My boys and I just spent eight days at the country home I grew up in in California. My parents bought the four — now six — acres 45+ years ago. It is about seven miles from “town” on a quiet, serene road. Crickets usher in the evening; mourning doves welcome the day. Acorns plop on the tin roof and the ground; oak leaves crunch underfoot. Deer explore the surrounding hills; the neighbors’ horses meander and munch. It is a place where my dad’s presence is hugely felt — every step, every corner, every inch of every acre holds a memory. Since we are a pet-less family who resides on a cul-de-sac in Washington state, it was heartwarming to see my 10-year-old and 4-year-old transform into country boys almost immediately.
Ten-year-old Rass came upon an empty pellet rifle and, with Grandma’s permission, charged through the house and outdoors, on the lookout for creeping marauders, like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” The boys’ shirts got stained with cactus juice after they whacked and pummeled the plants with sticks. They washed and played on the heavy-duty John Deere mini tractor that I used to pull my sister around in. We followed Cousin’s hand-drawn map up the hill to search for the rock fortress he diligently built weeks ago. We shouted out to the hilltops and listened to the echoes in return.
And over the week, my mom’s beagle Butler, who she inherited from my Uncle Jack, completely stole their hearts. Butler is often up and out by 6:20 a.m., roaming the hills, barking at who-knows-what, sometimes returning reeking like a skunk. He has become the man of the house and seems to take that role seriously.
The first morning we were there, we took Butler out for a walk. My mom instructed Rass on the proper use of the leash, how to pull over to the side of the road when we heard a car, how to hold tightly with two hands as the car approached. He walked him timidly and somewhat cautiously, taking great care to follow the instructions. As we walked him days later, Rass declared, “I feel way more confident walking Butler than I did a week ago.” Almost to prove his point, he coaxed, “Hey Butler, wanna run?” and they took off up the road.
One night as we fell asleep Rass confided, “I wish we could live here. Grandma has a well. She has Butler. She lives in the country. It’s old-fashioned.”
“Yep,” I agreed.
A couple nights later my mom asked 4-year-old Bro what his favorite part of the day was.
“Playing with Butler. Like everyday,” he replied.
As we packed our belongings yesterday afternoon, Bro gathered up some acorns and tucked them into his Spider Man backpack. I found a couple, too, and stashed them in my pocket for the flight home.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to Butler,” Bro said as he hugged and kissed him.
Again, I agreed.
As summer draws to a close, and we unpack and check-off the school supply list, we carry fresh new memories of California. The boys got to experience the beauty and “old-fashioned” simplicity of the place I still fondly — and thankfully — think of as home.
And the total blessing?
After this trip, I think they’ve come to love it almost as much as I do.