Monday, August 19, 2013

land, ho!

my father grew up in a country crossroad that when i was a child seemed like the prettiest little place on earth. he spent his first 17 years growing tall and fishing in wooded ponds, later working in the shop where his father sold Fords. when Daddy died, my brother told a story i had never heard. that when Daddy was working in the shop, my grandfather asked him to change the oil on a car, which he dutifully did. only he forgot to put new oil back into the car he was working on. so instead of inheriting the family business, my grandfather decided the boy who would become my daddy would be better off fixing people than fixing cars. so he sent my father to medical school.

i spent my childhood going back to my father's home, visiting my grandparents for a week during the summer. there is so much i remember about the place. the back yard swing where my grandfather used to push me into the sky. the storage house that smelled of moth balls but held a thousand treasures. the garden where we used to dig for potatoes and pick butter beans. the old shop, where we would sit in the showroom cars, turning the steering wheel and blinkers, then get cold cocolas from the old stoop-shouldered machine.

our visits also included 'going to ride,' which meant driving down quiet farm paths so my grandfather could check the crops growing on farms he had owned for some time. to my knowledge he didn't plant the rows himself, but he was overseer. one summer, he took friend Lydia and me down the path to see the largest hogs we'd ever seen in our lives.

over the years, as we headed to and from the beach, i would try to point out that farm but could never quite find it. then a couple of years ago, Daddy asked us to go back. 

though my grandparents have been gone for years, he wanted us to see the landmark of their legacy — the three small farms that are now leased, the land worked. Daddy wanted us to know where they were, so we would not forget. 

so we drove down country roads to the familiar places of my childhood and his. the first farm stands between my grandparents' burial place and their house, and that spring, before the crops went in, we could see their breakfast room window from their graves. 

and then down another road and a surprise. a family cemetery i had never seen, where my great-grandfather Moses Byrum is laid to rest. i still can't figure out why i never knew it was there.

and then, back to the farm where those hogs once grew, an expanse of winter wheat waving at us along the short drive toward the old house and barn. i watched, as Daddy's eyes scanned the horizon, the circle of land his father owned that now belonged, in part, to him. And i wondered what would become of it. 

turns out, Daddy knew. 

a few weeks ago, as we headed to the beach, we made a couple of stops with the kids. first, to the family cemetery where their great-great grandfather is buried. then on to the farm where as an 11-year-old, i had tried to pet a few gigantic pigs.

the kids took pictures, as i recounted my last visit there with their grandparents, Daddy in his favorite yellow sweater, Mama telling me how she tried to convince my grandfather to be more progressive and put indoor plumbing in the tenant house, almost 60 years before.

my siblings and i now own this farm with my aunt, my father's sister. Daddy gave us this land in his will. which i have to say was a big surprise. we did not expect anything... and though i always knew he loved this farm, i never imagined he would entrust its future to us. cityfolk though we all are.

i don't think i have ever owned anything outright. maybe a toaster. a book. a pair of shoes. but not land. 


as i write this i don't know quite what to say. even after close to 25 years in our current house, the bank still owns a small part. cars? all loans, though one is coming close to being paid off. i know people who buy cars with cash, but we have never been able to do that. 

but cars are not the same as land.

land. the thing that drew the Israelites from Egypt and kept them going, the thing that kept Noah and Christopher Columbus in the boat, kept Scarlett O'Hara from losing her mind. (well, maybe not.) 

it is a small plot, considering. 

but it is ours. and it is land our father loved, and our grandfather before him, so there you have it.

we often joked in years past that we would one day own a third of a half of something — this land — just about enough to put a lawn chair on so we could watch the sunset on a summer Sunday afternoon.

guess i didn't count on it actually coming true. and now, though i am pretty sure where the sun will go down on a summer Sunday, i am wondering just where Daddy would want us to place those chairs.

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