by Steve Gaines

in the over green spring of 1998…
I was playing tourist in time
traveling back into the distant childhood of my mother
in my white Japanese station wagon
my older brother beside me
on our way to Elk City, Nebraska

my mother in the back seat…
sliding back down the years
…naming all the farms
and who lived where…
dredging up long past pictures in her mind
little girl memories in the bows and ribbons
of those quaint yesterdays…
living on the pioneer pages of the past
browning now at the edges of the fading millennium…

pointing out the window of the room
where her older sister was born in 1905

the barn like town hall building
where she sang her first solo …in 1920 something

the little Methodist church on the corner
that hadn’t changed a bit except for the glass doors

the “new” school…circa 1931… she hadn’t attended
built on the same lot however…
as the one she had…
at the long cold end of a buggy ride to town

it was all there!

Aunty Compton’s house at the edge of town

Uncle Henry’s farm half a mile west

and Grandpa’s spread…
the one he bought before moving out from Illinois
back before the turn of the century
…now dominated by the Omaha landfill
with its great mounds
and dusty trucks coming and going

but for the most part time had somehow waited for her
in that tiny Nebraska village
tucked away in the last corner of the twentieth century
barely escaping the urban sprawl…
silently remaining clear as a bell in her vivid memory

“turn here…by the church…”

and there it was just to the west of town
the picturesque little cemetery
filigreed iron gate forever open
peopled with her favorite yesterdays…

there was her father… gone since 1933
three years before my coming on the scene
and her mother… who had stubbornly survived
to greet my own first born son in 1962
and a brother… Harold… stillborn in 1903…
the older brother never to be…

many uncles and aunts
cousins and grandparents
friends and strangers…
all still tangled in my mother’s soft remembering
all in one small country acre…
coming back randomly to the surface…
fond islands in a timeless expanse

and at the bottom of the hill…in the weeds
almost missed entirely…
next to the memorial outhouse
donated by the Methodist Women’s auxiliary
…the small misplaced grave stone
of a small misplaced young boy
who hadn’t survived the last century…

…no one knew who he had been
except that he was a Gaines…John W.
having made only the smallest dent in time…
10 years…3 months…11 days

somewhere way back along along our family tree
this young boy had fallen off
and we wondered…

who was he?

my 87 year old mother couldn’t remember him
“although my 92 year old aunt in California might….”

a curious nineteenth century mystery to confuse us
on our outing into the past
his grave site somewhere
in that jumble of stones and plots
…a little boy lost in time and space

driving home in the silence of a long day’s reflection
we wondered…
our hope at the end of the day
that some one of our mother’s many grand children
or great grand children.
…our own children and grand children
might one day soon search him out…
find his place in that quiet corner

and bring him home