The sudden darkness and change in temperature was like stepping into the heart of an eclipse. When you added the sweetly rank scent of manure, animal feed and sweat, it was like entering another world altogether.
She held her grandfather’s fingers loosely as they entered the feedlot, taking in a big breath of the warm scent. Her grandmother always said it stank, but she thought it smelled like what the voices of thriving plants would sound like if they could speak. She imagined that stepping into the wall of cool shadows created by the warehouse was what it would feel like to step into the face of a gentle waterfall surrounded by dense green plants similar to those she had seen in National Geographic. The midsummer heat was closing in on a hundred outside and she could feel the dampness of sweat in her grandfather’s palm as he walked her through the huge entrance. They were stopping by to see his half-brother, he had explained. Adult reasons. She never asked why adults needed to do the things they did anymore. She had learned a long time ago that the reasons were either too boring to care about, made no sense to her or that knowing too much meant that you would have to hold yet another secret.
The warehouse was a tall structure, maybe two stories in height and large enough that you could have parked a couple of eighteen wheelers inside if it weren’t for the piles of animal feed taking up so much of the floor. It was a working class castle built to house food for farm animals, fashioned of variegated metal with a sawdust floor. A couple of men in dungarees were moving stuffed sacks onto a pickup, in silence except for the heavy breaths brought on by hard work in the oppressive humidity. A dagger of sunlight slipped through one of the few tiny windows at the top of the far wall, slicing the dusty air to spotlight the particles that danced above where the men were working.
A door opened in the back and Uncle T-Bone sauntered over to greet them. He was fair, his hair gone white with age though he still moved like a working man and stood tall even if it was apparent that his bones were beginning to round under the pressures of age. Both men seemed to erupt in a burst of white teeth, grinning widely at one another in greeting.
Her grandfather looked down at her, letting her hand free.
“Be good and careful, now. Scat.” She shook her head back up at him as her Uncle T gave her a hello and similar advice. “Yessir.”
The men embraced. Her grandfather’s dark, quiet frame greeted his brother’s pale one, “Well, well, whatchu doin’ haya, niggaboy?”
“Just come by. Gone take the chile fishin’ at the pond.”
“Y’all gone have you some catfish for suppah tonight?”
She was at the base of a pile of feedbags now, out of range of their talk as they walked back toward the office. There was a mountain of feed towering over her, leading up to one of the few small dirt-caked windows. Slipping her flip-flops off, she tested her foot on the first bag. It was solid, like a softer version of stone and it felt smooth and cool on her bare foot. One foot after another, testing each bag, seeing nothing but the next bag in front of her, becoming a part of the sweetness and dust, she climbed. With so much fodder, her imagination took her away to mountain tops and rocky caverns, from castles to revolutionary battles…The light from the window grew bright and the air around her grew hotter which caused her to pause. She noticed how far up she had climbed and how her browned legs were coated in dust as she crouched there on the hill of grains. This was high enough, she decided and she settled herself to wait.
Below she watched the men close up the rear of the pickup truck they had been loading, now free to talk and joke with one another since they were no longer using all of their energy to hoist feed. After a few hearty laughs and a good slap on the back, one headed to the office and the other climbed into the truck and started her up. As she was watching the pickup disappear into the white glare of the summer sun, she heard her name called.
“Timeta get. Whatchu doin’ up dere so high?”” Her grandfather was waving her down, grinning at the height she had managed to achieve, his blue eyes laughing silently.
Slipping down was easy and for a second she wished she had realized how fun that would have been earlier. Maybe if she’d have known, she could have climbed up and down twice in the time her grand daddy and Uncle T were visiting. Reaching the bottom, she found her flip-flops and slipped them on.
The brothers shook hands goodbye and then finished it off with another hug and rough pats on the back.
“You take care now, suga.” Her uncle called to her as she took her grandfather’s hand once more and they headed out together into the summer heat in search of catfish.
- the South