Monday, September 13, 2010

years passed by...

I stood at the gate entering into the orchard. But the gate was gone, just the weathered corner concrete corner posts were standing, rebar showing in several places. The finial decoration worn off to just a nub. The orchard was gone as well. Once a delightful mass of fruit trees lining the path to the front porch. I fondly remember gathering the fruits and helping my grandmother can them for the cold months ahead. My mouth started to water thinking of her fresh baked bread with a healthy dollop of plum spread.

Nannncccyyyy!?” she would call out. All names were drawn out and got louder nad higher toward the last syllable. “Run to the cellar and be a dear and get a jar of something sweet for toast”, she’d say.

I disliked the cellar. Steep stairs into darkness, cool and enveloping, the cellar was perfect for it’s purposed of storing the canned goods, but not a cheery place that a eight year old likes to hang out. At least this eight year old. That being prior to scary movies too. I just didn’t like it. The single bulb hanging from a chain the only illumination. AND you had to get to the bulb before you could turn it on. By step four you were already groping the walls to guide yourself.

Pinching my finger as I unconsciously feeling the crevasses of the corner post I turned to my right and looked out towards the pasture. The cow barn still stood, but barely. It was leaning at an angle I’m sure my daughters early algebra class could use as an example. I wondered how long it could sustain it’s own weight pitched to the side as it was.

It was never a pretty barn. One only of function. The glass window still there in the hay loft that I remember peering out of as a child. Again memories of milking the cows and gathering fresh water from the pump behind the barn came swirling at me at a fast rate.

The Keep on Trucking sign was still there blocking that hole ol’Bessie kicked that one year. I remember when Grandpa put it there. I thought it was hysterical. My brother had a t-shirt with the same logo. I think there might even be a photo of him standing next to it that I took once. I made mental note to go through the albums to see if I could find it.

The house, originally built in 1901, had tell-tale signs of recent insulation. Little holes poked into the sides of the clapboard then covered with disks. It had also been painted a nice creamy color. My initial thought is ‘Mom would have liked that’. The roof seemed in good condition, but the windows I think should be replaced. The front porch has been rebuilt, but not as big as it once was and the front door doesn’t look like that entrance is really used much. I’m amazed to see that the screen door is by God the same one that has been there since I can remember. As John and his wife exit the house, the same reassuring slap of the wood on wood as it closes brings back memories.

I had returned to the farm. My Grandpas farm. My moms farm. Now my farm. My Grandpa bought 64 acres in 1914. He then married my grandmother in 1915 having enough land to woo Great-Grandpa Sipes for his eldest daughters hand. Great-Grandpa Sipes owning a large chunk of land himself of the north side of town had had three daughters, May being the eldest of the three. The Sipe farm had found oil on their property. The back acres were farmed, but the front of the house had rolling pastures.

My Grandmother, May was the most practical of the three sisters. Warm, sturdy and friendly, but tough as nails. She was the epitome of a farmers wife. Erma was the feisty middle child. She actually went to finishing school. She liked flowery dresses and jeweled tortoise combs for her hair. She didn’t have the opportunity to marry. She died young in a car accident way before I was born when her vehicle went into a ditch and subsequently rolled over her. Aunt Florence was the youngest and was in the car when this happened. She was thrown clear, but it scarred her for life. She was always cautious, skittish. She stayed at home caring for her parents until their deaths. She never married. After grandma died she then took care of my own Grandfather by stopping and bringing fresh bakery and enough food to last the week on his own.

I hadn’t been down here to the farm in many, many years. Standing here now as the memories come flodding in, I wonder 'Why?'. My brother and dad were are going to the Ohio State game on Saturday and I thought, we should all go to the farm. “Charles, can you leave on Friday instead? I’ll meet you there. You’ll be SO close, it’d be a shame to not take the time.” My dad has been talking about going to the farm for awhile. But he no longer drives long distances, so either my brother or I would have to chauffer him down. The farm is about 120 miles from my house, 112 from my dads and add on the extra coming from Michigan it’s about 200 for my brother. North of Columbus, the farm is smack dab between Marion and Mt. Gilead in the small rural town of Cardington.

