Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Farmer's Daughter

It is almost autumn here in Tennessee...always a good time to reflect on football and tailgating. If I had a dollar for every party I've attended with an orange t-shirt on, I'd be one rich woman. Daddy has two entire rooms decked out in vibrant white and orange. There is an autographed picture of some famous player, and every little gadget you ever saw bearing the UT emblem. As a child, I could never ever understand why he escaped into sports. Now I think I understand the man thing a bit more clearly.

I was born back in '55 while Daddy was still in college at Martin after his Air Force duty in the Azores. When he graduated, we all moved out here to the rural neighborhood where my brothers and I got to experience a childhood filled with the surprises and bounty of nature. Mama said she remembers the spring that he stood by the window of the log cabin and watched the rains wash out an chance of a decent crop that year. Mama always worked a day job, and by night she would help him harvest and preserve things from the garden. His degree in ag-science paid off in their beautiful yard, always full of seasonal delights like forsythia, zinnias and mums. Every holiday or season was an occasion to be celebrated in my mother's world, complete with matching china and table decorations. If there weren't so many kids to sit at the children's table there would probably nameplates at each station.

Papa, my granddaddy, turned the farm over to Dad sometime in '56. He died two years later when I was a three-year-old who will always remember the special feeling of being the first grandchild to a warm and generous man that everyone loved to do business with. He ran the service station across McGaughey from the Methodist Church, and had a tab at the burger joint next door. Mom and her friends never had to worry about lunch because their high school was right up the hill from the Silver Castle. The Roberts family had an auto business to the left. This entire scene faced east toward the Baird Brewer hospital where I was born. The USDA office where Daddy worked was in the basement and I spent many an afternoon tracking the progress of the Japanese beetle through southern cotton fields. Each spot of interest was marked with a colored push pin, noting when and where the latest import lurked. If I was smart, I'd figure out a way to set 'em loose on a kudzu pile and watch the fun begin.

Our upbringing was totally grounded in the dream of American agriculture and all of the ideals involved with homeland security and a survivalist attitude. One of the most vivid impressions of my Daddy that is burned on my brain is the sight of him coming in the house all decked out in winter gear to a special Christmas breakfast with our family. He drove a tractor during the summer, hauling hay and kids in the trailer that trailer that fed the cattle during a hard freeze. It might just be my imagination, but I think a big piece of his soul died when they were sold at auction last year. I still miss the sound of moos on an evening when there's nothing but bobwhites and doves competing for attention. Heard some gunshots today so it must be the season for bird and gravy.

More and more often, I pause to say thanks to whoever is in charge of our universe for the opportunity to be a redneck country girl. A sunset ride in the back of a pickup counts as entertainment these days...'specially when it involves a trip to the Forked Deer wetlands that frame our homeplace. Wood ducks. Skunks and squirrels and groundhogs dug up in the kudzu covered hill below the dairy barn. Money can't buy that stuff 'ya know? It is unique and special and something that I will carry to the grave with me. My parents are elderly and homebound now for the most part. Oh, there is an occasional outing to the beauty shop or church...a doctor's appointment here and there. We have had discussions about the "options" like assisted living to ensure their safety and sanity, but they aren't ready for that step. I wouldn't be either, truth be told. I moved back out to the farm when my daughter was four years old so that she could experience some of the same childhood memories that I cherish. And she certainly did! To a child, a farm is a wonderland of living things and it's not hard to find something fun to do no matter what the season.

She has moved on now, into her own house with the father of my someday grandchildren. When I first visited their place in the country I was amazed at the resemblance to the old farmhouse where she grew up and I still live. The view is panoramic, filled with hay, barns, cows and a horse. There is a shaded front porch with a swing that looks like a perfect place to relax and ponder. I look forward to spending time out there with her, talking about the old days and remembering when.

Because home? Is where the heart is.