When grandma died, I was reluctant to go to the farm to help with the funeral arraignments and the breakup with the farm. Both my parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins went to pitch in and help--except me. I was 16 years, and I used the excuse that I had to work. I did not want to face death. I carry the shame with me to this day. This is part of the reason that writing "A Difference in Time" is such an emotional experience for me. I invite you to share that memory with me over the orange squiggle.
Growing up, the life on the Arkansas farm was so different from life in the big city. The farm, originally purchased by my grandparents in 1931 is still known by the old-timers known as “Dave’s Place,” despite the ownership by my sister and her husband all these many years. The thought that the farm stays in the family is comforting to me, somehow. There are a lot of good memories there for me.
My family and I went up for a visit to my sister my sister and her husband’s farm over the holidays. I took a stroll in the hills behind the farm, just to let my mind wander around for a little bit, and the memories came flooding back. Memories are funny things; they are not as concrete as I sometimes would like them to be. To look at a place as a child and then look as an adult, I come away with two entirely different perspectives.
Things on the farm are just smaller than what I remember them to be. The barn, the house, the outbuildings seem closer together, somehow. Even when I am slowed by age, the hill seems to be not as high nor as far away as it used to be. The forest is not limitless, going on forever, like it use to when I was a child.
My sister and her husband do not have much money left after providing care for seven children, but happiness and love cannot be bought at Wal-Mart. Four of their children are left at home now. The kids were busy trying to clean the sheep for the Green County Fair. The children were not concerned with how the farm used to be, back in the past. They were too busy having the time of their lives.
The farm has seen better days. For instance, the barn has places with sides rotted out and woodworm holes so the north wind blows through on cold nights. There is another building that housed a wagon for the tractor that has a roof caving in. The combination well/smoke-house/car port has already fallen, as has the woodshed and the chicken coops. The well house was a work of art, the logs hewn together with an ax on a split-level foundation; my memory and the rock foundations are all that remains.
The tractor shed is sinking slowly into the ground. I can reach into the loft above the shed, where it used to take a ladder. I remember how the shed’s workbench was about belt-high on my grandpa, is now flat on the ground, being engulfed by the earth. Incredibly, the shed is still fairly level. I can imagine that a person might wonder, looking at the shed for the first time, at the basketball goal that is only five feet off of the ground. But it did not use to be that way.
The barn and house were built in 1932--completion was in that order, because the livelihood of the farm depended on the animals well being. The house was built without electricity, running water, sewer or other amenities that we take for granted. Mom always said growing up as a child is like rough camping, except there is no relief by going home at the end of the trip. All the heating, cooking, reading, lighting and washing was accomplished by fire. She remembers when there was no outhouse; that was an addition her aunt insisted on having for a ‘proper house’ to raise a family.
I can still remember the stinky outhouse, worse in the summertime. The nighttime trek, up the hill, under a cedar tree and finally arriving at the outhouse seemed longer in the winter, particularly with the cold north wind and rain blowing in across the fields. How I remember!
Bath time was accomplished in a galvanized metal tub on Saturday afternoons in the back yard. The water would be heated on a wood-burning stove and poured into the tub. It was a lot of work just to take a bath. Daily baths just was not a luxury to be afforded on the farm. In the wintertime, the whole operation was transferred to the kitchen. What an adventure!
The house has a proper bath and plumbing now, but in sad shape. In fact, the whole house needs to be torn down. The porch just had to come down last year because it was a safety hazard. The house needs paint, roof, wood replaced, floors, siding, doors and its basement received damage due to an earthquake.... The house is shot. My sister and her husband are trying to build a new house on the property, but that is at least five years away.
In contrast, our children will remember the farm as paradise! They will remember the biscuits and chocolate gravy for breakfast (Can you say YUK!). Our children will remember the Arkansas hills that are full of springs, huge oak trees, agates and quartz. And every now and then with luck, you can find an arrowhead. They will remember the sheep, and how stubborn they could be. They will remember where they first learned the difference between a lamb, a ram, and an ewe. They will remember how they took turns riding the baby donkey. They will remember how much fun they had up in the loft (where they are not allowed) and not how the barn looked in disrepair. They will remember what the sheep smelled like, not the broken-down porch with missing floorboards. They will remember climbing the many trees, not how the farm is overgrown. They will remember the smell of home made macaroni and cheese, and not the large mosquito population. They will remember how the power went out, what fun! This is still the country! And seeing the stars, like they have never seen them from the city. My children’s memories will be precious ones--cherished for a lifetime. If I close my eyes and let myself go, I can almost see and hear and taste and smell the farm of yesterday.
Our children have fond memories of the old homestead, different than mine, yet the same. I forgot all the fun I had so long ago. I sure miss my grandma and grandpa. I thought I had dealt with the feelings of them being gone years ago; I was wrong, for the tears start afresh. How I wish they could see their great-grandchildren play on the farm. It is just a difference in time, after all.
The gravel road is paved now and there are no cows or pigs, although there are sheep. Playful cats, barking dogs and chickens are still doing their small jobs, just as in the past. The farm is different, yet somehow still the same. I guess it is no different; I am. You are only a child once. I want my children know to how fragile and precious life's memories are, but they will have to grow older to appreciate them.
And then the cycle will start over again.
My children remembering when.