Cardington made national news only once. When a tornado plowed through the downtown square in the 70’s and wiped out all the buildings. It’s still a one stop light town. I drove through showing my daughter the sights, as it were, that I remembered spending summers here. The grocery, the hardware, the bank…they all have the same square box look. They are all made out of the same brick. It’s odd to have rebuilt the buildings taken away by the tornado with all the same materials. Same architect. Same height. It’s weird. Just like Cardington…building for necessity, not for aesthetic interest.

There are a few homes just down the main street that even to this day take my breath away. Large brick Victorians with porticos and wrap around porches. These were the movers and shakers in this town when it was established back in the 1800’s. I always imagined living in one of those grandiose homes when we would drive by. My daughter had the same impression that I did as I looked at them when I was young. “I’d like to live there if we ever came down here….” she said as she peered out the window at them. “Yeah…I know that feeling. I had the same thoughts many times darlin’.”

Charles was running late in getting to Cardington. My daughter and I had some time before they would arrive so I headed up to route 529. I wanted to see if I could go by memory and find the ol’ Sipes place. I explained to Boo that the breakdown armoire in our dining room is from the Sipes house. As is the oak folding table downstairs that I now use for laundry folding. I make a right onto a unmarked road that feels like the right one. It’s gravel. That’s the same, but stuff looks different. ‘This might not be the right one Bear, I’m not sure…”

Quarter mile down the road and there it is on the left. The house is still there. The barn seems to be gone and they’ve changed the porch area a bit, but it’s the same house fer’ sure. “let’s go see if we can find the cemetery…” I know the resting place of my relatives on this side of the family is not far from here. I remember a one lane bridge, but not much else. We drive up the gravel road leaving a trail of dust behind us. I wouldn’t know if someone was on my tail or not with this huge cloud, but these country roads don’t’ get lots of traffic. I’ll bet as I slow down places looking about, the folks within are wondering who these out of towners are.

I make a right turn and it just doesn’t seem right. Another right and there is the one lane bridge. On the other side of the stream is the cemetery on the right. I'm amazed that I've been able to find it. It's been at least 15 years since I've been here. The last time I also had my mom telling me where to turn. Bear and I park and let ourselves through the gate to go visit our relatives laid to rest. The cemetery has been recently mowed. Everything is in good order. It’s small and I don’t think used anymore. There aren't any new headstones that I can see. Some of the older stones date back to the early 1800’s. Many, I explain to Boo, are small stones for infants. There were many childbirth and infant deaths back in those times out here in farm country. There are three off to the side around the main headstone of my Great-Grandparents. They lost 3 sons before the age of 1.

Bear’s eyes glisten as I tell her about the stones. She’s such a caring, sensitive child. I move closer to clear a weed from Grandpa Hacks stone. ‘Don’t step there!” she calls out to me. “You’ll be stepping on his head!” I smile. Again as I look at her I consider how blessed I am.

We wander about a bit looking at the different dates. The sandstone ones have taken a beating over the years, but all the marble is still beautiful. There are some with dates in the 20’s that have such intricate modern detailing that I pull out my camera. “Amazing….” I say quietly. To myself actually. “Would you like one like that?” my daughter says as she comes up behind me. “I’m not sure…but look at that. Isn’t it beautiful?” They don’t’ make stones like this anymore. The carving of doves and angels on some of these markers is quite incredible. The artistry. And this just a country cemetery…

“It’s time to go Boo. Uncle Chuck and Grandpa should be getting close by now.” We climb back into the car and head back to town. The one light downtown. We stop at Suz-E-Q’s and get a soft serve ice cream for the remainder of the short trip. I stop to take a photo of Center United Methodist Church where I would go when visiting my Grandparents. I can hear the old hymns being sung. I can hear the creaking of the wooden pews. I can hear the pump of air of the organ being played.

