I cry on sunny days. It wasn’t always that way. I used to love them, especially at the creek, where windswept grasses along the bank shone in the sun, the sky deep blue and cloudless.
For years, Mama and Daddy, my little sister Charmaine, and I visited the creek nearly every week during the summer. We’d catch bait to sell to the fishermen who came into our tavern to “shoot the shit,” as Daddy used to say. Mid-morning was a good time to leave town since business was slow then. When Daddy gave the word, I’d hang out the sign, “Gone Fishin’” on the front door.
Charmaine and I clambered into the back of the pick-up, sharing space with the metal pails, fishing net and our picnic lunch. Together, we’d hold Buttons, our dog, so he wouldn’t fall against the sides of the truck on the turns.
The creek was a good twenty minutes away. By the time we arrived, my hair was a tangled mess. Charmaine’s was too, but the tips of hers had turned from yellow to golden wisps in the sunshine. I loved looking at them.
Daddy backed the pickup down to the edge of the creek where he unloaded the gear. Mama lugged our picnic up to the one-lane bridge. Not once did a car, truck, tractor or person cross that bridge while we were there. I often wondered who used the road and where it went, but never felt compelled to scout it out.
The water, waist-deep on us, barely reached Daddy’s knees. The minnows tickled our ankles. We stomped our feet, giggling. Since Charmaine and I weren’t all that old — still in grade school — we only helped by dunking and lifting the fishing net in and out of the water. Of course, Daddy held the widest part of the net. On the lift, the flopping minnows shimmered in the sunlight.
When we tired, Mama took over, and Charmaine and I chased each other up and down the creek, scattering the sparkles on its surface. The sound of our swishing echoed between the banks. I’m sure the horses grazing on the other side of the hill could hear us. We couldn’t see them unless we stood on the bridge. They never seemed to pay us any attention.
We’d toss a rock out into the water for Buttons to retrieve. Buttons splashed into the water, dunked his head and wouldn’t come up until he’d retrieved the rock we’d thrown. Triumphant, he pranced back to us on the shore and dropped it on our toes. We pretended it hurt. Ow! Ow! And then, gales of laughter. It always amazed me how he could pick out the exact rock we’d thrown.
After an hour or two — who understands time at this age?- we broke for lunch. We sat on the edge of the bridge, feet dangling over the side, the sun reflecting back to us, putting our little family in the spotlight. Bologna sandwiches, slathered with butter, washed down with lemonade, never tasted so good. Mama and Daddy didn’t like bologna. They ate pickled herring and hard-boiled eggs and drank coffee from a thermos.
The last time we went to the creek, Charmaine and I were in the water, bending at the waist in an attempt to smell the water lilies — we weren’t allowed to pick them. We had just concluded that water lilies had no smell when Mama called to us.
“Come on, girls. We’re going.”
Startled, we looked up. We hadn’t even had lunch yet. Mama stood with the driver’s door of the truck open. Daddy stood on the bridge with Buttons. We didn’t move until Mama shouted her command again. Mama never shouted and I suppose, looking back on it, reviewing that day over and over again, that it was the sound of her voice that broke our trance.
“But our shoes!” Charmaine cried. “They’re still on the bridge!”
“Never mind your shoes.” I’d never heard my mother’s voice sound like that.
“But Daddy!” I wanted to shout, but the words wouldn’t come.
When we reached Mama’s side, I saw her eyes were rimmed in red. She palmed our necks, one at a time, and shoved us into the cab. She hopped in after us, slammed the door and turned on the ignition. As she put the truck into gear, it rolled backward into the creek. We instinctively leaned forward, reaching out toward the dashboard. I stole a side glance at Mama. I saw the color rise from her neck to her cheeks. I leaned forward to look at Daddy. He just stood there. That’s what hurt the most. He didn’t move a muscle to stop us.
Gunning the accelerator and releasing the clutch, Mama finally managed to get the truck to move forward. Up the hill and onto the road, Charmaine and I looked out the back window. Through the dust, Daddy still stood motionless, like a cardboard cutout, and Buttons took a few steps toward the truck. With a confused look on his face, he stopped.
Charmaine started crying and shrieking at the same time, “Buttons! Mommy, stop! Stop!”
Finally, I found my voice. “We mustn’t leave Daddy. Mommy, please!” But Mama didn’t say a word and didn’t even slow down. It’s as though our carrying on only caused her to drive faster, and she kept going for miles and miles, ignoring our cries and our whimpering and our clinging to each other, until we ended up across the state line, long after that blazing sun had set.
I never saw Buttons or Daddy again.
Now, sunny days — those glorious summer days you want to go on forever — remind me of that day. Always.
Originally published at https://medium.com on November 28, 2019.