The summer of 2017 brought sweat, dirt, and calloused hands. Secretly though, it also holds a sweet spot where a day with my cousin sits. Periodically, Autumn would come from the home I left behind. She came to see me during the burning days of the year where no homework plagued our minds and only the coolness of grass tickled our bare feet. On each visit, at least once, Autumn and I would vacate the cool indoors and venture toward the back of my dad’s property -- her with a book in her hand and me with a bag on my back. Often times little talk was had on our journey as we maneuvered around bees and through the bumpy trail. It wound a way through waist-high grasses. The ground pierced our feet like gravel, since the swampy areas had been scorched from sun, leaving the ground a dusty rock with hardly any soft grass. I wondered sometimes what she thought about as we made that five-minute walk, if she ever had a longing in her mind to stay in the presence of the grasshoppers and the fresh air forever, like I had. I never asked. As for myself, I basked in the moment. I felt that she brought the presence of my old home with her in this new place, knowing she’d soon take it with her when she left.
As Autumn and I journeyed further down the winding path of heat with swollen, bare feet, we glanced up to see the small building my dad named “The Shack.” Intended as a father-daughter project, he and I had constructed it from scrapped wood just the summer before. On multiple occasions Autumn had come in handy when she hung around to lend help. Usually, her efforts went more toward cradling the flash light in midnight blizzards as we screwed in framework or maybe dragging a plank from wagon-to-building-site. Now, though, The Shack was in full use, whether it still needed more siding, a door, and windows or not. The Shack--our lean-to, box-shaped haven--our heaven.
As we approached the rough-looking building, we gazed up to see our hand-dug garden, which was surrounded by chicken wire to keep rabbits and deer at bay. The structure itself sat as haphazardly misshapen as an arthritic old man, but the rows of plants inside happily flourished. A tire with planks running across it rested under the door. This served as a step to the tiny, elevated house. After entering, my cousin plopped onto a steel stool and studied me as I put my hot hair back up into a bun. It amazes me at that her long sandy hair stayed where it was, fallen down her sweatshirt in midsummer. How she stood it, I’ll never know. Perhaps the bandana she sported right along her hairline kept the sun from scorching her to the point of heatstroke. We rested there for a while, me digging in my bag on the table, and her sipping her water quietly. We cooled down considerably by the time I had unpacked everything: a few granola bars, nuts, and painting supplies. Most importantly though, water. Who knows how long we would be back here?
“I like it back here,” Autumn spoke up.
I nodded and gazed around at the insides of The Shack. The people I had brought back there had all said so. It’s nice back here. I like it. Although it was easy to hear the hum of the highway on 15, it took us away for a while. I found it amazing that a box of wood placed among a vast patch of grass could make a person feel pleasurably alone. The Shack was a unique place. It was assembled by our hands, yet it felt as if it were there long before me.
“Yes, it’s quiet. We still have to put siding over the rest of the Tivek though,” I pointed out, glaring at the white plastic. It held on, exposed at the top, to wooden beams in the walls.
She observed with me, “I don’t know. I kind of like it. Lets a lot of light in and circulates air.”
“Yeah, that’s true.” Dad and I had previously added planks to the wall on the outside, starting from the bottom and working our way up. The east wall, halfway finished, had its top quarter exposed with two beams and a pure view of the sky. This gap caused the inside to glow with summer’s golden touch.
Eventually, we found ourselves lounging at the spool table that both Autumn and I had rolled to the back of the property during a previous visit. I lined up the paints and handed her an empty water bottle.
“Why are we doing this again?” she muttered, selecting her brush. I’d asked earlier in the day if she wanted to help me decorate empty water bottles.
I shrugged, “Just to do it. Painting stuff is fun, and I had a bunch of these, so why not?”
This explanation seemed to satisfy her, although it may not have been a very good one. We set out to work. Autumn chose to paint her bottle blood red with an ebony stripe running down its side, symbolizing her favorite band at the time. I was only a quarter of the way finished with mine by the time she painted her second bottle. She proudly displayed her dandelion gold, white, and Caribbean blue masterpiece for me to admire.
“For Norwell colors!” Autumn exclaimed.
I launched our conversation into one about the irony of my new school having the same colors as my old one, the one she still attended. The conversation soon died into a lapse of comforting silence. I concentrated on my white swirls as she moved on to a more fitting activity for her mind—reading her latest vampire book. I was pleased she even put up with painting in the first place. Being in this place where the grass sways and the clouds roll—with no screens or chatter from the people that consumed our days—it filled us in a new way. Getting lost in the summer breeze and wrapped with the silence from a loved one gave a layer to our bond.
Our summers were spilling with adventures, but they contain moments like bottle painting, hidden in the folds and creases of our memories that make them special. A relationship is proven strong when two are able to sit in one another’s company with no discomfort. A friendship is unbreakable when no words exist to connect them—when past experiences and memories hold the comfortable silence up around them like a bubble. Now I stop to look at the hanging bundle of painted bottles in my room, or my eyes pass over blue and rose stains on our table. I stop to think of my cousin then and of how much I miss her. I can only hope Autumn will come back in the summer.