Maybe You Really Canâ€™t Go Home
Thistles raked my skin, and I realized how foolish I was to wear shorts and flip-flops in a pasture gone wild. Too late now! I pushed forward through grass that looked down on my head, and had me praying I wouldnâ€™t surprise a bear taking a late summer nap. My quest was to find the old water pump, the oneÂ I wasnâ€™t sure still existed. Â Many years have passed, and yet I needed to know if it was there.
Let Me Explain
When I was a child, an old buildingâ€¦my parents referred to it as a barnâ€¦ sat in the cow pasture as if a sentinel to the past. Grandma said there had once been a house, a barn, and a family with dreams who lived there. Something bad happenedâ€”Grandma would not elaborateâ€”and the only remnant that remained was the barn and two plum trees.
I loved that barn. It didnâ€™t look like a barn barn. It was a small aging square, really. The walls had long since stopped trying and the wooden boards had turned a deep, dark, sliver.
Double doors on the north side hung a bit crooked, as if nature had punched it in the face, but still dutifully servedÂ their purpose. Above those doors a small glassless window yawned black.Â I would climb up the skeleton of the wall and daydream from the vacant window. The whole world was mine, mine, mine, when I sat there.
Below me, on any sticky summer day, our horses sought shade. They shared the space in companionable comfort, sometimes scratching each otherâ€™s backs with square grass-stained teeth. I happily absorbed the earthy manure-laced smells. I heard the stomp of their hooves and the agitated buzz of flies. I felt the splintery texture of wood that had withstood time and sadness, and I saw the world for what it wasâ€¦enduring.
A Horse Named Smoky
One summer our dairy barn caught fire and was destroyed. We lost all the newly baled hay, my momâ€™s favorite horse (ironically named Smoky), and several head of cattle. As we rebuilt, Mom and my brothers continued to milk our small dairy herd in the old barn in the pasture. Because the space was small they milked the cows in batches of three.
What I remember most about that time was the pump in the old barn. It was rusty and cranky and required a lot of muscle to get it to spew water. But after years and years and years of disuse, it still worked. The old barn, and the water pump, was an important factor in keeping our dairy farm going during that dark period of time.
Iâ€™m not sure when the barn disappeared. It caved in sometime after my mom and dad divorced as if it simply could not handle another tragedy. By then I was married to my first husband, and had my son. When Iâ€™d visit Dad at the farm I HAD to go into the pasture, find my horse, and stop at the old barn. Sometimes I would pump the makeshift handle just to see if water would still materialize. Iâ€™d count as I pumped, as if that made a difference, and sure enough water started to spit. Sputter. And puke out a rusty red fluid. The continuity gave me hope that bad things could be overcome.
Somewhere around that time Dad said he wanted me to someday have the ten acres that bordered the highway. That land included the old barn, the pump, and the memories. â€œYou can build a house and retire there,â€ he said.Â Â We planted a number of evergreen trees in the pasture, believing that the future would be healthier than the past.
My 10 Acres
Two years ago Dad died. He left his farmland to four of us children. As we grieved his death, and tried to sort through his legacy, one of my brothers said, â€œDad told me to be sure you got your ten acres. Whatever that means.â€ For a moment my heart connected to Dadâ€™s, and I remembered planting those trees with him by my side. I gulped back tears and said, â€œNo, letâ€™s sell the land and split the resources equally.â€ It seemed the right thing to do.
The land will soon be sold. Another family has put down a deposit, and the closing will occur. I drove the 70 miles in an attempt to find the old pump before I lost the chance to walk the land.
Amongst the sea of overgrown thistles, brush, and history, aÂ corrodedÂ form took shape. Â As I parted the grass, and found my past, the emotions welled up as rusty and as pure as the water pooling beneath my childhood. I cried for the past, and for the feeling that I had been abandoned far too soon. Â I cried because I was standing in the shadow of something sought and found. Â It was the best part of my day.
What a beautiful story. I cried with you too. Thank you for sharing this memory and connecting me to some farm memories of my own.
I suspect being a farm child plants seeds in the heart. Even though we grow up and move away, the mosaic of farm life remains vivid. Thanks for commenting, Lynne!
