“Knoxville, ten miles,” the sign says. Ten miles and a million memories away. Our old family farm has just been sold to make way for a new subdivision. This June visit will be my last pilgrimage.
My tires kick up rocks from the dusty gravel road. Off to my left, I spot the farm, covered with the familiar dark green material that seems like roofing tile. I pull into the long driveway, past the chicken yard where we grandkids threw rocks when grandma and grandpa weren’t looking, just to feel the power of causing the chickens to cluck and scatter. A generation later, our own children, now grown, would do the same.
I step out of my car and catch sight of the pump from which we used to draw water. On the tool shed, I see the metal pan still hanging from a nail, the very same one we grandchildren would place under the pump to get a drink on a hot summer’s day. Now covered with rust, I wonder how long it’s been…or if there’s any water left.
I push through the screen door onto the back porch. There’s little left of the blue-grey paint. I step into the house, wiping my feet, from habit, as I enter the dining room. Was it ever this small? There stands the scratched up round table, like some old veteran, clinging to life. It was at this table that I first turned down grandma’s “dirty eggs,” not realizing that they just had pepper on them.
I glance to the left of the dining room, into the only bedroom on the main floor. My grandmother, Clover Davis, was born right in there, in the double bed. Here, in this very same room, she gave birth to my father in that bed that only I can still see.
I go over to the door that leads to the upstairs. The old brown rubber covered steps are narrow and slant downward. I walk gingerly, half expecting to fall through. I get to the top of the stairs and see the bedroom that used to hold us three kids for two idyllic weeks in the summer, giggles and all. I close my eyes and Grandma is there, once again, a plump, pleasant gray haired woman wearing an apron, telling us Bible stories that taunt us with long ago adventures that do anything but put us to sleep: Jonah and the whale was a favorite. The mustiness of this closed up second floor room chokes me. I retreat and find myself angry. Why does a house outlive its family?
I escape to the long front yard, hoping that God will minister to my soul through nature. I sit under a huge oak tree whose branches sheltered me, my brother and sister on sweltering summer days.
“Let him be!” I hear my grandma say after I bother my younger brother for the millionth time that day.
“Let him be what?” I repeat my old question aloud as if Grandma can still hear it.
“Mind that step!” she warns. How can I mind a step, I wonder. It’s not a person so it can’t give me orders.
Suddenly I recall the kool aid stands we used to have, the colored aluminum cups, the homemade signs, the metal spoons, the old cotton dishtowels, all there at the ready, way out at the end of a gravel country road. We never got one customer. It’s probably best we didn’t. The homemade jam we mashed up with berries from the bushes and spread on bread probably would have killed them.
I hear a dove crying mournfully, “Gone. Gone, gone, gone….” The crickets start their chorus, joined by some uppity cicadas. “Remember. Remember.” I pick up a blade of grass, stretching it out between the sides of my two thumbs and blow as I join them in the blues, just like Grandpa Davis taught me to, fifty-five years before. I yearn. My heart is heavy. I long for…..what?
With a new awareness, I get the strength to leave. Smiling, I steer out of the driveway, gazing at the house, once again, through my rear view mirror. I am gripped by the irony: these very things that I treasure, yearn and long for are not to be found in my past: they are waiting for me in my future. I turn and focus forward with eager expectation.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
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