October 6, 1999 Wednesday
A lot has happened in the last five months (well, not so much the first three…) that I will first tell of my summer today, and then leave the fall semester so far for another entry.
Like I last said in April, I had really expected to return to Western for the third straight summer. I really thought Mom and Dad would be willing to let me drive down to Macomb and stay in our new house on Calhoun if I got good enough grades. I held up my side of my self-made bargain. On May 26th I received my grade report. Two Bs (Philosophy and Speech) and As in my two Tama Baldwin English classes. That’s a 3.5 GPA; I was almost shocked myself! Yet the only real comment heard from Mom and Dad was, “Why did you drop English 199?” and then went in another room. That was it! I was pretty mad, for all of their quite correct pressure that had put on me to get my grades up. I was just hoping, but not expecting, more. I mean, every several months for the two two years I had come home with sub-par performances, and they had (rightly) raised hell about it (I deserved it, granted). Yet when I finally do well I didn’t even get a “Well done.”
On a much better note, that same night I received a letter from Poets Fantasy, a poetry magazine I had sent my best four poems from “Bottle” to for my English 385 final, and THREE of them are getting PUBLISHED. I will always recall my hands, shaking, as I read that “Waiting in the Wings,” “Green Fields, Part I,” and “What a Brave New World I’m In” were to be published in upcoming issues (“Pigs Make an Appearance” was the only poem not accepted). This was something I had dreamed of my entire life, to be a published author. Nothing was said by Mom and Dad about it. At a time when I should have felt my highest I felt near my lowest. I wanted someone to share in my accomplishments.
So then I went to work gaining permission to live in Macomb during the summer by either getting a job there or taking a class or two. There never was a time when I had them even half-way convinced about just taking classes, so the only way I was to live in the next house was to find a job. I filled out an application to work at the university library before the semester ends. I eventually got an interview after repeated call-backs, but I didn’t get the position. I also signed up to work at Nelson’s in Peoria where Colin has worked the last two summers, but no luck there either.
Grandma then suggested to Mom that there was a lot of work that needed to be done on the farm, with Grandpa always being a little guy, and starting to slow a bit. So on Monday June 7th, the day that the Western summer semester began, I found myself painting a barn a beautiful sticky red. Actually, over the course of the next seven months, I would go down an average of about three to four days a week, getting paid by Grandma a crisp twenty every day. This seemed high to me, and much to say for Mom. “Mom, only ten would be just fine, if that. He’s jut happy to be helping out, she would tell Grandma Connors. And I was happy to do it, I realized. Grandpa and I set out in the task of painting every barn throughout the back of the wide yard (seven in all) while also keeping the farm up generally. The summer days were at times so hot we had to stop for hours a time during midday, and many time I came to the house to ask Grandma to get Grandpa in the house. But he continued to work beside me the entire time.
Perhaps the hardest part of the day was getting up at 5:30 and the early morning drives with Dad. He could drop me off at the farm, arriving around 6:40, before going to work in nearby Knoxville. Grandma was kind enough to let me get an extra hour or two of sleep, which I gladly took, curling up on the couch in the davenport. Grandpa and I would work until noon and then take an hour break for lunch. This was my favorite time of the day. One of us would go out to the mailbox alongside the country road, and we would each take turns reading sections of the Peoria Journal Star or the Galesburg Register Mail. Sometimes we would comment on a story, or something coming to town, or Grandpa would see something, say, “Oh heck,” and pass it over to Grandma to read. In college, especially during my year in Lincoln, I had become quite accustomed to eating a meal in the cafeteria along with the day’s Chicago Tribune. It was great to just quietly read with them around the kitchen table on a beautiful summer day. And it didn’t hurt that Grandma is a great cook and didn’t let me get away from the table until I was full.
While we were working away the hours, covered in white or red paint, Grandpa began telling me stories of the war for the first time. Mom used to tell me he never used to talk about it, but he just now began to relate his time in World War II. Actually, there aren’t many war stories for him to tell. He was stationed in the Pacific, but didn’t see any real action. He would tell about not getting home to see his mother, and also about hearing some kind of new bomb while on leave.
Dad would return for me at about six, and that was really my summer. I could have found something more entertaining, but the summer was something that was special because t was the most time I had ever spent with my grandparents. I thought a lot about aging and growing old during that time. At the time it felt like seconds were days and my only objective was to survive until August when I could have my house. Now I am happy to have spent time with my Grandma and Grandpa Cochran.
The only person I really saw all summer was Colin, and only then a few times. One night, though, we drove around the countryside for a while and then went back to his farm and talked in the back field next to his lake for a few hours while it got dark. We talked about our summers, our lives back in our respective colleges, what we hope for the future, and the days in Elmwood we once know.