I asked, “Are we there yet?” Then my brother asked. Then my sister asked. Dad was driving and each time, he responded with the number of miles remaining. Meanwhile, Mom reminded us to be patient. From the backseat, however, our Saturday destination seemed nowhere in sight. Fortunately, our side views were pleasant and we were excited. Country roads went up and down hills and around “S” shaped curves. Trees and corn fields surrounded us. Red barns, silver grain bins, and blue silos dotted the landscape. We were in the heart of the corn belt.
Every now and then, we caught glimpses of white-tailed deer, Holstein dairy cows, and Black Angus beef cattle. Yet, I kept hoping to see horses. Seven years earlier, I’d had a pony at my aunt’s and uncle’s dairy farm. At three-years old, I’d named my pony, Snow. Ironically, I had never experienced snow. It’d be another two years before I’d watch white crystals fall from the sky and feel the icy flakes that melted in my hands. I was five when my family moved North, leaving behind both Dixie and Snow.
Eventually, Dad exclaimed, “We’re here.” He pulled into a gravel driveway. Toward the west was an old, two-story farmhouse. It had a tiny, enclosed front porch. South of the driveway was a pole barn. On the east side were more fields. A farm dog and a robust man in denim overalls eagerly greeted us. The farmer hollered for his wife and his four daughters, then smiled. His wife and two girls came out instantly, while the oldest daughters came out later; begrudgingly. Introductions were made. However, my sister already knew the youngest girl. They had spent time together in the hospital.
In short order, the oldest two daughters asked to be excused. They both were in high school. They had no interest in playing with little kids, unless they were being paid. Mom and Dad were invited inside. My brother, sister, and I stayed outside with the farmer’s youngest daughters. They were eager to have our company. While they were accustomed to their wide-open spaces, they didn’t get many visitors.
The girls were anxious to show us the barn, filled with square bales. We didn’t hesitate to follow them. While the farmer may have thought his hay bales were for feeding cows, his kids knew they were meant for climbing. The bales were stacked to the rafters of the two-story barn. Our mouths dropped open and we stared in wonderment. At our very fingertips was a mountain, complete with kittens masquerading as cougars.
The ascent was arduous and tense. However, after summiting the mountain, we simply slid down; one bale at a time. As each of us reached the bottom, we rushed to meet the farm animals. We had spotted them from the peak. As it turned out, only a few animals had names. We were told the nameless ones were going to be eaten. It made sense to me and my brother. However, my little sister cried and ran to tell Dad.
Everywhere we looked, there were acres of adventures. I saw, felt, smelled, heard, and tasted freedom. And I climbed and ran as far as my little arms and legs would take me. Like an eagle I reached for the sky and like a deer, I darted through tall grass. Only the mud and tilled earth slowed me down. When I got thirsty, I drank icy-cold water from a red hydrant. Then I cooled off somewhere called a “cellar”.
On the south side of the house was two small, wooden doors that laid on the ground. They opened from the center, outward to reveal steep steps. Cool, musty air flowed from the dark depths below. I was nervous about following the girls into the unknown. There was no railing and I was extra cautious, as I descended. Our surroundings were all shades of black and gray. Then, one of the girls flipped on a light switch.
The cellar was an amazing place to behold. Naked bulbs were mounted to the low ceiling. As we passed through the concrete-block entry, I noticed crates of potatoes, onions, and carrots. Beyond that was a second door, which opened into an area resembling a basement. There were indoor clothes lines, where wet clothing would hang to dry in inclement weather. For now, they held worn out, but colorful quilts. They were the children’s pretend tents.
Along the east wall, there were three massive freezers. Two of them were full of meats, wrapped in white paper. They had handwritten labels, identifying their contents. The third had stacks of clear bags with frozen vegetables and Popsicles. The girls generously offered us some of the frozen treats. We gladly accepted. Afterwards, we sported purple, red, or green tongues with matching mustaches.
On the opposite side of the room, glass Mason jars were stacked floor to ceiling on dusty, wooden shelves. Pint and quart jars contained a rainbow of cucumber pickles, beet pickles, dilly beans, canned fruits, relishes, jams, and jellies. Everything was tantalizing, except for the canned meats. Those jars had gobs of fat that floated on top. I had never seen anything like that before. While I was studying the variety of relishes, the farmer’s wife appeared from a separate stairwell. We were called to dinner and dutifully, followed her upstairs. Apparently, this other stairwell led directly from the cellar and basement into the kitchen via a closet.
The supper table was crowded, as five chairs had been added for my family. Homemade bread, potatoes, and corn on the cob were served. Although, I don’t recall if the meat was pork or beef. But, I do remember my excitement when the farmer’s wife brought out the rainbows contained in Mason jars. I sampled and enjoyed many of her relishes, pickles, and canned fruit. After dinner, the farmer and Dad went out to the barn. My siblings and I followed. I soon bored of their talk about farm equipment and spotted a nearby hammock. I called dibs and made a run for it.
There was only room for one and I had gotten there first. I laid there in the hammock, staring at the stars. I don’t recall many leaves or limbs blocking my view. The stars shined much brighter than the dim yellow light that hung in the eave of the barn, where bats dove in and out. I recognized the Big Dipper from a recent visit to a planetarium. But the celestial beauties now above me were quite different. They were vast and endless, unlike those in a man-made dome. The heavens above me were not crowded and suffocating. I longed to sleep under these stars. In fact, I wanted to stay there forever.
I never wanted to go back to a tiny yard with a starless sky. I liked the sounds of the birds and farm animals, as they settled in for the night. It was far more pleasant than slamming car doors, angry shouts, sirens, and the drone of constant traffic. I reasoned crowded houses and city noises crushed my spirit. But these trees, between which I was cradled, embraced and comforted me. Even though my muscles were exhausted, my mind was at peace. A yawn surfaced and I inhaled deeply. The country fragrance was sweet and my eyelids heavy. The crickets serenaded me. And the last thing I remember was enjoying my every breath.
A few weeks later, my family and I awakened on our very own farm. We now had a century-old farmhouse of our own. There are few mornings that I recall as vividly. Lilacs perfumed my sister’s and my bedroom. It was one of five rooms that had been added to the original, one room home. The sun shined brightly through aged windows. Birds called to one another. I answered back with whistles and rushed from window to window. But, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t open them all. Some were painted shut and others still had storm windows, instead of screens. So, I dressed and ran outside.
Trees were everywhere I looked. As I walked along the woods’ edge, birds flew above me. And below me, I discovered daffodils emerging from their winter’s nap. They had been covered by a thick blanket of brown, oak leaves. Newly awakened, they stretched out their green arms. And their yellow heads opened orange-lipped mouths toward the sky. They yawned, silently. But, I heard singing…
“Now I walk in beauty… Beauty is before me… Beauty is behind me… Above and below me…” – Navajo prayer song
Mother Nature had welcomed me to my final, childhood home.