The older we get, the more nostalgic we tend to be about the past. Especially when memories of the past are all we have left. When writer Liz Flaherty first wrote us here at BoomerCafé, she said, “I’m a writer from the cornfields of Macy, Indiana.” But now those cornfields are just a memory too, as she and her siblings have just sold off the house that sat on the cornfields on which they were raised.
Our family has sold our farm.
The 40 acres on a corner had been in the family for well over 100 years. But although I am sentimental about virtually everything, I am not particularly so about the place I grew up. Go figure. Mostly I am happy that the man who bought the place will take care of it. He will respect and nourish the land in exchange for what the land gives back. So I’m good with it.
But the lilac bushes there on the corner where the house is were my mom’s. They’re big, glorious ones. I used to hide in the one there by the driveway near the old hitching post. I crawled into it so often, there was a hollowed-out place in the middle of it. It is the one that bloomed in August in 2019 when my brother Tom died. I felt as if it was Mom assuring us that Tom and Dan and Christine were all with her and all was well. It bloomed again in August of 2020, and I hope it was Mom and Dad saying it was okay to let the farm go. It was time.
There are blue spruces on the corner. My brother Dan planted them, I think. He had a way with blue spruces.
A large rock sits there. My sister sat on that rock with her back to the rest of the world and figured out how to go on from whatever place she was in. Coming along later, I tried to use the rock for the same purpose. Didn’t work. It was Nancy’s rock, not mine.
Thinking of the corner makes me ache and my eyes sting. There were five of us who grew up in that too-small house in northern Indiana, and Christine, who died when she was only three. How many times did a school bus stop there in the 26 years that there was at least one of us in school at Gilead and later North Miami? How many times did Mom watch us and imagine what her lost little girl would have looked like climbing onto the bus as we did?
Mom always kept things “for good,” which is why I don’t. I think she enjoyed having her things, and looking at them, while I enjoy using them. Neither way is wrong. But I remember boxes of candy sitting on the stairs at the farm. I opened a box of chocolate-covered cherries one time and found them collapsed in on themselves and hardened by time. That may be when I decided I wouldn’t keep things, but use them. It was heartbreaking to have candy that couldn’t be eaten.
Those stairs are still in that old house full of memories. Most of Mom’s things are gone now. We’ve taken them out, shared them among ourselves and given much away. We’ve wondered what some were and why they were saved. Vandals have done their part too, destroying and doing harm. I get angry about that because even in these last months of owning the farm, it was still my mother’s house. It deserved respect if for no other reason than she loved it.
Maybe now, finally, I know why I’ve written this story this morning. It’s a goodbye to the farm, yes, but it’s also a thank you to it. It’s not that I was always happy there— I’m not someone who enjoyed childhood— but I was safe. I was loved. I was never hungry.
It was where I learned that if you look hard enough, there is always something to laugh about. It’s where I learned to be strong and to think for myself and that no one owed me anything except whatever respect I earned.
Although selling property is always an end to something, the memories don’t go away. They are yours to keep.
I’m thinking about the family I grew up with as I sit here. My brothers and sisters and my parents and the ripples that came from them. Brothers’ friends who I had crushes on, sister’s friends who were funny and friendly and still are, and the neighbor’s farm where we went every year for our Christmas tree. Just a dollar every year. Thank you, Mr. Swigart.
I think of Harry Chapin’s song “Circle,” and once again his lyrics speak the voice of my heart.
“But I have this funny feeling;
That we’ll all be together again.”
Liz’s book is “The Healing Summer.”