© Another Day in the Country
There’s a little girl across the street, towheaded and bored, a tiny carbon copy of her mother who looked just the same fewer than 20 years ago.
She walks on her tippy toes in the gravel, her bare feet seemingly impervious to the rocks. She comes out early in the morning and plays with the cats in her grandma’s front yard. Sometimes there’s no one in sight and she’s talking away to herself in animated conversations.
If she spies me sitting on my front porch she comes running across the road.
“What you doing?” She wants to know, and then asks, “Where’s Jess?”
She’s been talking with Jess all summer, sometimes following her around, as she took care of multiple houses and mowed multiple lawns; so as far as this little blondie is concerned, I’m a stranger around these parts. My sister is the one who belongs in manifold yards.
“Where’s Jess?” she intones again, looking me over with her clear blue eyes, a little skeptical about my presence on this porch.
“She’s at her house,” I answer with adult logic, and she wrinkles her forehead for a moment, taking this all in. I point across the street.
“Oh,” she finally says and then there’s a pause. “What she doin’?”
You can see how far this conversation is going to get.
Watching this little gal is déjà vu for me. It’s the same for her grandparents. The experience is startling — it’s like someone randomly flipped through the pages of the Book of Life and pointed at a picture 20 years back.
When we first came back to Ramona and started refurbishing the old beat-up house on the main street with our little bag of tools and a lot of naïve optimism, we met two little neighbor girls. We were, after all, an oddity! Furthermore, we turned out to be someone to talk to for a couple of bored kids in the middle of summer vacation with nothing particular to do.
Once they got to know us, they seemed to look forward to our return summer after summer, and were eager to tell us town news from a kids perspective. Our neighbors and their children became an integral part of our Kansas experience.
As we worked repairing windows, painting, stripping wallpaper, and mowing lawns, we listened to stories of their cats and when to expect more kittens. We helped them catch their dogs and hunt for tools that mischievous puppies dragged over to their yard. They gave us the news of the town with 10-year-old candor and we gave them attention. We smiled at the quaintness of this little town and hoped the best for these kids.
And then one summer when we returned, we discovered they had a baby sister who the girls helped care for, dressing her up and toting her around like a puppy. I started taking pictures of the girls, especially this new addition, and this youngest child ended up with a very well-documented childhood. She was photogenic and sweet, stubborn and opinionated, better behaved for us than she was at home — but that’s just kids, isn’t it?
And now she’s the mother of this little carbon copy that comes running across the street and says, “Watcha doin’?”
I’ve been in Ramona long enough now to watch a whole generational cycle. I can recall vividly the kids who were middle-school age when we started coming back regularly to town. They wanted to help us rake leaves, make cookies, paint chairs and now all of them have children of their own. I’ve watched their life progress with interest — some fared better than others. For sure, I never imagined, when I first met these kids, so full of possibility, that some day in the future I’d be teaching art to their children.
And here we are watching that cycle of life moving past as the years accumulate: four, five, six generations of folk, year after year, still spending another day in the country.