I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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Kay Marie Porterfield lives in Englewood, Colorado. She is the author of several nonfiction books, including The Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions, to be released this month by Facts on File, Inc.
My trailer shudders in the relentless prairie wind. Despite insulating tape on the pipes that run beneath it and the space heater I’ve put down the well pit, the water has been frozen solid for five days. Drafts force their way past the sheets of plastic I stretched over the windows back in October. When the furnace runs, the trailer is warm enough, but as soon as it shuts off, cold creeps out from the walls to take over the center of my rooms. Somehow I endure, crawling out from under my pile of quilts to start my truck every few hours so that the oil doesn’t freeze, or to carry buckets of water up the hill from the hydrant by the shed.
Several years ago, I began working as a patient simulator, helping third-year medical students learn to recognize the psychological problems that sometimes underlie patients’ symptoms. I applied for the job on a dare.
Every spring for ten years, Da told me he was dying. The pattern was always the same. For the next three months he’d plan and revise his funeral, then patiently await his demise on July 15, the anniversary of Mother’s death. Despite his determination, the worst illness he could muster was a tiny patch of skin cancer one year, which the doctor removed during an office visit.
My grandmother has told me the story so often, I vividly recall the milk house although I have never been there. It is built of gray stone gathered from the fields and held together with chalky mortar. A patch of moss by the door looks like a velvet pincushion. Inside: a cream separator, the churn, gleaming tin pails, and butter paddles, their wood frayed from years of use. I see them through her eyes as she recites them like the rosary, like a charm.