I was up in the haymow throwing hay down to the sheep the morning after our grandson scored the winning points at the buzzer in a high school basketball game. It had been a thrilling moment in our lives, of course, and I was still riding high on the memory. I happened to look over in the corner of the loft and saw lying there in the corner, a basketball, now partially deflated. Nearby the old homemade banking board hung from the wall with cobwebs streaming down from the hoop. Over the last decade, there is no telling how many hours Grandmother and I played there with Evan and his brother, Alex. I joked that I had taught the boys everything they know about the game but the truth was just the opposite. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help wondering if all that dribbling, passing, and shooting might have contributed to Evan’s dramatic drive to the basket with just four seconds left in the game. And yes, as I sat there on a bale, staring at the old deflated basketball, I was crying my eyes out.
My barn has often been the place I go to cry. No one can see me there except the cats. We must never let the young people know about secret crying places. Perhaps oddly, I go there to cry more over happy events than sad ones. I went there to cry when our daughter and then our son grew up and left home as they must do, to start their own families. Now the grandchildren too will leave, nevermore to ripple that old basketball net, and I will go to the barn to weep even as I cheer them on.
I knew I needed a secret crying place when my mother died. We were living the suburban life then, but had managed to turn our big backyard into a kind of secluded garden with a chicken coop at the center of it. I would sit on an overturned bucket in the coop, hidden from everything except the chickens, and weep with abandoned, remembering my mother, who was always singing. The chickens would cock their heads sideways, staring as only chickens can do, and maybe sing a little too, as if to comfort me.
Later here on the homeplace, the big weeping willow tree along the creek became a secret crying place. Up among the branches there was a huge crotch limb where I could sit comfortably, hidden from all eyes, and look out over all he fields roundabout. I thought it was appropriate to have a secret crying place in a weeping willow. I even wrote a little poem about it, after I watched my son one day running across the fields calling his dog.
“Here Dusty dog, here Dusty dog, here Dusty dog.”
I hear my son calling, the sound fading into the willow tree
where I sit, listening. So joyful and carefree a sound.
When the boy is gone, I will sit in my weeping willow weeping
and hear his voice still.
A couple of years ago the old willow blew down, a blow only to myself I thought. I had known the tree all my life. When we walked back to view the downed giant, our granddaughter was with us. She had known the tree all her life too. When she saw it, stretched out on the ground, she started to cry and ran away from us. I felt as helpless and prostrate as the tree. She was much too young to understand the need for secret crying places.