Listening to Candlelight
The match head bounces roughly along the edge of the matchbook. On first strike it ignites in a flash of orange sparks and threatens to go out with each step I take. I carefully deliver life to a candle sitting close to my bed.
Technology provides life-saving medicines and jet-propelled shuttles. Electricity, the pulse of our daily life, continues to flicker on and off with regularity.
Glowing warmly, the candle illuminates a small corner of my room. At first it crackles and sputters as the wax of a new wick struggles to catch fire. Soon it burns steadily, with only an occasional flicker when a draft from a half-closed window sweeps through the room.
Surveying my surroundings, I am unaffected by the dust on the dresser or the pair of worn jeans tossed haphazardly across a far corner chair. I take a book from the nightstand and settle down. Reading by candlelight sounds romantic, but it is difficult. Nevertheless, watching television, listening to the radio, or dusting will have to wait.
I close my eyes and am cradled in darkness. My mind circles and wanders through thoughts of the day. Resisting the urge to put pen to paper and begin a list of things to do, I allow myself to drift. The peaceful sound of rain carries me away.
… I grab the shiny chrome handlebars of my new blue Schwinn and snap my eyes shut. With the confidence I have been given superhero ability to ride a bike with my eyes closed, I pedal fast. Two seconds pass, possibly five, of blissful riding, then crash, into a neighbor’s sedan. As I am falling to the pebble-strewn pavement, my mind anticipates my father’s looks and my reproach. I’m not badly hurt, but my superhuman powers are not strong enough to stop a tear from falling as a drop of blood appears from a small cut on my knee. Softly Mom kisses my wound and tenderly places a band-aid on it. A gentle reminder to be careful and watch for parked cars…
… Easter. A small yellow mass sits in my cupped hands. My sister, two years younger, rubs her chubby finger over the baby chick’s head. I watch carefully, observing each stroke, cautious. My sister’s eyes are wide with wonder as she lifts the downy soft feathers to investigate the tiny chick. Being older and more experienced, I am hesitant to let her touch it for too long. I use my sweetest voice to convince her baby chicks must have rest between petting. The chick cheeps loudly as it is released. My sister and I watch as it determinedly pecks at invisible things hiding in the grass…
… After asking three times, I hesitate at a fourth for fear of being scolded for breaking mother’s concentration, again. The highway is narrow. In the back seat, where I am sitting with my window wide open, I feel a whoosh as each car passes too closely, I feel, to ours. At five, I am a backseat driver. As we travel the single-lane highways of South Texas, I search the horizon for over-the-line autos, stray cows, and soda shops close to a turn-off. Three hours seem an eternity when traveling to Granny’s house. After only minutes, the games were played, songs sung, snacks eaten, and not one cow in sight. I curl up on the floorboard and listen to the tires on the road.
Lulled into a sleepy state, I feel the rhythm as we cross a wooden bridge — click-clack, click-clack, click-clack — a rapid cadence. I scurry up to the window just as we complete the crossing and reach the pavement again. Back on the floorboard, I am soon stirred by a honk. I untangle my arms and legs in time to return the bald man’s wave as we pass his car. Without asking, mother volunteers: only twenty minutes more. Soon I leap from the confinement of my back-seat responsibilities and into the arms of my Granny…
… A temporary captive of lace and bows, I rush to my room and quickly shed my Sunday best. Almost tripping over the dress as it clings to my ankles, I jump high, finally achieving the altitude necessary to free myself from the bright green material. Hurriedly I don jeans and a T-shirt.
Piling into the car as we do most Sunday afternoons, we are off — my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms. The winding road to the park reminds me of a snake, weaving in and out of tall grass. We pass duck ponds, a golf course, and the horse arena, arriving at last to a playground full of adventure — but without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds.
Unspoiled, this part of the Guadalupe River is teaming with opportunity. Thick vines cascade from sturdy live oaks lining the river’s edge. Run-off channels rise from the river up to the street.
“I’m a pioneer,” my best friend exclaims, scampering up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory. Following quickly behind, I search for buffalo.
The afternoon sun beats down. Squinting against the bright reflection from the river below, I watch as my sister struggles to climb up, my friend’s little brother close behind. We toss a few clods of dirt over the side, a bombardment intended only to discourage younger siblings from following. Mother and her friend pass the time at a picnic table close to the river.
It seems we are there too briefly when a honk signals the roundup has begun. In the car, I take a final glance back as we reach the top of the hill, realizing it will be at least six days before we return to the wonder of this place…
It is still dark outside as I slowly open my eyes. The vibrant memories of childhood summers pass rapidly. Softball games with hot dogs, summer camp and mosquitoes, band concerts and school fairs, and endless memories of growing up in a small, weather-beaten Texas town.
The candle burns brightly as I revisit a steady stream of friends and events long forgotten. As I close my eyes again, I make note not to wait for a storm to plunge routines into darkness before I return to the sights and sounds discovered while listening to candlelight.