I Am Descended From Giants

The giants’ home is in the boot-heel of Missouri. They cast forty-acre shadows over the flat, flat earth where their family lives. It’s not Kansas flat; because Kansas climbs toward the Rockies and your eye is drawn up, up, up as you head west.  It’s southeast Mis-sur-ah flat—the flat of white dotted cotton fields and mosquito infested rice fields. The kind of flat that offers no shelter from the Mississippi river when the rain comes, and her banks rise, and families wait to see just how high the muddy sludge will climb up the baseboards in their living room. Because it is flat, the giants made good time as they roamed the country roads looking for work. The giants had been born to work, and to help, and to pull a smile from you when you felt there was nothing to smile about. The giants were born to live lives of adventure that made even their forty-acre shadows seem insignificant. The giants’ magic was in their stories.

Three of the giants were brothers and it was the tail ends of their lives that crossed over mine. Tom was the best at pulling smiles, George bought extra hamburgers to feed the stray dogs, Hubert read Hemingway and drove the twelve-mule team. I was a girl when I knew them; they were hard-of-hearing with gray hair and gnarled hands. But they still pulled out my smile as they showed me hard work comes slowly, day after day after day. They taught me to never speak ill of family and that laughter over card games was enough to find happiness. They showed generosity in unexpected places, leaving their oversized coats on the shoulders of foot-weary travellers ill-equipped for the elements.

My child-eyes only saw glints of their magic; shadows in corners that disappeared when I turned to see what was there. When the three were together the magic was too strong, and even my untrained eye could see the tales dropped through the fabric of time. Delivered with nonchalance, they painted stories of alternate times and realities. I think they could no longer see how very special each story was.  They had grown accustomed to the sparkle of magic over their shoulders and, like a long-inked tattoo they could no longer see it when they looked in the mirror. None of them ever seemed to realize how truly remarkable they were, but there is another who did—the last giant.

The last giant is younger than the three, a nephew who grew in their shadows. He works hard, because it is what his uncles taught him. The last giant sings all of the giants’ stories, because he is the only one left to tell their tales. The last giant is lonely, because he is the last of his kind.

It is the last giant whose magic found me, these twenty-five years later. He cast his voice through the air, sending stories to pull upon my soul. I heard his call, and sought him out.  Finding him beneath the water tower he drinks from in the far southeast corner of Mis-sur-ah. He welcomed me with a hug, but was careful not to crush me. Sitting together, we looked over the flat, flat land and I waited. No longer a child, I now knew what to look for. I had learned patience, and I waited for the magic to come in its own time.

It started in the winds that blew through the flat, flat land. Winds that carried the sounds of footsteps on gravel roads and the methodic thump of a shovel clearing the fields. Winds that carried the smells of sun-ripened watermelon and mules in the barn. Winds that carried the heat of summer even though we were at the edge of spring. Words flowed from his mouth in deep baritone waves, the magic falling onto the fields and seeping into the irrigation ditches. The air grew heavy in anticipation of what once was, and the giants that had been. The stories invoked each of the uncles one by one by one. The laughter and familiarity and the lives lived so big and full in a way that can never happen again. He spoke for hours and with each chapter faint outlines brought on the edge of the wind grew clear, until they stood before us, opaque and real.

Each of the three sprung from the clouds, not as the ancient giants I had known, but as young giants, full of life and adventure, humor and grief.  George so handsome, Tom so charming, and Hubert so full of vitality. They scaled over railroads, and brought in full harvests. They flirted and danced, and threw a punch when needed. And there, at their knee, was the fourth giant, looking up to the men he would become.  For one glorious afternoon the stories spun together, a magic quilt suspended in the air, enveloping me in the stories I needed to know.

The sun crept over the horizon and the fabric of the quilt began to fray. The giants faded, one by one by one, into the blackening night sky. I looked to the last giant, and saw the sadness slide over his shoulders and into his heart, as his uncles were taken from him once again. He looked to me with tears in his blue eyes, but behind his sadness was hope. When he broke our silence, his words washed over me. “They lived the stories, and I learned to weave them with my voice many years ago. You heard my call, because you are one of us. The final in our line, chosen to carry the history forward.” And with his declaration his magic spilled inside of me, and finally I understood.

I am descended from giants.

First published in the Bacopa Literary Review-Writers Alliance of Gainesville 2016