“You may delay, but time will not.” -Benjamin Franklin
The Lay of the Land
My grandfather’s farm was a sacred place to me. The long gravel driveway stretched up the hill to the old white farmhouse, surrounded by a white picket fence in the front yard, and acres to roam in the back. It was a dairy farm off of Kedron Road in Spring Hill, Tn. It was one of many in the area at that time (and good luck trying to find one there now). It was mostly level farm land after you ascended the hill in the front. Whereas level is a relative term, as generally speaking around this area that means slightly rolling hills, and so it was. Occasionally, the contour of the land would change and it would gently slope down into a thicket of trees or follow the slow curves of the creek that ran through the center of the property. This creek is what I would always use as a dividing line between the front and back fields. Cows would graze there on either side of the creek. It, being a dairy farm, of course, had plenty of fencing to go around. This further divided the land, at least in my eyes, between the day and night grazing area of the cattle. So, the fields the cattle would graze upon in the day would be different from the night and vice versa. But no matter what side of the fence you were on, day or night, all would end up at the holding pen’s east or west gate that was adjacent to the dairy barn on the south side. There was plenty of space, over 300 acres, and for the most part the grazing cattle would not mind you being among them and would give way to your presence. At the very least, they would just ignore you were there altogether. That of course would all change at times, such as when a baby calf was born, and then all bets were off as to their acceptance of you being around. I witnessed firsthand what a protective mother cow is capable of, and let me just say that the advantage goes to the 2000-pound animal about 100% of the time.
Milking was done twice a day, early in the morning and in the afternoon, usually about the time you were getting off the school bus after school. This was done every day. There was no time off, no sick days, no vacations or holidays. It had to be done. That was the way it was. It was not a job, more of a way of life. You learn a lot on the farm, like the value of good honest work. You also learn quickly that when you are called to get out of bed in the morning, you get out of bed in the morning. I learned this lesson well one early winter morning as my grandmother (Granny as she was known to us) woke me and said it was time to get started for the day. I was sure she was mistaken about the time, and was almost positive it was not even morning yet, to be honest. It was pitch black outside for starters. And judging by the amount of my own breath I could see in front of my face; I was sure it had to be too cold to start anything, outside of a fire in the wood burning stove. So, I made a quick decision to hit the snooze button on this particular morning. I am not sure how long I slept or how much extra time I wasted in bed, but what I do remember to this very day, is the smell and feel of a wet mop in my face, and my grandmother grinning as she held the other end. I cannot be sure if the wetness was from clean sink water or if it was left over from the day before when she mopped the kitchen. It did not matter. I was up with my feet on the cold floor and was cured of my darkness phobia instantly. We both got something valuable that winter morning. She got a great laugh at my expense, and I learned that when Granny asked you to do something, you did so without hesitation. Truthfully, I never recall my grandmother asking me twice to do anything, ever again.
Many times, I complained (mostly to myself as no one around me seemed too concerned if I did not feel like working) about having to get up early, haul hay in the stifling heat of summer, or feed the cows that same hay on a bitter cold winter morning just after breakfast. Yes, many times, I complained…but what I would not give to be doing those same things today. Funny how certain things become a part of you, make you who you are. We learn more about ourselves from our scars, our mis-steps, and our mistakes than we do our successes. Our past shapes us like water over rocks. It molds us into what we are by changing how we see things. Our perspective is shaped by our experiences, our desires, our biases. Over time, the lens we see life through changes just as the seasons change. The eyes of my youth have given way to the eyes I see with today. But no matter my perspective, I am always changing and morphing into what I will become. We all are! Hopefully, we will become what we are called to be, and that is a better version of ourselves than when we first began. After supper on the farm, I would usually head back to the dairy barn and sit on a fence post by the holding pen. From there I could see the evening grazing of the cattle that were just recently milked. I would look west and from my perspective, and with the cattle in the foreground, I could see the sun as it slowly descended down the sky behind them and hid behind the hills. The pictures and colors are vivid in my memory, and like most sunsets and all the little things in life that move you, completely indescribable with mere words.
