The Walk on the Farm

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There is so much that I no longer understand about the world.  I’m not sure what happened.  It seems that most of my life, I had certain things in place.  For years and years, the pillars of my foundation surrounded me, grounded me, protected and guided me.  For many years, my life was very much based on the examples of my past and the people who held great influence over me.  My great-grandparents and my grandparents were sturdy, sensible people.  They cared for their land, their families, their church, and their God.  The did nothing to excess.  I would not think that I am not wrong in assuming that when their heads hit the pillows each night, they did not begin to wrestle with their personal demons, but instead, they drifted off to sleep imagining the chores of farm-life that would await them the next day.

My great-grandparents raised three fine children in the big stone farmhouse.  There was a well pump in the kitchen with a tin cup for all to drink from the cold icy water.  You could see the little hen house from the kitchen window, and Grandma would take her towel-lined basket out each morning to collect the eggs.  Look a little to the left, and you would see the horses standing by the barnyard fence waiting from Great Grandpa to come feed them.  Beyond that was the hog lot, a field for the cows, and rows and rows of sparkling cornfields.  More often than not, there would be a tall chocolate cake waiting under a glass dome on the sideboard.

On the day of Great Grandma’s funeral, I walked the path from the church back to the big stone house holding Great Grandpa’s hand.  He had sought me out.  He asked me to leave with him.  I wasn’t much older than Lola at the time.  It was after the funeral, and everyone had gathered in the church parlor for the funeral luncheon.  Great Grandpa told me that he couldn’t stand to see them all visiting as if it were just any old day.  He had lost the love of his life.  He wanted to mourn, not pretend that everything would be OK.  It was then that I realized that it was sometimes OK for everything NOT to be OK.

We walked silently along until we reached the edge of the fields.  There was a fence with a large swinging wooden gate.  Most times it was closed and would have to be swung open to let the tractor and wagons  into the field.  Sometimes the cows were in this field.  On this day, however, the gate stood open.  Bright spots of green were just beginning to poke through the early spring soil.  He took me through the gate to where a lush patch of clover was growing.  We stopped and  he stood looking down at the cushion of clover while he told me how much Great Grandma had loved this particular spot on the farm.  He said she would come down here and sit like a girl among  the clover looking for a lucky four-leafed clover.  His blue eyes twinkled and his face crinkled into a smile as he remembered.  She had found many lucky clovers on her years here on the farm.  He took me back to the house and showed me a bible where hundreds of lucky clovers had been pressed between the pages.

Great Grandpa and I wandered all over the farm that afternoon.  He had not told anyone that he was leaving the church or that he was taking me with him.  My dad and my grandpa spent some time looking for us, and I will always remember the look of relief mixed with curiosity when my dad finally found us.  He didn’t say much, didn’t ask questions, he simply joined Great Grandpa and I on our walk around the family farm.  I can still remember the warmth I felt standing between those two men.

The memory of that day is one of the happiest, saddest, and strongest memories of my life.  Great Grandpa passed something down to me that day.  I felt the strength of his love and the importance of remembering those we have lost.  We may lose the person who dwelled by our side on this earth, but we never lose the memories of the love we shared.  Now these people are all gone from my life.  Great Grandpa lays by his wife’s side.  My Grandparents are on the hill below their feet.  Dad lies next to them all.  The strength of their guiding influence still resonates strongly through my life, but all too often, I feel that I have let them down.  The family potion of strength, courage, and integrity seems to have been watered down in me.  While my great grandparents were a hardy stout, most times, I feel more like a tepid weak lemonade.  That is what I am working on.  I need to become a better me not only to honor the memory and strength of those who have come before me, but so that someday, I will be able to pass this along to those who follow in my footsteps.

I’m not sure why I am remembering all of this today.  Maybe it’s because I am watching my own children as they begin to take steps down their own paths, paths that they have chosen for themselves.  I feel a sense of pride and wonder as I watch them forging their own lives.  I look at T and I marvel at all we have faced, and conquered, together.  I see the age in his face and wonder where the boy I once knew has gone.  I look in the mirror, and I know he must see the same thing.  I feel old, and proud, and sad, and elated all mixed together.  I feel the baton being passed, and it feels heavy in my hand.  This is no longer Great Grandpa’s family, or Grandpa’s, or Dad’s, it is now mine.  It all happened in the blink of an eye.  Once here, and now they are gone.  Once young, and now I am getting old.  Once children, and now adults.

Inside, I don’t feel much different now than I did as that little girl in the pink dress and black patent leather shoes holding her Great Grandpa’s hand.  I trusted where he led.  He was the guide, and I followed.  Now it is up to me.  There is no guide for this part of my life  – only the lessons I’ve been taught and the love I have been so generously given.

