There is a reason I haven’t written anything since Monday.
Even though I had planned several posts, I found that I couldn’t write them.
On Monday, my Mom told me that my Uncle John will be selling my grandparents farm, or rather, what is left of it, and moving away.
As she told me over the phone, at first, I was fine. It was the sensible thing for him to do, after all, and well, it must feel odd to live in the same place for most of the years of his life. Most of his childhood and large chunks of his adulthood were spent in that house, and it is a lot of land for him to care for. It isn’t even a working farm anymore, and I thought to myself that maybe he could sell it to someone who would graze a few cows or horses on the pastures that he now has to mow. Maybe someday soon there will be chickens once more scratching in the barnyard and ducks swimming on the pond, dipping their heads and diving for choice morsels.
Those thoughts cheered me for a brief moment.
Then, I realized how much of the tangible touchstones of my childhood I would be losing.
And I started to cry.
I ended up burning the onions I was cooking, I was so sad and distracted.
There are so many memories tied to that place, that piece of ground, that I cannot help but feel as if a door will forever close to have it sold away from the family.
I feel so silly.
But I spent so much time there, so many long summers, so many weekends, that I feel as if it is my true home.
The home of my spirit.
There is a tree that I helped plant, over thirty-five years ago. It was a seedling that sprouted from a berry dropped from the holly tree in my Gram’s little garden near her front door, in Charleston. When the plant grew to be about eight inches tall, she dug it up and gave it to Mom and I to take to Grandma out in the country, for her to plant by her front door. I remember planting that tiny tree, in the spring, and I remember Grandma tending it faithfully for the years it was small.
But it grew rapidly into the most perfectly shaped, conical tree with shining blue-green leaves, and a plethora of deep ruby-red berries. In the winter, with the snow on it and cardinals hopping from branch to branch dining on the waxy, fat-filled berries, it looked like a Christmas card, so perfectly did it express the beauty of the winter season. It was one of Grandma’s favorite trees, and when it produced seedlings, she gave them to neighbors and friends up and down that road, so that grandchildren of Gram’s original tree now grow all over Putnam county, though their line progenitor was ripped from the earth to make a parking lot long ago.
The tree is now probably thirty feet tall–it is much taller than the house, and it is bigger around than I can estimate. It is the grandest holly tree I have ever seen and I cannot help but think that it holds part of the spirits of both of my Grandmothers within it.
To think of losing that tree, to think of it passing into the hands of someone who will not know who planted it, why or when–it still makes me cry. I guess, because I believe that in some small way, Gram, Grandma and I are all alive in that tree.
The woods, the fields, the old garden patches, the forsythia bush, the barn, and the house–all of them echo with voices from the past. Every step I tread there, brings with it a memory.
In the yard, I hear the whisper of children’s voices as the cousins and I play with the neighbor kids rough games that involved a lot of running, chasing and catching. In the barn, I catch the faintest murmur of a long-dead cat pattering across the hayloft, calling to us in deceptively plaintive mews before her head would pop down through the trap door. In the barnyard, there is the call of cattle, and the song of chickens. I used to sing to those cows and chickens, and even the pigs, and on the lonesome wind that is seldom still on that high, lush-pastured ridge, I can hear the ghost of the girl I was, skinny, all elbows and knees, her voice trickling like a stream over rocks.
Part of my soul still lives there, wandering the winding paths in the woods, climbing the steep banks of the creek, laying for hours on the great stones in the bottom lands, watching the endless flow of silvery water shimmer by.
Those were the happiest days of my youth, the days that I stayed there with my Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle John.
Losing that farm to someone who isn’t part of our family is like losing a family member forever.
And then, later, I found out that my mother’s older brother, Uncle George, died in his house, which was built on a chunk of the farm, probably twenty-five years ago. I helped build that house, as did all of us in the family. (We helped build Uncle John’s house, too, when he got married. After Grandpa died, he bought the farm from the estate, and then my Mom and Dad bought his little house, and thus owned their first home.)
I wasn’t really close to Uncle George, not like I am with Uncle John, who is only nine years older than me and in many ways, is like the older brother I never had. But, when we were kids, Uncle George was so much fun, always laughing, always joking. Silly, in a lot of ways, he could always give a smile. After he moved out to his house on a corner of the farm, he used to come over to visit Grandma every day right after work, before going home. And she used to call him, “My Sunshine,” and it was always so sweet to see them together.
I thought about that, and I realized that they are together again.
And maybe, he is happier for it.
I think that when Grandma died all those years ago, it broke all of our hearts a little. She was the soul of our family in so many ways, the light at the center of it, and I think that when she left us, a spark in all of us died with her, and we stopped coming together as much. She was the one who brought us together, and bade us love each other, just as she loved each of us–unconditionally.
All of us never ever came back together like that again after she died. Not until Grandpa’s funeral many years later.
And then, again, last night, at Uncle George’s memorial.
It was odd, looking at my cousin Debbie’s face and seeing her father there, looking back at me. Or, seeing Uncle Jim, and being shocked at Grandpa’s likeness drawn clearly in his face, and his diminished physique. And Mom, a shorter, less quiet version of Grandma, flitting from person to person, holding a hand or clutching an arm, as if to capture a memory or a moment embodied within them before it flits away like a moth fluttering towards the moon.
It was as if they had never left. Perhaps, they never did, only most of us were too blind to realize it.
We came together last night, for a moment to remember other moments, but we all parted again.
We are scattering to the four winds, now, our bodies and spirits like seeds looking for places to rest. We cannot go home again.
Home is not the place it was, and it never, ever will be again.
So, I do hope that whoever buys the farm and Uncle George’s house, has ears sensitive enough to hear the happy laughter of ghost children, the gentle lowing of cows long gone and the voice of my Grandma singing “You Are My Sunshine” to the son whose smile brought joy to her heart in her last years.
I hope that they love holly trees, and that they don’t mind sharing their houses and land with the memories of the past that float and dance on the restless wind like dried corn husks and brown, curled leaves. I hope that they tread lightly, and bring their own love to the land, and make it bloom again, and build their own memories there.
I know that our memories will be glad for the company.
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