Tonight, I find myself lying in bed next to my husband of almost 5 years. Our beautiful baby girls – 2 months and 2 years old – flank the bed, each in their own cherub-like sleep. Though motherhood has made me more appreciative of sleep than ever, tonight I find none. I lay in one of the bedrooms of my childhood farmhouse – nearly empty but for a bed and a dresser, intended for “show” – and breathe in the air of my youth. The crisp breeze carries me back to another time and place. The frogs and crickets chirp away their familiar lullabye – one I haven’t heard in years. They invite me to remember.
Since I can’t sleep, I venture downstairs and roam through the house, aimlessly. I look at this or that piece of furniture, stand in this or that room, imagine this or that scenario for inventive remodel (should I own the place). Of course all of that is for naught – the house has been sold, and my only purpose here this weekend is to help move out the remaining furniture. Well, that’s the cover story, anyway. My real purpose here, as it stands in my own mind, is to say goodbye.
It’s storming, and I stand on the front porch and let the winds blow over me. Lightning flashes every few seconds and illuminates the rolling front yard. As I watch the yard spring from dark to light over and over again, it starts to come to life, like an old movie reel in my mind. Each flash brings a different image of life gone by.
In one burst of lightning I see a whispy-haired girl, barely 6, hanging upside down from the apple tree beside the road – the only one left standing after a recent yard clean-up. In the next flash I see the yard covered in an expanse of white, our proud snowman sitting in the middle, siblings in mismatched winter garb putting on finishing touches. I see massive flood waters rolling across the yard, dragging debris along with it, threatening to chip away at the tiny, seemingly ancient bridge at the base of our driveway. I see Bunny eating dandelions, then accidentally chomping on my finger. I see runaway cows tromping through the yard, feel the adrenaline of dashing this way and that to coerce them back behind the pasture gate. I see Tyler, my most cherished puppy-dog, sitting in front of me on the hill. He would sit as a guard dog on my toes. If I got up and moved, he would follow. We made a game of it, of course.
And there were fireflies. Little blinking lights that I spun and darted after, triumphantly sealing them in a jar one by one. And there was the warm smell of apples, freshly fallen from the trees, baking in the sun. And the gentle clapping of cottonwood leaves in the wind. The grass was always soft underfoot, a marvel I didn’t fully appreciate until becoming accustomed to the prickly grasses of Texas.
Another flash of light illumines the driveway. I’m reminded of Easter, coming up the driveway to find a row of Easter eggs carefully placed up the center – a surprise from our (not-so-secret) Easter bunny adopted Uncle. I think of riding Misty lazily up the drive toward the tack room to unsaddle for the night, and of driving quietly up the driveway with the headlights off, hoping Mom and Dad didn’t know how late their high school daughter was getting home that night.
Suddenly the memories are more than I can think at one time – overlapping images go racing through my mind. The dusty, spidery milkhouse, once a playhouse for me, but most often a house for camping supplies, fishing gear, Christmas boxes, and our orange sleds. Sledding! The hills in the pasture seemed enormous, and we’d careen down them in our sleds until the snow had soaked into our hand-me-down boots. Then, homemade hot chocolate, boots drying on the register. The register! On wintery mornings, I’d drape my nightgown over the register and wait for the heat to kick on. I didn’t realize how often mom would wake early just to go start and stoke the fire in our wood-burning furnace.
The wood! Piles and piles of wood, cut and stacked by Dad and Dick, lining the old corncrib or piled high along the chicken-coop foundation. Chickens! I’d venture into the coop to visit, or to search for eggs. You had to be careful not to get pecked. I remember picking them up one by one, little girl arms wrapped around their wide middle, like holding a big beach ball against my belly. Their heads would bobble as I’d carry them about. I’d pretend I was a doctor and they my patients – though thankfully I never had the guts to try the operations I had planned. Though – some are sad to hear – we did have a “chicken slaughter.” Strangely I did not mind. It was explained to me, and seemed the natural way of things. I helped Mom pull out the innards and played in the brightly colored intestines (which make a simply fabulous necklace when you’re 4).
When the chicken coop came down, the foundation saw all kinds of creative uses: basketball court, ice skating rink, outdoor storage station. (You read that right: we would spray the whole of the foundation with water when it was freezing cold, and the icy sheet that formed was a great ice skating rink – better than having your own pond!)
So many memories! Too many, too many! Running through the pasture, dodging wet cowpies. Listening intently for the new cries of baby barn kittens and hunting and hunting to find their nest, hidden somewhere in the hay. Mixing up potions and stews and secret things from whatever I could find in the pasture: grass, dirt, rocks, sticks, whatever. Playing on the fallen tree behind the barn, with sturdy branches for climbing and giant seed pods, good for all kinds of pretend things. Playing starship on the rusty old farm equipment – mimicking older and wiser brothers. Singing at the top of my lungs in the pasture, then waving wildly to the conductor of a passing train, hoping he’d heard my song. Frantically chasing Sally (German shepherd and practiced hunter) away from a nest of baby bunnies. Waking at 4:30 to go to a horse show – and feeling so cool in my new riding apparel. Finding “caves” in the banks along the creek in the wooded spot near the road, and claiming them for our own. (One was smashed when we visited again – we blamed the neighbor boy, who we just knew was envious.) There are so many more – little flashes of a me that’s long gone, of a life that is only in pieces of pictures in my mind.
I’ve come to say goodbye to all these things, and it seems impossible to know how to do that. I can mourn them, I suppose, and feel twisted up in knots about how precious this place is – so precious, so precious – and resent that I now have to let go.
Or, I can look to the truth: that this place, this life, was never really “mine” – that it is all on loan from God, who gives here and gives there as He sees fit. And it was given to me, and to us, in the time that was fitting – and it is being given now, again, to someone else, for a hope and a purpose unknown to me.
And in that light, I am only grateful for the immeasurable gift I’ve been given, that I got to grow up in this house and on this land. I pray, with all my heart, that the gift will be just as poignant, just as necessary, for the next owners. Though I can’t part with it on my own terms in peace, I can rest firm in the knowledge that it was never mine to begin with. It’s too wonderful, too mysteriously breathtaking in its dirty and raw simplicity. It gets under your skin. And now the Owner and Caretaker, the Architect of this land, has hand-picked others who need to be wrapped in its wonder and to rest in its soft grasses, to be put at ease by the gentle sound of the clapping cottonwood.