The rain falls lightly to the ground as we pull into the mud-lined driveway of my brother’s home. The raw, comforting smell of wood smoke burns my nostrils. The brook gurgles with mirth: spring is here she announces even as the nip in the air tries to deny this inevitable fact. Green grass already pokes up through the brown earth; this and the red shed to my left, the brightest splashes of color against this earth-toned world. Mom and I walk the rain-slicked stones to the porch and knock on the door.
Sophie, my brother’s boxer erupts in a string of raucous roars, leaping up and down against the door. I wonder if she is looking for my brother, away at boot camp. His wife, long and lean in a black-and-white apron, thick, red hair piled high on her head, answers the door.
“Hiii,” she drawls, wiping her hands on her apron. “I’m just making dinner, y’all.” She may be a Vermont housewife now, but her Texas roots are showing. My eight-year-old niece and eleven-year-old nephew, Catherine and Adam, tackle me, such a wave of long entangled limps that I can barely make out who is who. “We’re writing letters to Daddy,” my niece declares.
The rich odor of chicken and roasting potatoes fills the air. “I’m making purple potatoes,” my sister-in-law proudly announces. She and I had taken a trip to Hawaii together a couple of years ago and eaten lavender-tinged taro root, so their mention is a nod to me.
“I’ll have to take pictures,” I say.
I glance at the dish-clad counter and notice a stack of letters. My brother has been gone for less than a week, but his wife and kids have been writing daily, stockpiling the letters until he calls with his address.
“We just stopped by to say, hi,” Mom and I announce. “Can I write a letter to Daddy, too?” I ask.
My niece grabs a piece of unlined paper and a pencil, serving me pink lemonade in a fancy glass as I sit down to write. “Everyone misses you,” I write. “I don’t know why! LOL.” Actually I miss him too. “Maybe I should enlist and see what people think of me,” I note. “This is like faking your death and attending your own funeral just to see what people really think of you. So far so good.”
We finish the letter and as Leah starts dishing out the food to the kids, I snap a photo of the purple potatoes and get ready to leave. The kids’ artwork hangs on the kitchen walls. A colorful self-portrait by Catherine, a wildly colored pastel forest by Adam, and Catherine’s latest an “army guy” in camouflage. Homages to their Daddy are everywhere.
We discuss plans to get together next week, say our goodbyes and walk out the door. “Love you,” we say simultaneously.
Mom and I hop in the Honda and as we get ready to leave the driveway I look off to the hillside and spy two deer grazing in the field. I get out of the car and stroll down the hill toward the open field, trying to get as close to the deer as I can. As I near the crimson shed, they stop their grazing, look up and freeze. Realizing that I am not disappearing, they eventually take off, leaping across obstacles invisible to my naked eye, their white tails flirtatiously waving as they go.
We live in a painting, I think, a portrait of rural Vermont. Damp woodpiles, thick mud, and gray rain surround us. Across the road, my grandparent’s former farm, now my uncles’, looks worn. The farmers who lease it have stockpiled tires around the precariously tilted silo. Photographers have made postcards of the nearby bridge, the farm in its shadows, but today the naked face of the landscape shines through.
My family has lived on this land for 200 years. One of us has wandered from home. I sit in his drive-way, listening to the song of the brook, basking in the smell of burning wood, watching the white-tail deer dance by, hoping they are a sign of good fortune. I wait with his mother, wife and children, expectant like his dog, for the days to fly by and he to return safely home. We are tied to each other like the soil to this land. We are bound by blood and love. We never wander far.