What’s a little gray?
Crops are in. Today there’s hay.
Labor Day weekend isn’t neccesarily labor free.
Hints of fall were already in the air yesterday as I turned the calendar page over to September.
The crisp morning air nudged me out of bed early to pull out my annual autumn ‘to do’ list.
But I felt a little cranky.
“It’s too early to be this cold,” I muttered to my dogs who kept on sleeping.
Still I had the day off and was sorely tempted to attend ‘Minnesota’s great get together’, also known as the State Fair.
But instead of venturing east to the fairgrounds in the city, I traveled west out into the countryside.
Sure, I was missing the opportunity to party with 186,000 of my closest friends and spend an average of $75.00 while there. And I do know new fair delicacies such as Bacon Up Pups are well worth the money and a 5 pound weight gain.
After all, what’s more blissful that a Belgian Waffle made in bacon batter and dipped in chocolate, next drizzled with maple syrup, and finally topped with whipped cream and even more bacon?
Well, perhaps a big frosty mug of Chocolate Chip Beer could do the job.
But I digress.
Anyway, I knew if I stopped in at the farm where I often hike I’d find a much healthier type of bliss while visiting with some sweet and smiling four legged friends.
And I’d also likely get back home in time to check off a few of my chores on that fall list.
My day went as planned.
In fact it was perfect.
I knew I’d even have time to sharpen my new box of shiny No. 2 pencils to bring to the school where I work next week.
And though I missed the State Fair’s epicurean delights, I was thrilled to come home with a free bag of fresh pole beans, potatoes and parsley.
While driving back home past the big sign advertising the local Hog Feast Social and a little sleepy pub called Grumpy’s, I thought how full and satisfied I was feeling.
And I wasn’t cranky in the least.
For me it truly was a Blue Ribbon kind of day, and I was the winner.
It was a short trip to the country, long overdue.
I know you can’t go home again, and my final destination never actually was my residence.
But in my heart it was home, especially in summer.
My grandparents once lived in the little Minnesota town I was fast approaching. My childhood memories there are still ripe with picking rhubarb, fresh corn, Grandma’s lemon pies in the oven, and porch swings.
My final stop was to be a rural cemetery in the corn fields just about a mile beyond the town’s Main Street.
My brother, parents, and grandparents are buried there, along with a host of other relatives.
It’s my tribe.
I recall a great aunt softly grabbing my arm and walking me through the place at my brother’s burial service many years ago.
She introduced me to each and everyone of his new neighbors there. And it seemed I was related to them all.
The main purpose of my trip was to check on the state of my family’s monuments and pavers.
And also to pay my respects.
It was a lonely, cold and gray morning at the cemetery. Memorial Day had already come and gone, just like the northerly wind.
There was just me and the morning doves around.
I noticed looking across the grounds that flowers on the graves were very few.
Perhaps those who used to plant the red, white and blue petunias on the burial sites of their elders had now passed away themselves.
But as I walked around I found some unexpected gifts.
A small bunch of yellow silk forget-me-knots adorned my brother’s grave. They were faded some, but lovingly placed perhaps by a stranger who cared, or was moved by the words ‘beloved son’ engraved on the tombstone.
I also discovered sheaves of corn placed around his grave and those of many others.
There is an old custom of placing these sheaves on the burial ground of those who once farmed.
Though no one in my immediate family had worked the land, it was still in their blood.
I pulled my old down vest tighter as I battled the chill back to my car.
Driving again through my grandparents aging small town to enter the highway back towards the city, I became a little blue. I noticed the downtown looked a bit dead with many vacant storefronts.
And I realized too that this trip out in the country had lacked the charm I used to know. The once proud red barns were now decaying and swaying in the breeze. And many of the other small towns along that highway looked lost and weathered as well.
I longed for any signs of life in traditional small town America and rural America.
And maybe just to see a farmer in bib overalls, I thought.
Suddenly I pulled the car over at the sight of something familiar, yet a bit different.
To my right I saw that the old Victorian funeral parlor, sitting kitty corner from my grandparents’ old place, was filled with life again.
There were tricycles and toys in the front yard. Maybe a growing family lived here or it was a bustling day care center I hoped.
Then I looked to the left.
My grandparents’ former home was shining brighter than ever with a fresh coat of paint.
And a few minutes later as I was driving back on the highway, I finally saw my farmer in bib overalls coming out of a dollar store.
I smiled for a moment.
I was happy.
At least it wasn’t a big old Walmart.
The ice around here has been cruel, but not the winter.
Yet both have taken a hiatus, at least for now.
Since its been a long while, I thought I’d walk a country mile.
My hunger for the smells, sights, and sounds of a rural spring were making me weak this morning.
And though our February thaw’s only a tease, I’ll take it.
I found myself leaving behind tax files on the kitchen table to deal with another day.
That day’s already penciled in for Saturday, when the snow and bitter cold’s expected to return.
After all, we know old man winter’s never been a pushover.