I have experienced a long, long list of emotions over the past eight months. In January my sister, Juanita, suffered a fatal heart attack. She was in a coma until Feb. 1, when she passed away. On April 1, we placed her urn in the ground at the family cemetery on the Piercy farm.
When we went for the April service, Juanita's daughter, Lara, and Lara's children walked from the cemetery across the road down to the old farm house, the creek, the barn and the property where I spent my childhood. I could not go. Looking at the home place now, it is easy to see that absolutely nothing is as it was. I wanted to remember the home place as it had been 50 years ago when I walked it.
Just this month, Juanita's lifelong friend, Patty (Hepler) Dietrich was in for her summer visit. She and her husband, Fred, made a trip to the cemetery to visit Juanita's grave. While there, they ventured down to the house and the other buildings still left standing after all these years.
Fred took lots of pictures; he's really a pro at it. And they emailed these to me, saying I may want to look at them and, then again, I may not. I looked and all those emotions I first mentioned came flooding back. I wiped tears as I looked at the photos, close-up shots of how things look now. This is what went through my mind, and the message I emailed back to Patty.
"All the life is gone. Where did it go? The photo inside the house and I recognize nothing. It's like our family was never there. And all the trash thrown about in the barn when it was once so in order. The photo of the roof trusses in the barn. All the years I read books up there and never noticed the simple beauty and symmetry of them.
"And, yet . . . There is still life. The deer in the field where the grass is still green. The Monarch butterfly on the purple bloom of clover. And the creek still runs clear. And the sky is still blue over it all. And my heart will never, never rest anywhere else. Thank you for taking me back. In the depth of my soul, I really never have left."
And these last few days, I had to wonder how many others feel the way I do about the place where they grew up. It didn't have to be a family farm. Maybe it was a house on a street in downtown Elkins, or a house up a back road somewhere out in the county. Wherever it was, it is not the same or, simply, is no more.
And where does that leave us? I have years and years of memories of where I grew up - a storehouse of them. I wouldn't trade them for anything. They made me who I am - both good and bad! The house was painted as white as the clouds above it then, and we were proud of it and kept it that way. It welcomed numerous friends and relatives over the years, where they found solace and hospitality unlimited. The house was a shelter for me, a place of security and love and belonging.
Now it stands as an empty shell, forgotten and abandoned, with windows boarded up or missing altogether, leaving gaping holes for the snow and rain to blow in. The siding is broken away and falling off, and the grass all the way around the house is hip high and just weeds.
The granary has completely fallen in, and there is no trace of the cellar dug into the side of the hill. The machine shed went as a next-door victim of the granary, when it once was the parking spot for the Massey Ferguson tractor.
The barn, the chicken house, the fields, the pond behind the house, the front yard, the road up the hollow, the creek - all full of life and work and pride and accomplishment when we were there. There was an unspoken spirit to it all, and we carried that with us while there, and even now.
And that brings both sadness and joy to me. I am so grateful it was the place God chose to put me to grow; my regret is that it is now forgotten. But I suppose that's the way it was meant to be. I think of the farm as my home place, as well as for Juanita and sister Nancy, our parents and their parents. It cannot be that for anyone else; the Piercys were the "pioneers" there. All the other people out there have their own home places.
And those places are where we go, in our minds and hearts, when we want to remember how it was. For me, it couldn't have been better. So, if I'm honest in looking at all those photos Patty sent, the last emotion I felt was overwhelming gratitude that there was life there for many years. I am a testament to that. That's what I'll tuck away in my heart and keep for comfort when I need it. I hope you have a place where you can go and tuck it away, too.