Ben, Richard, and Herman
My grandfather named most of the cows he milked on the farm. He would talk to them and call them by name on most days. Occasionally, their stubbornness would show and then my grandfather in turn would show his stubbornness. What resulted was the stuff of legend in our family, and then the names that the cows were given were a bit more colorful and probably should not be uttered in public. Likewise, the bulls also had names. The bulls were docile for the most part, but like humans, they all have unique personalities. The names would change over time and then so would the personalities. You had to learn which ones you could casually stroll through or perhaps ride your bike through on one of the many cow paths that spiderwebbed out from the barn and spread out over the farm. Ben was big and docile, a black angus bull that really didn’t seem to care what was going on around him. I think he was older when I first met him and had just resolved himself to doing what he wanted the remainder of his days. Richard, like Ben, was a black angus bull with a pleasant disposition. He would be considered a lady’s man, as he always seemed to be more concerned with what time the milking was over so he could meet with the cows at the gate and wait for their release back to his side of the fence. Herman, the big Holstein bull, was cut from a different mold. He was big and strong with horns protruding out from either side of his head about a foot that made him look like some black and white demon. When Herman was around, you always had the feeling he was watching you; just waiting for you to make a mistake, turn your head, stray too close to his inner circle. The big bull had a sense of entitlement. He was the strong and silent type that just seemed to sneer at you. You know when you walk into a room and there is that one guy who just knows he is the toughest guy in the room so he doesn’t need to brag about it. That was Herman! You just got the feeling that he knew that no fence on the farm could contain him and no gate could hold him in. In his mind, I think he thought he was only staying around because he felt like it at the time. The day we sold him to another farmer close by, it took six of us to load him in the trailer. Truthfully, I think that he just got fed up with us, decided that he wanted to leave on his own accord to search for greener pastures, and that he was indeed the master of his domain. I was not going to argue his point face to face. Big Herman was gone in an instant. Gone, but not forgotten.
The farm I once knew is unrecognizable these days, and only us few that remember it as it was back then can even tell it existed. One single building remains on the property that I once knew, and it has been moved from its original location. It was a shed that housed farm equipment, and I remember roaming through from time to time while dodging the dive-bombing barn swallows who were nesting in the cracks and crevices near the roof. It seems strange to see it there now. So distant and so out of place. I know how it must feel. Indeed, I feel I am a stranger in a strange land. If allowed, the land covers her past and heals her scars with soil, grasses, and trees. A shrub stands where a soldier once fell, wild blackberries grow where a young Native American slew his first deer, a forest grows wild over land that was once scorched by fire. She hides her secrets well. On occasion, with the help of a rusted plow blade of yesterday or the bulldozers and excavators of today, her soil is overturned and her secrets are revealed. Relics from the past are unearthed, as a small reminder to us all, that we really only borrow this land temporarily. People, as well as beasts, some great and some small, once roamed the places where we now stand at some point in time. But what nature does over time; we do in an instant. Machines level forests and concrete covers old hay fields. A highway now runs over the hill where the old farmhouse once stood. Rows of houses stand on land where I walked, explored, and played. I am saddened that I cannot visit the places I wandered as a child. The experiences live on in my memories and I fondly look back from time to time. And while I know that there are some things that should remain in the past for all of us, it is comforting to me to remember this farm and the way things were. Who knows? Maybe in one of those many houses on one of those many streets, there is a child there who is outside playing. Maybe one day he or she will look back and remember the same land with the same type of reverence. They will not recall the land in the same way as I do of course, but their memories of that place will be no less strong and no less sweet. I hope that for them at least. Seasons change and time marches on. I know that looking back too often will hinder my progress forward. I know that memories can sometimes change as we move farther away from our past. We embellish some things, albeit unintentionally at times. That is why that 3lb bass we caught when we were ten years old has now become the 12lb monster of today. I remember things in a way that my brothers do not, even though we are remembering the same event that happened at the same place in time. Memories are just flashes in my mind’s eye on some of these events nowadays. They are little moving pictures with excerpts of scenes from a film that are on the cutting room floor for the janitor to sweep up the next day. Some are blurry and some are as clear as if they happened this morning. I wonder what we will leave behind for the next generations. I wonder what secrets will be revealed to those who are wandering and seeking in the future. I wonder what tomorrow brings for each of us here now. I wonder what happened to big Herman.
Long ago when I was a child,
I spent days on end just running wild,
Over land of green, under bright blue skies.
My mind was open, and my eyes were bright—so bright.
And I would eagerly await the coming night,
To peacefully dream of what I might
Become in the next day’s rising sun.
And overnight, it seems, I was amazed,
To see my spring fade into summer days,
A carefree spirit came under siege.
My mind was troubled and my eyes a rolling storm—a storm.
The seldom struggles became the norm,
And sleep was hindered by a shadowy form
That stole my innocence like a thief.
Time, like water, swept through, eroding my yesterdays,
My summer became Fall with the fading sun’s rays,
Slowly melting away into the far west.
My mind was cloudy and my eyes a flickering fire—a fire.
And the once vibrant land slumbered at noon,
Remembering Mays, Marches, and Junes
That slipped away silently in the night.
Now the land of my youth lies barren and cold,
The dead weight of winter on beds of old
Into the twilight, darkness gathers at my gate.
My mind wanders and my eyes grow dim—so dim.
And I eagerly wait the coming days sun,
The peaceful sleep like a gentle stream runs
Over purifying rocks, I will empty into the endless sea.
© 2021 Kelly Andrews
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