When I was a boy, I always knew we were close to my grandparent’s farm when I saw the Methodist church on the side of the interstate, it’s cross ablaze in the distance. I guess the blood-red fire made an impression on my God-fearing mind because I still associate it with the farm, a connection out of which I’m sure some deeper meaning can be drawn. The image was quickly burned out of my mind when I would return my gaze to the illuminated Gameboy Advance screen in my hands, a road trip ritual I followed religiously.
I knew we were close to the farm when I would look up and forget how long it had been since we started this race with the fields of corn and beans, and when I forgot how long it’d been since we were riding the rollercoaster hills of southern Indiana. I was a very forgetful child and still am today, but I will never forget the longest part of the journey always being the length of the driveway upon arrival, and the anticipation that built as we bumped along the gravel path. The white house was revealed behind a rust-cloaked fence and oak trees, and it looked as if it had been holding it’s breath since our last visit, exhaling dust as we flung open its doors and windows.
The farm had ceased being a functioning farm by the time I was old enough to remember going there, but my mother remembers it well. The farm was actually my great-grandparents’, her grandparents’, and she used to take extended visits during the long summers of a newly desegregated America. Her only memories that stuck with me, though, were the humid evenings she spent with her grandparents eating fresh picked corn, and the times her grandfather would encourage her to feed the hogs. Her nimble size made it far easier for her to fit between the troths rather than him.
I remember in the middle of the front yard there was a large rock the size of a small tractor that the children would take turns mounting and jumping off of. This rock weighed down the farmhouse from floating away into nonexistence; the place was such a scarce part of my life I wasn’t always totally convinced it existed beyond my dreams. The rock held the house down like a paperweight anchoring a document marked up by rough hands and old America ideology. The rock seemed to fill the front yard when I was young, like a massive oasis in a sea of agrarian dreams. The land was magical, and it was safe.
When we felt like venturing further than the yard, we would almost always come across stray animals that would wander out of the fields, and we would claim them. Often we would feed them and play with them, building ramshackle homes out of scrap supplies we found on the farm. These animals probably came from a neighboring home or had been dumped nearby, but to us they represented the seclusion and rural wildness of the land that was so foreign even from our small town upbringing.
The farm was an unexplored and uncharted land that we had free reign over, and it posed no threat to us. We were explorers and it was our New World. We discovered hidden coves in the backs of barns, new constellations in the shining black of night, secret drawers where faded papers holding private information were stashed. The magnetic mystery was almost tangible.
When we returned home each year, for it was an annual pilgrimage to this land of our beginnings, the clock reset, and the time in-between that visit and our next sprinkled a fresh layer of allure over the farm to again be shrouded in mystery, though physically untouched, all over again.
My memories of the farm are as vast as the fields that border it, but also as repetitive and discolored. I was fourteen the last time I stepped foot on that land, though I’ve had many opportunities to go back in my young adult life. I lost all desire to return once I’d heard about the rodents in the house, the animals that claimed the beds that lost their warmth long ago. I won’t allow nature to reclaim my memories like it had that house. The house is now gone, slipping out from under the paperweight rock and floating away as a declaration of an era ended.