Visiting Downers Grove is a heap of fun for Kathy, Mary Ruth and me. First of all because we don’t have any chores to do the whole time we’re there, and second because Uncle Jack and Aunt Dorothy have more space around their house than anybody I’ve ever known—27 acres! Mommy goes inside to talk to Aunt Dorothy the whole time we’re there, and Kathy, Mary Ruth and I stay outside. When we need to pee we use a creepy little outhouse. It smells sort of like leaves that have been rotting in a puddle for a long time, and it’s got daddy-long-leg spiders, big horse flies and other creepy things mucking about. That’s what I can see anyway. I never look into the big hole in the board we sit over to use like a toilet because I don’t want to know what lives down there.
Once per visit we get called in to have some milk and something that Aunt Dorothy has baked. Usually it’s this sweet bread with a crunchy crust that’s really good. I like to load it up with as much butter as I can without getting it so thick that someone will call me a glutton.
Grampa Adams drives to Uncle Jack’s in his old 1936 Nash. He loves that car. It’s gray and sort of plump and round, and way high off the ground compared to Kaisery. In good weather he spends part of each day wiping it down with rags, filling little rust spots in with putty, and just poking around in the engine with the hood up. When he has the engine running, it shakes and gets real hot, and there’s a fan in there whirring around to try to cool it down. If we’re quiet, he lets Kathy, Mary Ruth and me play on the car’s running boards. We pretend that the car’s zooming down the highway and we’re barely hanging on. Sometimes we get so excited we actually do fall off and scrape ourselves on the gravel, but since it’s not a long fall, it’s nothing to sniffle about.
Sometimes, when Grampa Adams isn’t looking, I poke my fingers in the putty. I know I’m not supposed to do this because it leaves little dents, and Grampa Adams wants a nice smooth surface, but it just feels so good to poke that putty in I can’t resist. He always goes over the putty a few times anyway, and when I’m sure he’s done for the day, I leave it alone so it can dry and get hard. Then in a day or two he paints it the same dark gray color as the rest of the car.
Back on Richmond Street the old Nash was kept in the garage, and Grampa Adams had to drive it through the alley to get it in there. Kaisery was at the curb in front of the house. Here Kaisery is kept in the garage, and Grampa’s Nash is outside next to the garage. Daddy says he’ll get around to making Grampa something called a carport. He drew me a picture of one on a napkin, and it looks like a garage minus just about everything except the roof. But Daddy has a whole list of things he has to do, including make Mommy a powder room, which is a bathroom minus the bathtub where she can powder her nose in peace. I’ve never actually seen Mommy powder her nose, but then Kathy, Mary Ruth, and I aren’t allowed to go into Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom—ever. She may do her powdering in there.
Uncle Jack cleared the land right around his house for yards and meadows, vegetable gardens and a little orchard, leaving just a few beautiful trees for shade. Then a whole lot of the land is cleared part way, so maybe there are half as many trees as in the dense woods nearby, maybe even less, but there’s still lots of trees. There are a couple of deep ravines too running through the property, and we pretend there’s water in them, and we’re sailing away on great big ships. We just go from one adventure to another.
Sometimes there are baby frogs jumping all across the meadow. There are so many you don’t have to be fast to catch one. All you have to do is bend down in the tall grass, cup your hand, take aim just when you see one land, and put it down right over the frog. They are so cute. Kathy, Mary Ruth and I love every one of them. We grab hold just enough to get them on our palms and watch the white skin of their necks bulge out and in, out and in, out and in real fast. It’s the only part of them that moves as they get set to jump back into the grass. When we’re through with the frogs, sometimes we become pirates in search of booty. Sometimes we’re grieving pet owners at a little spot in the woods where some of Uncle Jack’s favorite dogs are buried. Sometimes we’ll pretend we’re on a picnic in a real picnic area he made—logs placed around a stone-rimmed fire pit. There’s space at Uncle Jack’s to be anything we want, cowgirls and fishermen, movie stars and everything else we can think of.
Uncle Jack is always on the move, unlike most grown- ups I know who walk around like they’ve got hundreds of little beanbags sewn under their skin. When we arrive he’s always outside, driving his tractor to cut grass in a field, or hauling big branches that have fallen down from the trees into a pile where he saws them apart for fire wood, or he’s climbing up a ladder to pick peaches. He’s like a kid that way, except he’s always working, not playing like we do, and he’s pretty serious.
Once he took us on a hayride, and what a fun time we had! He lined the bottom of a wagon with hay and attached it to the back of his tractor and lifted the three of us inside, and we took off—all around the property, three or four times. For us the tractor became six of those big, heavy prancing brown and white horses as we wound around and around acre after acre, through the meadow, into the woods and out near the marsh. So actually, getting to go to Uncle Jack’s is another good thing about our move to Hinsdale, one of the nicest.
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