We threw a party. The same party, every year, when I was
a kid. It was a spring lamb roast, and we roasted four or five
whole little guys who each weighed only about forty pounds over an
open fire and invited more than a hundred people. Our house was in
a rural part of Pennsylvania and was not really a house at all but a wild
castle built into the burnt-out ruins of a nineteenth-century silk mill,
and our backyard was not a regular yard but a meandering meadow,
with a creek running through it and wild geese living in it and a
Death Slide cable that ran from high on an oak to the bank of the
stream and deposited you, shrieking, into the shallow water. Our town
shared a border so closely with New Jersey that we could and did
walk back and forth between the two states several times in a day by
crossing the Delaware River. On weekend mornings we had breakfast
at Smutzie's in Lambertville, on the Jersey side, but then we got gas for
the car at Sam Williams's Mobil on the New Hope side. In the afternoons
after school on the Pennsylvania side, I walked over to the Jersey
side and got guitar lessons at Les Parson's guitar shop.
That part of the world, heavily touristed as it was, was an important location of many events in the American Revolutionary War.
George Washington crossed the Delaware here, to victory at the Battle of Trenton, trudging through the snowy woods and surprising the British in spite of some of his troops missing proper shoes, their feet instead wrapped in newspaper and burlap. But now my hometown has become, mostly, a sprawl of developments and subdivisions, gated communities of small mansions that look somewhat like movie sets that will be taken down at the end of the shoot. Each housing development has a "country" name - Squirrel Valley, Pine Ridge, Eagle Crossing, Deer Path - which has an unkind way of invoking and recalling the very things demolished when building them. There is now a McDonalds and a Kmart - but when I was growing up, you had to ride your bike about a mile down a very dark country road thick with night insects stinging your face to even find a plugged-in Coke machine where you could buy a vended soda for thirty-five cents. Outside Cal's Collision Repair in the middle of the night that machine glowed like something almost religious. You can now buy a Coke twenty-four hours a day at half a dozen places.
But when I was young, where I lived was mostly farmland, rolling fields, rushing creeks when it rained, thick woods, and hundred-yearold stone barns. It was a beautiful, rough, but lush setting for the backyard party my parents threw with jug wine and spit-roasted lambs and glow-inthe-dark Frisbees. The creek dividing the meadow meandered and, at its deepest bend, was lined with small weeping willows that grew as we grew and bent their long, willowy, tearful branches down over the water. We would braid a bunch of the branches together to make a Tarzan kind of vine rope that we could swing on, out over the stream in our laceless sneakers and bathing suits, and land in the creek. That is where we chilled all of the wines and beers and sodas for the party.
We were five kids in my family, and I am the youngest. We ran in a pack - to school, home from school, and after dinner at dusk - like wild dogs. If the Mellman kids were allowed out and the Bentley boys, the Drevers, and the Shanks across the street as well, our pack numbered fifteen. We spent all of our time out of doors in mud suits, snowsuits, or bare feet, depending on the weather. Even in "nature," running around in the benign woods and hedges and streams, diving in and out of tall grasses and brambles, playing a nighttime game that involved dodging the oncoming headlights of an approaching occasional car, bombing the red shale rocks down into the stream from the narrow bridge near our driveway to watch them shatter - we found rough and not innocent pastimes. We trespassed, drag raced, smoked, burgled, and vandalized. We got ringworm, broken bones, tetanus, concussions, stitches, and ivy poisoning.
Excerpted from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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