanescence, Britney Spears, and Broadway’s Wicked. We acted out stories about two girls, a singer and a Princess, who both struggled with living with fame, then suddenly—the two girls meet and become best friends! Our shows had more characters than we had actors, and our props were completely imaginary.

Hurrah for grandpa; doing his best to sing along, “And they say: she’s so lucky. She’s a star…”

Then the walls arrived, green as grapes. The boxes had been moved and removed, much like the rocks outside.

Still, we climbed. We mounted over the counters (when grandma wasn’t looking) and snuck food from the kitchen upstairs. We fought for a seat by the fireplace to warm our toes. We clambered over couches, wrestling for the remote to grandpa’s new 72-inch flat-screen HDTV—one of the first of its kind at the time.

It wasn’t long after when my sister received a call, learning that grandpa had tripped outside on the stairs… he never made it back inside the hill.

Let's hear it for those who invented synchronized sitting while grandpa’s body lay fifteen feet away…and now cross your legs.

Let's hear it for those who knew that grandpa’s spirit sat right beside us, snickering, and switching his legs around.

It took several months before grandma allowed anybody downstairs. Now, there’s a drag to our step as we hike down the stairs. We don’t touch the remote, play hide-n-seek, and certainly, don’t put on any more shows. We hardly sing anymore.

The rotating photo album has found a new spot in the basement, it sits on the base of the fireplace beside the TV. New pictures haven’t been added in almost a decade. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone really flip through it.

Hurrah, for those who sign grandma's tablecloth every year, because they still have found something to be grateful for.

Let's hear it for those who still come to visit.

Let's hear it for those who can't always make it.

The old globe has been missing for years, replaced with a shiny, modern, glassy navy one. No one touches it. It serves no point of reference for us, anyway.

Folio · 2017