The Uphill Slide

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Down on the Farm

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My drive from Route 28 to Cowansville guides me up the Worthington-Slatelick Road past Green Acres Farm. Each drive finds me glancing across the road to the empty boxy house where my father and his three brothers lived with their parents. My memories are an aggregation of four generations who have lived in that house. I evoke the images of a yard-size garden with rows of vegetables edged with flowers on three sides and a hedge edging the farthest side. Past the garden is firmly planted a wooden fence whose boards are grasped tenaciously by a grapevine that offers up its voluptuous juicy blue-purple fruits in late summer. The outhouse where I cautiously checked for bees before taking my seat, and once changed outfits with my same-age cousin who lived in the house through those hedges, sits off to the side. In those mind’s images of the garden I envision my grandmother moving her hoe rhythmically as she eviscerates the weeds from her garden. Closer to the house rises a stalwart oak whose limbs and branches guard the house, and whose framework provided the backdrop to family photos. It stood for decades until only a year ago when it surrendered itself to lightning strikes and disease, too costly to save. Before it lost its life, its branches and leaves shaded swing sets and roped swings wound around its limbs. I remember Jacob dressed in a red sweatshirt and blue pants sitting on a yellow and white striped lawn chairĀ on his third birthday crying plaintively until he joined his father and uncle and grandfather and cousin in the construction of one of those swing sets. Below the house a flagpole missing its halyard is planted in the ground. Was there ever a flag flying there? There must have been. A year after Jacob’s third birthday, friends and relatives are sitting in a circle near that flagpole for my surprise 40th birthday party. There are people in that circle who are still in my life, and others who are gone now. That was 25 years ago. Was the maple tree I climbed into as a youngster still there for that party? Or was that a willow tree? I cannot remember now if any tree was still there. I know the fuschia-pink rhododendron that was a special gift for my plant-loving grandmother was still growing beneath the front door that waited decades in vain for its promise of a front porch.

My mind’s specter steps into the kitchen where my grandmother’s head is bent into the sink as I sponge blue-grey dye through her yellow-white strands and then cover her head with metal brushes held fast with plastic nails. Later I repeat this task (minus the dye) for my mother. Why am I doing this? I do not remember ever wanting to be a beautician. I smell the heat of hot flatirons on the stove that will smash down the seams of some sewing creation my grandmother is making. She was a professionally trained seamstress whose grandchildren and nieces and nephews can all share their stories of her artistry with fabric. Her machine is in her bedroom operated by her almost hypnotically moving foot on the treadle as her bent fingers push material beneath the needle.

Back downstairs in the living room I lie with my feet on the metal register that dominates this small living room. After a while I feel the threat of searing flesh and lift my feet into the air to cool down a bit. Across from my register I admire the mirrored, columned ornate mantelĀ that years later will be screwed to my bedroom wall as adornment for a pretend fireplace. The artwork on the wall beside that mantel is a mounted deer head trophy with hooves unceremoniously turned up to receive coats. This was my uncle’s kill, so why is it here in Grandma’s house? After her death, the deer head will find its way to my uncle’s son’s house. Home at last. Back in the kitchen a few years after Grandma’s death, my brother and sister-in-law sit eating birthday cake for one of their kids. This is their home until they build the house on the hill overlooking this one. Several years later, Roy and I and our kids and my in-laws sit in this same kitchen eating another birthday cake. Soon we will take the memories from this house and join them to new ones in a farm-house a few miles away. In the next years others will pass through the same doors and rooms on their way to somewhere else.

When I drive by, this homestead does not look the same. It is remodeled, and the garden is grass. The oak tree is felled and the outhouse hauled away. The grapevine and rhododendron are chopped down. The flagpole is pulled from the earth. The steep hillside along the road is pared down to a gentle slope to afford a better view of vehicles rounding the curve. But each time I pass the house it nourishes the memories of four generations that started lives in this house on Green Acres Farm.

 

 

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