catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 15 :: 2004.09.24 — 2004.10.07



I can?t remember the first time I visited Williamsburg, Virginia. My picture was taken on one early visit. I was wearing paisley pants and walking down a cobblestone street in the middle of the old town. I?m not exactly sure how long ago it was, but in the picture I don?t look much older than two years. Besides, when was the last time paisley pants were in vogue?

The only grandparents I have ever known lived in Williamsburg for quite some time. We used to visit them about every other year, but because they moved when I was in high school, I?ve made only one pilgrimage back, for my Gammy?s funeral.

I say pilgrimage for a reason. There is one certain spot in the beautiful, historic part of Williamsburg that has an almost metaphysical dimension to it. At the end of the main street lies the Governor?s Mansion. It?s a huge Victorian brick house complete with intricate and fragile window work, stables, servant?s quarters, its own little mill and some immaculate gardens that look like part of the gardens at Versailles. The entire building and its grounds are quite impressive, but one corner stands out as the most special place that I have ever visited.

I can?t say that it?s just the area. And I can?t say that it was just the conversation and picnic with my companion when I visited. It was a magical elixir of the two. It was a mystical yet tangible environment that could be drunk with every sense. At the very back end of the grounds there is a man-made river that some early governor had constructed for his daily rowing exercises. On one end of this river is a rustic, worn wooden bridge. The arch of the bridge turns almost full circle in the reflection of the river. Leading up to it is a path of dusty pebbles and broken, white seashells that stretches along either side of the brook. Lining this path are rows of weeping willows and ancient Japanese maples.

It?s along these paths that Gammy and I used to walk. Every time I visited, as a young toddler to a high school student, we gave the highest priority to our afternoon together. The outing usually began around 10 a.m. We brought turkey sandwiches, potato chips and Vernor?s ginger ale for lunch. We spent most of our time on the little bench built right into the frame of the bridge. Here we would eat our lunch, sip our sodas and talk. We talked about life and death, about hate and love. She would even appear interested if I had a mind to talk about Legos or the Packers. We spent hours on that bridge watching the morning give way to the afternoon.

In addition to our lunch and our talking, there was one more thing that had to be done during our little excursions. Gammy would bring along about three loaves worth of dried bread crumbs. From the highest rise of the short bridge we would drop varied sizes of crusty Wonder Bread into the river. Swans and ducks always came first to eat?their graceful yet simple lines stretching as they pecked the crumbs off the surface of the water. We savored the sight of the swans and the ducks as we had learned early that they would not stick around long when the carp came, and always, sooner rather than later, they did come. They came in droves and forced out the beautiful birds. We didn?t mind too much, though. There was something visceral but strangely beautiful in the way the carp would jump on top of each other, mounding into a solid pile of flesh two feet across and a foot out of the water, for one piece of old bread.

It was on these occasions that my relationship with my Gammy was formed. The area was a part of Gammy and Gammy belonged with the rivers, swans and trees. And I, from an unknowing kid to an awkward teenager was privileged to witness such a wonderful chemistry.

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