Yesterday was a bizarre cross between going back in time while simultaneously being trapped in a high speed film. I went to my paternal grandparents’ farm to pick up a few things that I’d inherited. I think I’ve only been inside the house once since my grandmother died eight years ago – and that was right after the funeral. It’s taken until now for my uncles to decide to clean out the house and what remains of the outbuildings. Honestly, I think the only reason they’re doing it now, is that one of them is terminally ill.
So anyway, I went there yesterday. One of my uncles has moved back into the farmhouse – at least for the time being. And while he’s there, they’ve rented a dumpster, and they’re getting rid of everything they couldn’t burn. When we got there, the burn pile was still smoldering and had been for five days. Because apparently they’ve never heard of recycling and donating. But…I’ll try to contain that rant for another time.
I was given a couple old books that were my great-grandmother’s – one of which is a 1902 copy of The Song of Hiawatha with her name inscribed in the front in the careful script of a child. I was also given the china cabinet that always stood in the dining room. It’s very old – late 1800s – and there are a few chunks of wood missing from the top where the roof fell in on it a couple winters ago. But it’s mostly in one piece including the rounded glass sides – which is nothing short of a miracle. And the filigree style skeleton key is still in the lock. I can’t tell you how many times I got my hands smacked by my grandmother when I was a kid because I was so enamored with that key.
The cabinet is still beautiful, a little haunted looking now that it’s empty of all of my grandmother’s depression era glassware and souvenir teacups. It definitely needs some restoration work and cleaning, but luckily, woodworking is one of my husband’s hobbies and he’s pretty damn good at it. I’m hoping that he’ll be able to fix it up when he gets back from Singapore, and we can move it into our dining room.
I feel like I’ve also brought home a touch of the melancholy. It was strangely unsettling to see how much of the house had changed and how much had remained the same. For instance, the dining room has a brand new ceiling – complements of the winter cave in a few years ago. But the bathroom looks like something out of a horror movie set of an abandoned house. Where the porcelain still exits, it’s completely rust stained, but most of it has been eaten away to reveal the iron base. The 1950s style pink tiles my grandma loved so much are falling off the walls, revealing the discolored glue underneath.
The kitchen still has the hideous screaming yellow and orange floral wallpaper from the 70s, and all of my grandmother’s dishes are still in the cupboards. It looks like it always did – like she’d just stepped out to work in the garden or milk cows. I don’t think I realized until I started writing this post that part of me actually expected to see her in there making supper. I also didn’t realize how much it hurt to see that she wasn’t actually there.
The yard was another exercise in dealing with the passage of time. When my grandmother died, all the acreage was sold off to cover medical bills. I, of course, don’t begrudge anyone that, but I wish it had been sold to another farmer. Instead, it was parceled out developers. There are cookie-cutter style houses all over the hayfields and smack in the middle the pastures. The rolling fields have been systematically swallowed by swimming pools and McMansions. Even though I hadn’t been in the farmhouse in years,
I’ve driven by it often. But I still don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing lookalike houses in all the places I used to play. In the field where I learned to drive a tractor and where I used to help haul hay is a house and a private road named after a late NASCAR driver. (I loathe NASCAR.)
And looking out over what remains of the farm, I’m a little sad because I know that my kids will never know what it’s like to milk cows, or haul hay or work in the garden all day long. They’ll never know the excitement of finding a litter of kittens or watching a calf being born. They’ll never ride a horse that their dad won in a poker game - at least, they’d better not!
I’m not saying that I’d want to do any of these things again; I spent enough time doing them as a kid on summer vacations. I miss the animals, though. And I miss the land. I miss wandering through the fields and making up stories about the people that used to live there. I miss exploring the woods and imaging the faeries I believed inhabited the forest. I miss the trees and the rolling hills. I miss the possibilities.
But the last lot has been sold and another house is emerging from the earth—looking just like the rest. I don’t wish any of the homeowners ill. Actually, I hope they’re really happy there. As stupid as it sounds, I guess I just wish that I had a magic wand to put the fields back the way they were just long enough to wander through them one more time and maybe take a few pictures.