We always raced toward the stillness. We began at the stairs of my grandparents’ house — 4 or 5 cement steps that led to the door that no one ever used. On your marks, get set… Go! And we were off, my cousins and I, wheeling and willing ourselves to the first base – the giant rock at the end (or beginning) of their driveway. The stone had to be touched, then we made a sharp right to the first apple tree, touching the boards that were hammered into the trunk for stairs . Then came the field. The cow field. We were supposed to touch the nearest cow. This meant you would have to duck under the electric fence, avoid the cow “pies” and dare to get get close enough to touch one of those giant beasts. They, not wanting to play, looked at us with faces that said, move on to the next base. We slightly bent down as we ran near the fence and waved in the direction of a moo, and this satisfied us all. We ran around the back of the house, past the rhubarb in the garden, touched the garage, ran to the barn, touched a tractor, then raced back to the front steps.
The rules were loose. The laughter was free. The races were never won or lost. Perhaps we were just gathering it all in. Each touch preserved in time. I can feel it — all — still. Sometimes I think, how smart we were — to take it all in. I have to will myself to be that smart now. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily race. But I remind myself to take the time to touch it – the stillness around me. I suppose it is there, in this stillness, that we gather in the meaning — the laughter, the love, the rock solid joy of being alive.
Summer is racing towards autumn. I can feel the slight change in the air. We sit on the front steps for a moment. Talk about what a run we had! The slips on corners, and grass stained knees, and we laugh from the lowest parts of our bellies. We look through the corners of eyes and feel the sun… “You wanna go one more time?” Yes! The answer was, and always will be — yes!!!
I rarely saw my grandmother without an apron. There were so many children. Grandchildren. The kitchen was always in motion. I liked standing next to her. So close. When she wore the embroidered apron – the one with the flowers – I would press my head as close to her hip as I could. This hug, when held for longer than she had time for – (yet she never pushed me away) – this hug could produce an imprint on my cheek of the same flowers. An imprint that didn’t last long on my face, but still remains on my heart.
Dishes clanked. Smells arose. Voices jabbered. And then the whirlwind would stop. She needed something from the basement. She told me to run and get it. The basement. I’ll admit I was afraid. Being only apron high, it wasn’t unusual, but I wanted to be brave. My grandmother canned. There was a whole wall of canned good down there. But to get to what she needed, I would have to go descend the darkened stairs. Past the hooks of overalls that looked like men waiting. I would have to tune out the furnace. The creaks of wood. She pushed the small of my back in the direction of the stairs. Of course I would do it. I held my breath, as if going under water. Raced my bumper tennis shoes down the steps. Grabbed the glass jar filled with what I could only imagine was a science experiment and ran back up the stairs. I handed it to her beaming. She had no idea what I had risked, but she hugged me just the same.
Yesterday, we went to see Dominique’s mother. She clings to the day. Leaving, sad, I heard through the open windows of the house next door, the clanking of the dishes. Silverware. Glass. Stove. A woman singing over the din. The sounds of life. I smiled, feeling the embroidered flowers on my heart.
This love. Knowing your heart, if you’re giving it all, will break and mend and break again. Still, I, we, will risk any darkened stairs to experience it. The sun begins to light today’s path. To this day, this life, I make a promise to feel it – really feel it – and, joyfully, I pull myself in close.
I was only six when I was walked into the library of Washington Elementary. The door opened and it hit me immediately, the familiar scent. I didn’t have the words for it then. The knowledge. Certainly it could have been explained away with paper, and time. The aging, a slight dampness to it all. But I had smelled this before, this comforting familiar. And I needed no explanation, because I was home.
This welcoming scent – it was the same as the entryway to my grandparents’ home. Coats lined the wall. Dampened with work and story, they welcomed anyone who opened the door. They said, come in, you and your heart sit down. It was there I learned to trust. Trust in those who made the effort. Trust in those who worked hard to create something. Create a life.This library of coats. Of living.
When Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, let go of my hand, I wasn’t afraid. She set me free in this open and beautiful world. There was life all around me. Book after book. Page after page. The words brushed against my arm, warm and worn, as the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat.
Some might say it is only nostalgia. But what is nostalgia? For me, it is not wanting to live in the past. No, for me, I see it as proof. A living and palpable proof of how it feels to be open. It is a reminder of how glorious life can be. A documentation of the extraordinary doors — the doors that let you in, the ones that set you free.
I don’t know what today will bring. But I know what it feels like to be open. I need no explanation. I brush against the familiar, and walk into the sun.
It was the only sheet music I remember seeing on my grandparent’s organ – “Body and Soul.” It didn’t seem strange then, this large instrument. When I think of it now, they were probably the only farmers in the area to have an organ in their living room.
