“We can do without pleasure, but not delight.”
-Jack Gilbert, from his poem, “A Brief for the Defense”
Delight is an RV parked near the barn of my grandparents’ small-town Missouri farm, where the crab apple orchard, blackberry bushes, and hobby herd of cattle converge. We have gained access into this magical place, packing a picnic of 7-Up and bologna and American cheese sandwiches on white bread in Grandma’s avocado and shit brown kitchen.
Anna Lee is a far better cook than our lazy, little-kid palates allow. Baby potatoes removed from the soil at dawn, freshly shelled peas cooked and simmered in cream and butter, liberal dashes of salt and pepper. We turn our upturned noses at such a feast and ask, instead, where the Fritos, Little Debbies, and Red Delicious apples are?
Once our picnic is secured, we – two sisters and a rebel cousin – say goodbye to our grandparents as if we are making a trek across the Sahara instead of 100 feet to the RV, our hideaway, our dominion, where we slowly savor lunch and play Uno or Barbies or some post-apocalyptic adventure where adults no longer exist and we remain, the sole survivors, the only ones who now possess processed meat and cheese and cunning.
We know nothing yet of our grandparents’ Depression-era childhoods, of flour-sack dresses and the exquisite beauty of a Christmas orange or the heavy pride of a silver dime placed in our small hands for threshing wheat at age nine.
We do not yet understand the hunger of want, the blight of rural poverty, or dropping off young soldiers on the beaches of Normandy as an 18-year-old gunner’s mate, only to pick up the fallen like Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who, like my grandfather, carried souls of the newly deceased, “stacked like cordwood,” back to their rightful home.
We know none of this for our grandparents do not tell sad stories and have, instead, given us the keys to an RV, a Shetland pony named Patches, and a go-kart we drive at 15 miles per hour down the gravel road.
Since there are three of us in the RV, we invariably create some game where someone is left out. Triangulation is not yet in our vocabularies.
“You,” my cousin Sheila says, wagging her finger in my face, “have been banished.”
And I don’t question or care about her decree. I am relieved to get out of the stifling heat of the land-cruiser, to wander from the pasture to the screened-in porch overlooking the orchard, where my grandmother snaps green beans or smokes Kools while painting her nails crimson or mauve or the faintest glow of peach.
There is delight on that screened-in porch, where my grandmother and I sit and count the infinitesimal beating of a hummingbird’s wings. Where we, cloaked in calm and smoke, sit and wait. We do not yet know the constant surge of dopamine from status updates or text alerts or reminders to take our pills or pick-up the kids or check-off another hurried to-do on a coffee-stained list.
As an adult, thirty years removed from this memory, I wish for these summer moments once more, for play-acting in the RV, for listening to my grandmother’s Southern drawl announce the blue bunting, oriole, chickadee, and sparrow, for savoring what could be right now instead of what has to be done.