There once was a beautiful farm that held many secrets. The family that lived on the 300 acre spread since 1942 had seen tragedy, new generations, a few wars, and the birth of 7 children and 17 grandchildren. To live that long in one place is the stuff novels are written about-especially such a place of pure beauty. But you can't have a novel without a protagonist and antagonist, tragedy and an ending.
This farm had rolling green hills and oak trees and bee hives. Ponds with catfish and bream and a garden that would make the Bellingraths jealous. It was split down the middle by a dirt road that became a dust storm when the mailman came or the tractor lumbered down the way.
The old farmhouse had a tin roof, a large front porch for storytelling and pea shelling and a huge oak tree that provoked my grandmother to write a poem to it before she moved away after 50 years of living underneath it.
Amidst the secrets and the stories, both good and bad, funny and sad, most of us 17 grandchildren found solace in the fields and the warm kitchen there. You see, the 7 children raised there in the 50's and 60's did not always do well-hence the secrets aforementioned.
Being as such, the younger generation was often in the care of our grandmother on the farm due to necessity. Spending nights, summers, weekend, sometimes months at this farmhouse that belonged to our grandparents, was something that most of us can say we had to do at certain times when our parents stumbled in life- and the stumbling happened more than it should have.
Alcoholism and mental illness plagued the family members, more so in this family than most, but as most, we placed band aids over our wounds, wiped tears and forged on. What else could we do? It was a time that "help" was not readily available- long before support groups and daily counseling was as normal as brushing our teeth. Our parents needed help, they needed medication, someone to talk to, understanding and professionals to save them. At that time mental illness and alcoholism was swept under the rug, they were told to get tough, to build a life that they were completely mentally lacking the tools to build. The results were tragic.
The magnificent setting to this sometimes tragedy was also the one place that we, as children, found safety and direction. Ironic. The one place that created the havoc for our parents after growing up here, was also the one place that we could seek refuge from their damage.
Weekends would find 4 or 5 of us kids riding bikes in the dusk when the lone street light blinked on, then catching lightening bugs near the porch. There were beetles that we tied a string to and then let fly around our heads in a circle-these were "junebugs", by the way.
Boredom was never a factor due to availability to fishing poles, livestock that needed attending, and a vegetable garden that "wouldn't weed itself". We worked, but it didn't feel like work, we wanted to help, we begged to help. We cut and hauled hay and made jams and jellies and picked okra and shelled peas. It was a productive way of life, we were learning, we were being taught lessons by our patient and loving grandmother and didn't even realize it at the time. It was generational magic and we were totally unaware.
In the late evenings was also a time to feed the hundreds of head of Angus cattle. The farm truck would bump along the edge of the green pasture with salt blocks and bails of hay, before the fancy "round" bails were even heard of. The cows would moo and snort and bellow as they followed the truck across the field. Being a daily, normal occurrence I never paid it much mind-until 40 years later.
As I sat outside in the late afternoon with my grandson a few weeks ago, I heard the cows in the field nearby. There is a farm that adjoins the neighborhood on the southwest side and the sound of the cows "crying" was so clear and pure and there I was, with an instant feeling of reassurance and peace and comfort. I smiled and thought of my grandmother, of the farm, of our lessons and our love that was found there. Funny how something so random and normal and out of the blue can trigger such emotions and ingrained memories. For some it's the smell of roses, the scent of bread baking, the sound of rain or trains or a hymn. For me it's the deep, bellowing sound of a cow and the smell of fresh hay.
My mind went back, I smiled and my inner child felt hugged..and safe.
As sad as this might sound to some, it's somewhat bittersweet. You see, this story isn't all dark-there is light. We took the lessons that we were taught by our grandmother during those years, and armed with the desire to do better, to thrive, to carve out lives that were better than our poor parent's lives-we did.
The children that came away from that farm knew what tragedy was, we knew what hard words can do to the heart, we understand that actions have consequences and safety comes from more than just love, but stability and boundaries and productivity and also faith in a higher power. We were given that gift by one woman who stood strong and believed in those things. She watched her children suffer and in some cases die, but her grateful grandchildren watched HER.
My grandson is almost two and he loves cows. Every afternoon we go to see them and we watch them follow the hay truck and listen to them bellow and moo. One day I hope he can say that his grandmother and the cows and the afternoon walks helped to shape him, and when he hears them he will feel safe and loved-and my job will be done.