|My F-150, two youngest, and a rare occasion when I was facing backwards and not in the driver's seat!|
There aren’t many clear memories I have from childhood. And, given the debates that ensue when discussing exactly what happened at different points amongst my siblings, you might think we all lived in parallel universes with alternate endings. A fun, nostalgic trip down memory lane often turns into a heated debate about what happened to whom and when. I wonder if I am unique in this aspect of my family or if each family engages in similar discussions.
There is however, one memory I do recall with great clarity...the hot, summer days we spent at my grandparents’ farm. The excitement would start building at the beginning of the week when our parents would tell us we were going to go to the farm that weekend. For me, the farm meant hours of outdoor exploration . . . running through creek beds, catching craw dads and salamanders, fishing and scaring away the fish looking for tad poles.
We grew up in the city, with its own set of adventures. Growing up in the 70’s was a time when you could still safely ride your bike from dawn to dusk. At the end of the day, we were called in from the neighborhood by one long string of a word that combined all of our names together, “Bobbeeeeee, Ericccccccc, Mareeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Briannnnnn”. That was our daily call to come in for the night. But the chance to spend a day at the farm was the most exciting opportunity in our neighborhood for us and everyone else. We would beg and plead to each bring a friend. There were four of us so it made for an interesting ride with 8 kids piled in the back of a station wagon.
On the Friday night before we were to leave, we’d water the backyard and wait until it was dark so we could search for our fishing bait - night crawlers. We had fun shining flashlights in the mud, and pulling the wriggling, earthen clad, sticky worms out of the dirt. Sometimes catching the worms was almost as much fun as catching the fish; sometimes more so since we didn’t always catch a fish.
We’d start out early in the morning and load the wagon with fishing rods, tackle box, and kids. Seatbelts were optional back then so it wasn’t a big deal to have everyone sitting on a lap. And we loved piling into my dad’s old blue Chevy station wagon, with the rear facing seat and the back window that had a power roller, a new modern invention of that era, now commonplace in most cars. Looking back, thinking about growing up and learning how to drive and becoming a parent instead of a child, I often find myself wishing for a ride in that old station wagon, facing backwards, watching the miles roll by, mindful of nothing except the excitement of arriving at the farm and being turned loose on 55 acres of recreation.
It was maybe 45 minutes from our house to the farm. My memory as a child was that it was a very long journey and seemed to take an eternity to get there. Much like growing up, it takes forever to get there and when it happens, it’s like you blinked your eyes and went from being a carefree child to a responsible adult, and mother. But we are all in such a hurry growing up. We can’t wait to be 10 or 16, then 18.
Back then, we also couldn’t wait to get to the farm on those warm, Saturday mornings. We’d manage to muster a small degree of patience the first 10 or 20 minutes of the trip. But the excitement mounted when we’d cross the humming bridge; that’s the John A. Roebling bridge for those of us that have crossed over into adulthood. But at the time, we sat crunched up in the back of the wagon and “Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmed”, all the way across the metal grated bridge that took us into Kentucky from Ohio and brought us closer to where we wanted to be. I have no names for the other bridges I’ve crossed during my life and some even had as much significance in bringing me closer to where I wanted to be. The only difference is that these days, I’m not in as big a hurry to get there.
Once we crossed the bridge, we’d start the chant. The chant that as I look back, must have driven my mother and father insane. All of us sitting back poking elbows and knees and trying to get comfortable, we’d begin slowly and softly at first, “We’re almost there. We’re almost there.” Then louder as we grew closer or saw a familiar landmark, “We’re almost there! We’re almost there! We’re almost there!” We’d pause for a few minutes here and there but once we reached the two lane road that would eventually take us to the left turn that led to the farm, we’d chant non-stop, until we arrived at the farm, “We’re almost there-We’re almost there-We’re almost there-We’re almost there!” At the turn, there used to be a white farm house, with green shutters. We would go crazy when we saw that house and heard the sound of the turn signal. Then another quick turn to the right, over a stone bridge, and back a winding, bumpy gravel road going up a hill and down a hill, and over a cattle grate and down a hill until we went up the steepest of hills and came in sight of Granny and Pop’s house. We’d then jump out of the car and race out in all directions. Later in the day we’d be called to supper and enjoy a home cooked country meal, with fresh garden vegetables, and the occasional blue gill, depending on my Granny’s mood for cleaning fish, and our luck in catching them that day. What I wouldn’t give to have just one more day like that.
That two lane road once bore familiar houses and lots, fields and acreage. Sadly, today, when I take a trip to the farm, it is not past a few houses, sprinkled here and there on either side of the road, but instead, subdivisions and signs of the so-called progress in a quickly disappearing rural community. The turn, once marked by the friendly farm house, has been replaced by a large sub-division. There are very few familiar signs remaining from the window of my childhood memories. I sometimes question whether or not it was a child’s perspective that changed the vision, or if the re-arranged landscaping muddied the picture.
Whatever the case, I can still cross the small stone bridge, follow a bumpy road back up that steep hill and arrive in front of my grandparents’ old house. They’ve long since passed away. I’ll never have a mess of blue gill fried by Granny again; I won’t have the chance to cower in fear from my Pop, who was stern and intimidating, yet loved us just the same. I’ll never have another ride on an early morning in that old blue Chevy, with my dad behind the wheel. He, too, has left this world.
I do have three children of my own now, creating and molding their own childhood landscapes. My mother lives in my grandparents’ old house, and my uncle owns the farm. The lake we used to fish in is no longer isolated since my aunt and uncle built their house next to it. But I still go back. And my sons have explored the creek beds I once walked through as a child. And the barn is once again forbidden, as it was in the summers when they put tobacco up.
It is with bittersweet memories I take that trip. The drive feels like no time at all before I get there. There is no great anticipation. The magical spell that was cast upon a child has evaporated as I reached adulthood. It is still a beautiful place. It is peaceful and calm, isolated yet surrounded by progress. Farms like that succumb to progress and developers every year. The old Shaw farm was turned into “Shaw Estates,” an expensive subdivision with half acre lots.
I pray that this place remains in tact. That somehow it escapes the change of times. I can’t imagine the thought of there coming a time when it is no longer a place I can come back to. So few opportunities in life remain suspended in time, waiting for us to re-visit and embrace them. Maybe a little more patience would net a bigger payoff in the anticipation of an experience of a lifetime. Maybe a lifetime of experiences would be better served enjoying every moment of life instead of moving quickly ahead and chanting, “We’re almost there.” For, at the end of our lifetime of journeys, where will we all be? And are we all in that big of a hurry to get there?