Dakota Summer

Tanya Ward Goodman

By:  Tanya Ward Goodman

Packed up the kids and flew to the Midwest to visit my grandmother. She’s 88 and lives in the house where my mother grew up. It’s a small house (though as a child, I thought it was huge) and filled with fragile antiques. Lots of china plates and elegant glassware thin as soap bubbles. To bring my nearly nine-year-old into a place like this, we needed a code word.

That code word was “china closet”.

“You are a bull,” I said. “Her house, a china closet.”

Whenever I said “china closet,” he would go outside and play in the yard. It was a good deal. It worked well and nothing got broken.

We got out of the house as often as possible. We visited a crystal cave ten stories below the surface of the earth. Leaving my son with my mother who shares his distaste for heights and enclosed spaces, my daughter and I in the company of my two game aunts, climbed down 187 steep metal steps. We left behind the heat and humidity of the blue-skied day in favor of the moist and cool crystal cavern. It was beautiful. I was frightened on the ladder, but I kept at it, following the bobbing curls of my daughter.

“I went first,” she said. “I went all the way down and I was first.”

We took a picnic to a lake I remember from my childhood. It, like my grandmother’s house, is much larger in my mind. We ate sandwiches and watermelon and then I rented a canoe and paddled the whole of the lake a dozen times. My kids took the helm and I the stern and we paddled my mother and then my aunt and then just the three of us.

“Don’t paddle, Mom,” they said. “We’ve got it. We’re doing all the work.”

And I let them.

On our last day, we drove up to the cattle ranch where my youngest aunt lives with her handsome husband and two strapping sons. After the last turn off, we drove twenty-seven miles on a perfectly straight road, golden green prairie on both sides, white clouds floating lazily above.

At the ranch, we ate rolls still warm from the oven and mashed potatoes and roast pork. We feasted on homemade apple pie with double scoops of ice cream and then we took a motorcycle ride across the land. I sat on the back of my 16-year-old cousin’s dirt bike, trying not to grab his waist too hard, trying to keep from swallowing a grasshopper or being tangled in a tumbleweed. The land was beautiful, but my daughter, riding in front of my kind uncle, her hair streaming back, a wild look in her eye, was more beautiful still.

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