I remember mama: Mom's helping hand still vivid from fall of 70-plus years ago

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Several times a year, my mother, father, younger brother and I would make a pilgrimage from our little house in Indiana, Pa., to my great-Aunt Etta's and Uncle Harry's farm in the countryside near Punxsutawney.

We loved to visit them because it was like going into another world. The house was set at least 100 feet from the road with oak trees scattered around the huge expanse of yard. A front porch with a roof and pillars ran across the front of the house. While it was just an ordinary farmhouse, to my child's eyes it looked like a mansion.

It was no small wonder that our family looked forward to a visit there. Aunt Etta, wearing her constant dustcap, a full length "pioneer woman's" dress and a white, bibbed apron, was truly a sight to behold. By anyone's standards, she was also a world-class cook.

After we stuffed our faces and cleaned up the kitchen one afternoon, my mama suggested that she and I go for a walk, with no little brother tagging along this time. I liked that idea.

As we started down the road that led from Aunt Etta's, my mother held my hand. I was still a little girl, around age 4 or 5.

It was one of those perfect, beautiful days of summer. The sky was a soft baby blue with big poofy clouds floating high above. The only sounds were the music of the twittering birds and the buzzing hum of the bees.

No traffic could be heard because we were so far out in the country. If someone were using that road back in the late 1930s, they were likely doing so to visit Aunt Etta and Uncle Harry.

So my mother and I had the road all to ourselves. It was filled with tire ruts, left from a wicked winter followed by a wet spring. I kept stumbling into the ruts. Mother would pull me up and out.

Pretty soon, it became a game. I would accidentally, on purpose, stumble into the rut. Mother would pull me out, and we would both giggle and laugh.

A cornfield stood on one side of the road, and an open field sat on the other side. The latter was full of weeds and wildflowers. A large rabbit came hopping out of the cornfield and right across our path, followed by the cutest little bunny I had even seen. They hopped into the open field.

I pulled away from Mama's hand and gave chase through the weeds and flowers to catch me a rabbit. Every once in a while I would see the ears of the big bunny pop up, and I would run faster and faster in hopes of catching my prey.

All of a sudden, I stubbed my toes and went flying through the air. I fell to the ground with a resounding thud, scraping my knee in the fall.

I started to cry, not because I hurt my knee, which had a cut, but because the bunnies had escaped my hot little hands. I was certain I had lost not only the Easter Bunny but Peter Rabbit as well.

Meanwhile, my mother had come running after me. She picked me up, dusted me off, wiped the blood off my knee and told me she loved me, more than anything in the whole wide world. At that moment in time, a wonderful feeling came over me -- I think it's called happiness. I forgot all about losing the rabbits.

As we walked back to Aunt Etta's, I held my mother's hand and felt safe from all harm. She told me not to worry about "those darned rabbits -- there'll be plenty more to catch. By next week, you'll most likely forget this whole day."

Oh, Mama, you were so wrong about that. Seventy-some years have come and gone. I'm an old woman now.

But I still can remember the beauty of the day, the music of the birds and bees, the elusive rabbits and, especially, the realization that someone was there to catch me when I fell. I'll never forget my hand in yours and the sweet words you said that will live in my heart and memory forever.

Jacqualine Nicoll of Bethel Park, a theater director and playwright, can be reached at jackienicoll7@comcast.net.

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