Country musings

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.

Patchwork in the plains

I stand in sunlight on a hill.

To my right August gold shimmers on the leaves of soybean plants in the fields of a small farmer.

An abandoned red barn rests up the road right in front of me.

To my left, on a higher hill there’s more gold in sight.

This time, mostly hidden on the frame of a super sized ‘executive home’ tucked back in a grove of trees.

Not impressed, I choose to walk the gravel road to the old barn and pull out my camera to take pictures.

I then stop, listening to the swallows sing as they square dance over the roof.

One adventurous soul breaking away to dance in and out the broken windows.

I decide to rest under an oak tree and listen to the full concert, closing my eyes for a while.

The flock soon takes me under their collective wing, escorting me back to a different time.

I’m a toe headed six year old again, picking green beans and tasting my first bite of sweet corn at Sunday supper.

But my memory feast is abruptly shortened by sounds of the speeding, shiny trucks belonging to a nearby corporate farm.

Choking on their dust, I slowly walk back down the county road.

Resigned, and accepting that these are the new patchwork squares of my rural landscape.

Christmas in July

It’s Christmas in July.

And I’m opening a gift.

Something special.

Selected just for me.

It won’t be returned.

As I’m the one who bought it.

There’s a hand written card inside in the form of a receipt.

“Hi Jackie,” it says.

I smile.

The rising sun shines bright in the east while I patiently stand in line with the others.

I’m waiting for the the 6:10 bus into the city.

I admire the image of a smiling woman on the cover of my gift.

It’s a book of poetry.

Swaying in the breeze like a corn stalk, I quickly skim the pages.

I see photos of barns and bouquets.

And writings of milking, haying and hollyhocks.

Soon I settle in on one poem recounting the days after the poet’s husband passed away.

Her words, a lovely lily pad for my unchartered waters.

The bus pulls up for the ride to the hot asphalt framed metro ahead.

I carefully pack my gift back into my briefcase.

Worried I may devour all the book’s words too quickly.

Much like I do, whenever I devour a box of chocolates.

“Whistling Woman,” Poetry Mary Kellogg/Photos Jon Katz