Each time I drive back to the farm I grew up on I witness changes in the landscape. The rural area once energized by small family farms and grazing cattle has succumbed to the passage of time.
Barns once proudly used and maintained now sag under broken gray spines. Brush and weeds reclaim the fields and pastures my great-grandparents worked so hard to clear. ATVs roam the land instead of tractors, and NO TRESSPASSING signs have replaced WELCOME TO OUR HOME! placards. An era has passed, yet my memories remain vivid of the time that was.
Our farm once framed grazing horses and dairy cows with white board fences. I suppose it would be akin to wearing Sunday gloves seven days a week to hide the calluses of work.
Beauty, however illusionary, has a price. Because child labor is encouraged instead of abhorred on farms, my mother eyed her children and assigned each a chore value. My hands were too small to milk cows (brother one got that job), and my arms too weak to toss hay bales (brother two), but I could certainly paint fences. Endless, rough-grained, fences.
Standing in the heat and humidity, swatting bugs between swipes of brush-to-board, was numbing at best. But, if Mom wanted me to marinate weathered boards in gallons of white paint, that was what I was going to do. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the fences had more to offer.
One day I decided to use the board fence that ran between our house and my grandmother’s as an imaginary tightrope. Climbing on top of a fat fence post, I carefully stepped onto the first thin board and balanced myself. Pretending I was 40 feet in the air, I felt the gasping (imaginary) audience below. They quietly wanted me to fall, I knew that. No matter.
I looked at the next fence post– an impossible eight feet away—and resolved I would succeed. Arms flung outward, each step required complete concentration and effort. About midway across, the board starts to tremble. Or was that me? Flailing wildly, I would bend from side to side trying to keep my balance.
I had to make a choice…fall or move onward. Sometimes I would make it to the next fence post; sometimes I would leap to the safety of the ground stinging with disappointment.
On the occasions that I greeted the earth with a knee-scraping thud, I’d have a quick look around to make sure my brothers had not see my failure. They had no appreciation for high wire arts, or me for that matter. Skinned knees, splintered fingers, and bruised confidence, I would remount and try again. And again. And again. It was an invaluable life-lesson.
Years passed, as they always do, and my siblings and I moved away from home to establish our lives in larger towns and cities. Farming, even on a small scale, was too much work for too little income. My parents put the cattle and horses on the market.
No longer serving a purpose, the pretty white fences that distinguished our farm in happier days turned gray and then broke from neglect.
It hurts to see the loss. And yet, the child of summer–the one who dared greatly–remains within.