They bought it for my Aunt Sandy. She was the youngest of nine, this Dairy Princess, and when she asked for something, she usually got it. So there was an organ in their living room. I never heard her play it. Nor anyone else – not seriously. Most of us thought of it like a big toy. One cousin would crawl underneath the bench and play the foot pedals by hand, while another cousin or two pressed the keys with as much flare as previously seen on the Lawrence Welk Show — something that also seemed to be on continuously in my grandparent’s living room.
My Aunt Sandy has passed. I don’t know where the organ ended up. But the song lives on. I heard it this morning, on the radio, in France. Body and Soul.
We are scattered — those of us that began on this farm — scattered by jobs, and hopes and dreams, scattered by loves and heartbreaks and loves again. Bit by bit, we puzzle together the pieces of our own lives, string together the notes of our own songs. And it takes a long time — a long time to build a soul.
I thought, when I was young, with fingers glued against the keys, that we would be given all the answers. And that would be that. But we, like everyone I suppose, were not given the answers, but options. And somewhere between field and keyboard, I suppose, we made our way.
The song fills my heart this morning. Along with the coffee. The conversation above the tune. Joyfully, not complete, but beginning. Again. What a pleasure it is to begin. The sun comes through the window, and another piece of my soul fits together.
The music never ends.
I have told the story before — picking rocks in the field with my grandfather on his farm, but sometimes, I, maybe we, need to hear it again, and again. The following is an excerpt from “Something will grow from all this”:
“Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I did want to stay. My lip stopped quivering and I placed another rock on the trailer.”
There are so many challenges. It’s easy to get angry. And that’s ok if it thrusts us into doing the work, but that’s where we always need to get to – the place of doing the work. I have thrown my share of rocks with anger, but I want to move them now – move them with purpose. Make a difference. Make something grow. Just like my grandfather.
The sun is coming up. It is not the beginning, it is not the end, it is the time to do the glorious and sometimes unglamorous work. I give thanks for the opportunity, smile, and place another rock on the trailer.
I don’t remember which pronoun we used. I have to choose one now to write this story, so I will say he, and respectfully hope that that’s correct.
My mother’s cousin was born a female, but lived as a man. Now, see, I’m not even certain that’s the right way to put it, because I’m sure to him, he was born a man, and lived as a man. I want to move beyond my clunky way of describing him and get on to the heart of the story.
This was long before support groups. Long before anyone thought of being politically correct. Long before people spoke of gender. Certainly no one ever heard of fluidity. These were farmers. They spoke of farming.
And he was an excellent farmer. The hardest worker in the family. My mom spoke of how he saved the family farm. I only have one image of him, and that is leaning against the barn. Overalled. Tired — I pray from working.
I was too young to judge, to be unkind. I hope we all were.
I bring it up because it occurs to me, at some point in our lives, we have all found ourselves, leaning against the family farm, tired, wanting only to be accepted for who we are, the work we have done, praying for the kindness of fresh eyes and open hearts.
Tanned and weathered by the heat of so many summer suns, I stop, under today’s and think, what a glorious time to grow.
My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.
I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!
It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.
I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.
Maybe it was different. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it. But what I remember of the news is this — riding in the front seat of my grandmother’s car. Windows open. The smell of earth. Bare legs stuck to the seat. Grandma’s house-dress waving in the breeze, and the flap of her upper arms. The news we listened to was only this — The Farm Report, and Paul Harvey. The voices melodic. Familiar. Simple. And we were saved.
I was washing the breakfast dishes. Looking out the window. Contemplating, agonizing, over this morning’s news. I opened the window. “Please just drive,” I thought. Drive us in open-earth-smelling air away from all this heartache. This killing.
I looked down below the window. “Uncle Wally” (the baby walnut tree) was standing strong. The tulips, looked dry, a little watering needed. The roses — full bloom, nothing to do but enjoy. My “farm report.” My heart calmed to a simpler time. I wish it for everyone.
I will not take up arms to fight arms. It is not my nature. It is not my belief. I can only offer my humble words. String them together, and possibly you can find some comfort in that. Some release. Some hope. Maybe, if we all could do that for each other — be the voices of common sense, common understanding, maybe we could all be saved. Maybe it’s too simple – but I pray it’s possible.
When Paul Harvey signed off, he always said, “Good day…” Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought his voice raised up a little at the end, as if maybe it were a question. And maybe it was. Maybe he was asking us to be better, to be more human, asking us to please, make it a good day.
Today, I will ask myself, and ask the same of you, “Good day…?”