My father had a farm in North Carolina that was reachable only by an unpaved road in a town aptly named Summerfield. It was the type of sleepy town that Hollywood would make all of North Carolina; long green fields edged by leafy oak trees and tall pines, tobacco barns made of log and chinking, sagging under the weight of a century and the slow moving sun lording over all. I was twelve then and time was a vast amorphous thing like the pillar of clouds on the horizon. There was plenty of time to figure out who I would become and where I would go.
The farmhouse was a 1920’s era cottage at the end of a long gravel driveway. Out back was a large barn, a chicken coop and the remnants of a vegetable garden where enormous sun flowers appeared magically that summer. The previous owners left pieces of themselves behind; a tobacco barn filled with tools, chickens in the coop, preserves in the root cellar and perhaps most strangely, eight bison in the fields.My father bought the farm when he was dating a woman who owned a farm herself and knew a thing or two about horses. While my father may have been the first to fall in love with her, I and my three brothers were not far behind. When you love someone, you want to become them in a way. So, we added horses to our farm, bought cowboy boots and when one of her Siberian Huskies sired puppies, we brought home a soft bundle of fur so black that the only name he could wear was Midnight.
The only blemish on the farm was a family that lived in a mobile home at its edge. On the weekends my father, the attorney turned cowboy, would pick us up in his blue Mercedes and drive us from the city to the farm. Each time we passed the mobile home a fat little boy would run out into his yard and give us the finger. No doubt he did not cotton to the city-slickers in the blue Mercedes turning up dust as it sped past their metal home.You learn about life’s rhythms on a farm. Things grow and things die. Our dog Midnight grew fast and loved having the run of the place. Then we noticed that the chickens began disappearing. “Must be a fox,” my father told us. But soon the neighbors living in the metal home complained that their chickens were disappearing too and that our dog was the reason. “The sheriff says I can shoot him and I will if I catch him again,” the neighbor said.
It was about that time that we discovered my father owned a gun too, kept on the shelf in the closet. We begged him to show us how it worked and one night he stood on the back porch, aimed the pistol at a tree and let it fire. The sound was terrifying. In that moment I wished that I had never heard it. More terrifying than the sound was the thought that my father might have enemies that required him to possess a gun.Shortly after that the neighbors caught Midnight in the chicken coop and let their own gun fire. I mirrored the fat boy’s middle finger greeting every time we drove past their metal home after that.
Fall became winter and my father’s relationship with the farm woman died with the cold weather. He met another younger woman who preferred the city and left the farm behind.Standing on the edge of the farm thirty seven years later I see that it has remained entirely the same. The mobile home still stands at the edge and my hatred pierces through the fog of time. But other things come through too; the memory of the warm eggs we’d collect from the clucking chickens, eating sunflower seeds on the front porch, catching frogs in the pond and watching the grass in the fields move like water under a warm summer breeze.
I think about the things the owners left behind and wonder what we might have left. Does the laughter of four boys sit in the dusty corners of the rooms? Do the current owners wake up at night to the phantom shot of a gun and look through the window at a shadow of Midnight running through the fields under the full Carolina moon?We get back in the car, drive down the unpaved road and head back to town. My daughter turns to me and says “Your life was much more interesting than I realized.” I laugh and say “There are so many other stories that I have to tell you.” She smiles and says “You should tell them all to me.” And so I have begun to leave those behind as well.
*For the next ten weeks, I will join a group of people who all want to leave their stories behind in a Memoir writing class. Please be patient with me as I juggle my time spent at work, in class and on this blog.