Just Say Goodbye…

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I have been remembering a scene from my childhood.  For the last few days, this particular moment has been nudging me at the oddest moments.  The memory is so vivid, I can almost smell the dinner waiting for me on the table.  The memory is set in my parents kitchen.  I was probably an eighth-grader, 14 years old.  Dinner was on the table, and we were about to sit down and eat.  I was standing next to the table talking on the corded phone that was mounted on the wall next to the counter.  My dad was looking at me, and he wasn’t very pleased.  He had asked me to finish up my phone call so that we could all sit down and eat together.  I don’t remember who I was talking to.  It was probably my friend, Kara.  (Ugh….I hate to even use the word friend in association with that girl!)  Well, whoever it was…they were not too happy that I had to get off of the phone in the middle of whatever extremely important middle school tale they were telling.  I kept saying, “I have to go, Okay?”  And my dad was saying, “Don’t ask OK.  Just say Goodbye.”  I was trying to please both this demanding teenaged girl AND my father all at the same time.  It was impossible, and I was stuck in the middle.  I kept telling Kara (or whoever) that I had to go (OKAY?) and she kept talking.  Meanwhile, my dad, who NEVER got mad at me, WAS getting madder by the second.  If I remember the story correctly, my dad walked over and flicked down the silver bar that hung up the phone.  I was horrified.  I could imagine Kara calling up all of the other girls in our little group.  “Pam hung up on me.”  Or…”Pam’s dad is psycho.  He made her get off the phone to EAT DINNER.”

My middle school years were a turbulent time.  I was in the “most popular” group, and it was horrible.  Girls are so darn mean to each other at that age, especially at that particular social echelon.  In eight grade, there was a vote among the student body for a number of silly things:  Best Couple, Cutest Boy, Cutest Girl and so on.  I was voted “Most Popular Girl.”  When I came home to tell my mother, she said, “The way you treat people, the way you act, I can’t believe you have ANY friends.”  Well, that’s my mom for you!  What she said rang true, though.  It made me think about what kind of person I really was.  What kind of friend was I?  I attended all the right slumber parties, but I hated it.  I had a cute boyfriend, but he was a mindless jock that didn’t even interest me.

The summer before high school, I realized how unhappy I was with my friends and with MYSELF.  When I look back on that summer, I look back with pride.  I was a young girl who was on the brink of a major change.  I took my life back into my own hands.  I realized that my dad had been right.  “Just say Goodbye.”  It was as simple as that.

I spent the summer before my freshman year in high school doing what I enjoyed.  I didn’t go hang out at the baseball diamond with the other girls to watch the jocks.  I hated that kind of thing.  Instead, I remember playing a LOT of piano that summer.  I planted a garden.  I went to spend a couple of weeks at my grandma’s house.  I cultivated friendships that summer based on the people who I truly liked, not their level of popularity.  I remember calling a girl named Kim and explaining to her that I wanted to hang out with her because I liked her.  How weird is that for a 14-year-old?

I have good memories of that summer.  I think of it as the summer I re-positioned my life.  The changes I made that summer impacted all of my high school years.  When I went back to school that fall, I was a new, more self-confident person.  I joined choir again.  I joined the Drama Club.  I spent my time with people who were like-minded and who were actually nice to me.  I had friendships based on friendship, not popularity.  Yes, some of my friends were out-and-out nerds, but they were wonderful friends.

I have been thinking a great deal over the past few months about what true friendship really means.  Having horrible life experiences really weeds out the REAL friends from the casual acquaintances.  Once again, it makes me think of orbits.  Some friendships sail out of our daily orbit from time to time, but when a friend is really needed, they come back like shining stars.  Other friendships are part of the orbit of daily life, but when the going gets tough they speed out of the orbit and are nowhere to be found.

I often remember my daughter Grace’s funeral.  It was a cold winter day very close to Christmas.  The funeral was in a remote country church an hour’s drive from our hometown.  It still hurts my heart to remember the number of friends who were not able to give up an afternoon during the holiday season to be by our side as we laid our dear daughter to rest. On the other hand, there were others, who I would never have imagined even cared, who made the trip and touched our hearts.  I will never forget a dear man from our town who made a cross from pine bows to lay on her grave.  I saw him as I sat in the pew waiting for the ceremony to begin.  One of the few memories I have of that day is seeing him pass by the window of the church with a cross of pine bows carried on his back.  I looked past Grace’s casket and out through the window.  I thought of Jesus carrying the cross as I watched that man trudge up the hill to the cemetery behind the church.  This one good deed has lasted a lifetime in my heart.  It’s almost 24 years later now, and that good man is no longer alive.  He died two days after my father’s funeral.   I spent Christmas Eve morning crying at his funeral, but my heart remembered with love and kindness how he touched my life.   While I had not seen him often over the years, his act of friendship will forever be special to me.

Through the years, I have been amazed time after time by the people who have proven to be true friends.  Often times, it has not been those whom I most imagined would be there when I needed a friend.  Thankfully, my best friends don’t let me down, and while we may lose touch from time to time, they are there, a part of my life like family.

I’m feeling a little bit like that eight grade girl again this summer.  I have been trying to please too many people.  I’m not sure if some of them are worth my effort.  Are they really my friends, or I am once again trying so very hard to be liked or to be popular?  Thirty years later, and again I am feeling like that 14-year-old girl who was so afraid of rejection.  Once again, I am hearing my dad’s words ringing through my head.  “Just say Goodbye.”

I wish I could plant a garden, but I don’t have time.  I wish I could go spend a few weeks with Grandma, but she is no longer there.  This summer will be different from that summer so long ago, but I am determined to once again make this a summer of change.