My Grandpa owned two suits. One tan one for summer, one gray one for winter. He owned two pairs of dress shoes; black for winter and brown for summer. He had two dress hats. The rest of the time he had on blue jean overalls and cotton button down shirts. He always smelled of grain. Sundays were days of rest on the farm. Everything could wait. It was the day that the family went to church and then returned home to feast.

We’d extend the table in the large working kitchen and just feast. Never ending plates and bowls of potatoes, vegetables and meat piled high. Fresh baked bread and honey from the beehive and pies made of whatever fruit was available presently. All of this prepared on a wood burning stove.

Friends would visit on Sundays. Grandma would usher them into the rarely used parlor. The parlor was set aside for guests only. After a time with tea and cookies, I’d be asked to play on the piano. A large upright in the corner with two ivories missing. There was a low D that didn’t strike anymore. After enough niceties, the kids were allowed to change from their church clothes and then we would start running about the farm.

There was no TV. No Ninetendos. No Wii’s. My grandparents had a telephone, but it was a party line. You weren’t sure if you could use it if Gladys from next door was on. She was a talker, Gladys. Her remaining family had long since moved away, to the city. So her Sundays she didn’t get many visitors. So she talked on the phone, eating her cookies and sipping tea long distance.

Being set free from the confines of nice society, we kids chased after the chickens. We terrorized the sheep. We played in the barn, counting the feildmice as they scurry away from our footsteps. We made up games and continued to play until Grandma calls us in for the evening meal.

Everyone grudgingly  would go back inside to have hands, feet and faces scrubbed with cold well water before settling to the table and saying Grace. With no TV to entertain as it gets dark, the family gathers on the porch. Those of us with still enough energy try to catch the fireflies as the sound of rocking chairs and squeaky porch swings echo.

Sleep comes easy. It always had when down on the farm. I’d wake partway when hearing Grandma tuck me in and bless me as I slept. I could hear the train rumbling closer on the tracks a couple miles off. The sound was soothing. Grandpa would gently wake me just before dawn to help him with the morning chores. I learned from him how to make a mean chicken feed. Sometimes I wonder if I still could if I stood in front of those bags of grain. Hmmmm...1 tin of whole oats; 2 tins of cracked corn; 1 ½ tins of flax; ¼ tin of ground millet, 1/4 tin of layer mash. Mix some water with it into a dry paste. BAM! Feed for the chickies….Yup. I still could.

I loved the farm.
I love the farm.

Standing here now I know that I can’t sell it. Gary, who lives next door and farms it, has wanted to buy it since Grandpa died in ‘81. Mom wouldn’t let it go. John and Deidre who have lived here since then have a questioning look on their faces, hidden, but there. Ican tell they think they might soon have to look for a new home. They wonder if this visit was to assess the property and decide whether to keep it or sell it off.

"We loved your Mom." John says to me as he comes out to greet us. "We really miss her." The sincerity of his words makes my eyes tear up. "Thank you. That means alot...." I respond. And it does.

If I have my way, I’m not going to sell it. My dad doesn't have any real connection to the property. He's of the mind set to rid himself of any extra burden. The farm is a burden. A paper burden. Something to have to file taxes on, deal with farmers about, figure the time to sell the harvest. Everything that takes time. My brother has a little more connection. He used to spend time here too. He has memories of the farm of his own. He also knows how much this place meant to mom.

 But I have visions of replanting the orchard and rebuilding the fence line. I’d like to maybe build a little place back in the woods to escape to when I want to get out of the city for a bit. Back near the spot that Grandpa and I would feed the cows and then nap until the sound of Grandma’s voice calling us back would wake us.

That’d be cool.
I’d like that.

I think I may just do it. That would make Mom happy...