Lori Tallman says
my goal today was to read one of your blogs, I know, it took me long enough huh? everytime I’d see your post on fb for your newest blog I’d tell myself I need to take the time to read her bolg as she (you) amuse me in your short little blurbs, but alas I always got distracted. but today I did it, first thing I looked for this morning after scanning all the other tidbits, and I wasn’t dissappointed. this won’t be the last one I ever read I shall try to get caught up as I thouroughly enjoyed it.
I hate to think I’m adding to your “to do” list, but thank you for taking the time. I appreciate your support and comments more than you know.
Laura Carlson says
Gail, I thoroughly enjoyed this passage…I can relate to the barn, the pump, the land, the legacy, the letting go…It brought tears to my eyes. You are such a gifted writer, and I am so glad that I have the honor of knowing you…
It humbles me when accomplished women, like you, Laura, relate to my writing. There
is so much in life that is joyful, and yet those ambush moments from the past make me want to know if there are others out there who feel the same. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
Oh Gail – I loved this! I swear I could see and smell my grandparents farm (with a hint of lilacs in the breeze that were blooming by the plum trees) while I was reading this. Farm kids are the luckiest kids are earth; they have the hardest and most joy-filled childhoods – and the best imaginations on earth. Thank you for sharing this piece.
I can’t say it any better than you just did. Thank you,Carrie!
Great work! I enjoyed the memoir and the photograph very much. Excellent pieces that again illustrate your hard-earned skills and your fascinating perspective on life.
Coming from you, Brian, I can only blush. Thanks for visiting my website!
Well written Mom! Also congratulations on making the list on Boost Blog Traffic under the Bonus Awards Best Story Telling category:
Sometime I’ll have to ask you about the story your Grandmother told you about that old barn. I was also unaware about all the lost live stock when the barn burned down. That’s sad.
It was sad, Bryce. I think a little of Mom died with those animals, too. Being a farmer is hard, and yet it’s a life connected with the earth, with the seasons, and with hope eternal. I’m so glad you were able to spend some of your childhood visiting the farm, and yeah, I’ll tell you stories.
I’m so glad that a link led me to this post. As a lover of the written word, your story and wonderful imagery brought back to me memories of an old pump from my childhood, as well. Thank you for sharing your memories. I can’t wait to check out the rest of your site.
Tell me about those memories! Was the pump in a pump-house? Did it creak and complain with every downward thrust of the handle? Was there a metal dipper hanging nearby to take a drink? Thanks for visiting, Traci!
Bless you Gail for writing this.
I’m an old country boy at heart, so this easily drew me right into the story. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I spent more time outdoors than I ever did indoors! I often think of those days, so I believe that to cry for the past, even figuratively, has its own reward – it could easily be the best part of ones day. As for what had been abandoned far too soon, to me at least, is the past. Yet, to stay grounded in reality, it’s a place we can allow ourselves to stay. We accept instead that those days are gone and that the memories remain!
Gail, if you don’t mind, I’m going to store this article into my memory too, to recall, like you, that “I cried because I was standing in the shadow of something sought and found. It was the best part of my day.”
Wow, Aden. So lovely to meet someone who has a country core too. Thank you for your insights, and for holding my tears with gentle hands and understanding.
“I cried for the past and the feeling that I had been abandoned too soon.” This is a most beautifully written piece, so evocative and profound. Thank you for touching feelings in me that long to be said. Love, loss, connection, continuity, and peace. Thank you.
Thank you, Jeanine! I can tell you have been there too.
Oh, Gail! I didn’t know you grew up on a farm too! There’s something so magnetic and nostalgic about the land. When I go back to Michigan, I have to drive by the old farm…even though it no longer is in the family. I think of my grandfather and the deed that tells us it was part of a landgrant from President McKinley.
I long to go out to the “grove” to see if asparagrus still grows wild there. I wonder if the new owners know about the wells. I remember the smell of the hay in the barns and all the kittens and puppies that were born there….Okay, now I am getting choked up!
Thank you for such a wonderful story!
What lovely memories, Annette. There’s something about farm life that never leaves you. Maybe it’s the bond between human/animal/land. One thrives because of the other. Thank you for sharing this with me, and for visiting my website. It means a lot!
I liked the way you told your story, I was reading and imagining the situation at the same time.
I have a photo that kind of looks like the one I imagined or close, or maybe more than one.