My nephew and I meet at Granny’s as planned on Tuesday morning. I join him inside the house just long enough to say hello to Mom and her caretaker, Ann. We go back out and get started on cleaning up the yard.
Just past thirty, Brad is lean, tough and chiseled. Even as a kid, he was the hardest worker in his family and that quality has not diminished in him. By noon, we have picked up all of the fallen branches around the house. The burn pile has worked its way past the flame stage into an intensely hot bed of coals. We have also raked the leaves away from the back of the house and burned the ones that were not wet and matted.
Just before lunch, Brad starts raking next to the front side of the house and I burn off the south part of the yard. Just as the last edge of red curls the grass into black wiggles of ash, Ann calls us in for lunch.
Soon after we go back out, Mom joins us. She is ninety-five and weighs but a pound for each of those years. Her legs and arms are so thin it seems they would break under their own weight. She shuffles around the cans and pots of plants lined against the south edge of the house, using an old house broom both as tool and crutch.
She works for a while, then, trying to sweep leaves out from under the small, low porch in the ell of the house. Of course, the broom is no tool for such as that, sliding over the tops of the leaves again and again. I step over beside her, use the leaf rake to reach in between the steps and drag out piles of leaves.
Brad has continued sweeping the yard, windrowing a long line for the burning. After that has burned, we turn to the real work of the day.
With hickory trees growing on three sides, the house is surrounded by a treacherous mat of nuts and hulls. Their round shape makes walking unpleasant for young, healthy persons and outright hazardous for a frail old woman. It is easy to sprain an ankle when a nut rolls under the heel of your foot. Brad and I gather up around seventy-five gallons and dump them, one wheelbarrow load at a time, on the fire. With the dense nuts packed in and blocking off the air, they will smolder and burn for three days.
As we finish the last section of raking and burning, I step over to Mom and put an arm gently around her shoulders, “It’s been a long time since you and I burned leaves together, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has,” she agrees and here we are finally on the same plane. I honestly can’t remember when it was, sometime back when I was in high school, I think. And she is not quite sure whom it is that she is talking to.
I am sure of this, though: It is no longer the smoke that is stinging my eyes.