By Wayne Allensworth
The sun is hitting the porch directly now, and I pull my chair up into the sunlight on a bright, coolish April morning. My wife and I are at her parents’ place in Central Texas, preparing for the estate sale, cleaning up the property to put it up for sale, too. And it’s harder for my wife than she thought it would be, letting go of this place.
Yes, I said to her, it’s hard, but there’s nothing to be done about it.
I’m sipping my coffee and wondering what the bright yellow wildflowers that cover the front yard are called. No one has tended to the lawn in quite some time, and it was overgrown, but the springtime wildflowers took over, and in the morning sunlight the yard glows. Dancing butterflies float amid the blossoms, the petals almost imperceptibly vibrating in a light breeze. My wife’s aunt can’t think of what the flowers are called, either. The wild blooms are everywhere this time of year, Indian paint brushes and Indian blankets, bright reds fading almost orange, and yellows, and the pink buttercups, and the bluebonnets, and those tiny purple flowers. Like the bursts of yellow before us, we can’t think of what they are called.
It doesn’t matter, they are here, and we are here to see them.
I recalled when I was a boy, and every springtime, my family, sometimes with my grandparents, would take a drive in the country, just to see the bluebonnets that covered whole fields and pastures in lakes of color. A simple pleasure, one that required time, time we don’t seem to have any more, as technology drives us, and pesters us, cutting down distance and space, a reduction of time itself. We grow used to looking at a screen and blinking and moving on. Are we the users of a tool or is the tool using us? It’s part of a cycle that began when somebody invented the clock, and we began trying to “keep” time, and everything was measured, our very movements and motions. Deadlines and schedules. Efficiency, you know. It was all a matter of time.
But you really can’t “keep” it.
What time is it?, we ask. Do I have time? Will there ever be enough time?
Where did the time go? And what is it?
It’s more than duration. It’s related to space and our being in it, ebbing and flowing in currents, currents that have moved from those of a meandering stream to the roar of a great cataract. And when it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
Aunt B— says that time moves faster as you grow older. When you are a child, she notes, the months and years are forever, and a day like this can seem like it is. But time passes. For older people, the days can be slow, but the years flash by, and you still ask, where did it all go?
Quiet time. I miss it, I say. Only out in the country, far from the highways and boulevards, can you enjoy the sound of silence. Or quiet, as it is not really completely silent. There’s that low background hum of the universe. At my grandparents’ place in the country, the evenings were so still, and a noise far off seemed to echo in the woods. Is it still like that?
Aunt B— is reminiscing. It was Sunday, and we talked about churches, where we had been baptized and when. And she says she wasn’t baptized at her home church, but somewhere else. How did that come to be?
Daddy, she recalled, didn’t care for the preacher.
Her family had lived not far from here, she said, in a town much smaller than the county seat. Her father was a farmer and tried his hand at running a café (she still has a notebook from the 1940s listing menus for the week) and owned a small grocery store for a time. He had even sold Watkins liniment.
One day, the preacher came into the store.
Her father had been given a calendar by a friend, a man he did business with, and on that calendar was a picture of a girl in a bathing suit. The preacher was scandalized and demanded that he take it down. Now the man who was my wife’s grandfather was not someone to be ordered around and he refused. The preacher stormed out, she said.
And I got baptized somewhere else.
We could both laugh about that. It’s one of those little human stories you want to hold onto, to “keep” like the time that we really can’t keep, that is so elusive. Sentiment and emotion, memory and love demand it. That little story is also a small stitch in time.
Later that day, my wife and I are driving home. Out in a pasture, a group of longhorns, themselves like ghosts from our past, are chewing hay. And behind them is a vast sea of bright red, waves of it that lap up against a hill of green like the shoreline of a bay.
We are two hours—and a lifetime—away from home.
Music: Who Knows Where the Time Goes? as performed by Nina Simone:
Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.