The little piece of jewelry had been hiding under some earrings in a very old jewelry box – just a bit of American Indian jewelry that my dad had given me a dollar to buy one summer day. Beads of powder blue, white, and black had been sewn to miniature white leather moccasins, and there was a small, gold safety pin on the back.
It was a busy day, the day I happened on it, and there was plenty to do. But as I held the tiny moccasins in my hand, I began to "disappear" into one of the summers decades ago when I was a little girl, when our family went to Pennsylvania to stay at "Custard's farm," and when it was a "simpler time."
I sat down for a few minutes to relive the voices of Romaine and Russell Custard and their nephew Orville as they rushed out to greet our arrival at the farm. I could feel Russell's giant arms lifting me over his head as he told my parents – as he did every summer – that I'd "sure grown a lot this year."
The Custards were big, generous people, farming and taking a few boarders in the summer. I remembered the ample farm-style meals at a long table; nights of coolness, of heat, of fragrant rain; the after-dinner time spent on the screened-in porch, with the click of shiny marbles on a Chinese checkerboard in the background. There was usually a radio on, too, and somebody was always swinging on a squeaky swing in the back.
I remembered days beginning not with breakfast, but with feeding stale bread to the catfish in a big pond. I remembered a lot of time spent with my parents because there were no other children around. I thought about the hours spent walking with them on completely undeveloped country roads – walking after the rain looking for soft-tummied salamanders; walking and singing silly songs; walking down to the big general store; walking through the corn fields a mile each way in the heat, where the only reward was a bottle of sarsaparilla from the red cooler at Buckman's little roadside store. And I vividly recalled playing in Ressica Falls where the water was so cold and clear that every tiny pebble was visible.
Why am I doing this, I thought. No sense longing for that simpler time. I put the pin away, closed the old jewelry box, and decided to get out of the house for a while – during which time I continued to think about that simpler time and wonder why it seemed less complicated.
Suddenly I realized that I had been looking back at the world from the vantage point of a child. Sure, things were simple for me then, but not for adult humanity. It was only a few years after the end of World War II. Imagine, I thought, the millions seeking consolation for the loss of loved ones. The millions just beginning to unearth their cities, towns, villages, homes, and peace of mind. A world still shaken by the first use of the atomic bomb. And all mankind trying to absorb the horror of the death camps.
Then I remembered a young German woman whom my mother would often meet at Ressica Falls. And while I played in the water, she and my mother would sit on boulders and talk. She had a series of indelible numbers on her arm, and I remember once asking what they meant. I don't recall how they were explained to me – or even if they were explained. But, of course, I could never have understood then the suffering they represented.
Incredible, when I think of it. The fact is, there are no simpler times, only simpler perceptions. The shift from the simple to the complex is really much like the development from childhood to adulthood. A small child looks up at the stars in wonder, probably only aware of his own being and his own wonder. An adult can feel the same wonder but has the capacity to realize that all of humanity lives under the same stars.