The police vehicle was perched on the side of the road like a cat about to pounce. Immediately I did what every red-blooded American does…I glanced at my speedometer because I had no clue how fast I had been driving. Dang, dang, dang. I was doing about sixty-three in a fifty-five mile per hour stretch of road. I looked into my rear-view mirror in time to see the police vehicle whip a u-turn and come after me. A minute later his lights came on. Did I say, “Dang?”
The thing is, I wasn’t intentionally speeding. My day was my own, and I was in no hurry. In honor of my mom’s birthday I’d decided to drive to her gravesite and leave a set of cards laminated to reflect a perfect cribbage hand. Perhaps it is silly, but I have this fantasy that she’s in heaven hosting marathon cribbage contests. An extra set of cards would be a nice gift, right?
When I was a child she often made work-related wagers based on cribbage games. “Gail,” she’d say. “Play me a game of cribbage. If you win I do the dishes. If I win you stack fifty pieces of wood in the basement.” She usually won, but it was dang fun thinking I had a chance of getting out of the inevitable mountainous stacks of dishes coagulating on the counter after a family meal.
I hadn’t been to her gravesite in awhile, and as I drove into the rural countryside I became lost in my thoughts. My memories are vivid of the land and farms I grew up with and it chaffed to see the alterations. Small family farming has become almost unsustainable; I know it, and mourn the loss.
As I drove the hilly blacktop roads I compared the land of the past with today’s reality. Many farms have pasture land turning back into bramble and woods. Once regal barns are faded, listing, and empty of life. Old farm houses have been replaced by trailer homes or have been patched, remodeled, and tortured into something they were never meant to be…ugly echoes. A deepening sense of sadness accompanied the classical music station I had playing on low volume. Instead of embracing a connection to my past, I felt distance.
It was somewhere in that mental mire that I noted the police car waiting on the curve. It’s amazing how quickly the senses return. Slowing quickly, I hoped the officer was in a kind mood. When he came after me and hit the lights, I knew I was not forgiven. Resigned, I pulled to the side of the road and dug out my insurance card and driver’s license.
He came up to my window with almost a slight smile. His voice was soft and kind. “How are you doing?” he asked. I sighed and looked him in the eye. “I’m sorry. I know I wasn’t paying attention to my speed. I grew up around here and was lost in my thoughts as I noted all the changes.” He took my driver’s license and walked back to his car. I waited and was willing to take my lumps—or ticket—because I had been at fault.
A moment later he was back at my window. “I’m just going to give you a warning.” He smiled and handed back my driver’s license. My shoulders sagged a bit. “I really am sorry, officer. I’ll pay more attention.” He waved his hand as if brushing off my apology. “It’s okay.”
I made the rest of the drive to Mom’s grave mostly doing the speed limit. My humanness prevented true perfection, and I was okay with that on this day.
As I stood at her grave, a slight drizzle of rain began. I placed a bouquet of her favorite lilacs near the headstone, followed by the set of cards. I chatted with her for awhile, letting her know I appreciate the pennies she leaves in delightful spots for me and my daughter.
It still feels unreal that she is gone; that her laughter is only retained on grainy 8mm family films. I have to refocus on the variety of life around me or I will cry. Trilliums are blooming in the nearby woods, and a spat of silk flowers adorn many of the graves. A chubby bumble bee is disappointed after inspecting a particularly bright fake flower. He weaves off hoping for better luck.
I feel at peace. Mom’s grave confronts me and I cannot deny the pain and growth of change. I tell her goodbye—for now—then drive home taking a different route. The rural wonders of my childhood are still here as long as they reside statically in my memories. I’m not fighting the present, and I’m not denying the future. I’m a mosaic of all of it. It is as it should be, and as it always has been.
I too mourn the loss of the family farm. It was a good way to grow up. I learned responsibility. I learned that family means we are all in this together, and that means everybody works. I learned that you do the work you are capable of doing. Your gender, your age, how you look don’t matter. What matters is if you can lift that bale. If you can, lift it. If you can’t, there’s always another job you can do. I learned that nature is cruel. There is no reason for a virus that wipes out a pen of calves. There is no reason for a cat whose paws were cut off by a scythe and then bled to death. It was a hard life. I mourn it’s passing too.
Thanks for sharing. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went to a play called “A Mighty Fortress is our Basement.” Playing off Lutheran behaviors circa early 1960’s, and set in rural Minnesota, I clearly saw my past. Like the family farm there’s something a bit scary and yet totally lovable about the familiarity of shared experiences. The audience had an etherial collective consciousness as we laughed and knowingly-nodded at the stage antics. Life on the farm was hard, but most great things are.