A few months ago woman mailed me an old picture; a cow in a field of short grass. In the background was a man and a boy on a tractor, they were in straw hats. Even from fifty years away I could still feel the heat of the sun that day. I could smell the grass, now hay, cut and drying in that sun.
All my early summers were spent there. That farm holds treasure, belonging only to me. Forgotten and ignored by the world, only I carry the faded memory of this place now, as if it was an ancient and long-time-gone religion. Me, the sole practitioner, I know the rituals and traditions.
This picture takes me to a time I do not want to ever lose… I stare at the picture for a long time. It could be minutes. It could be hours.
I take pause, and I smell the barn and I hear the cows and chickens, the screaming cicadas of August. I feel the fire in the sky of those brutally hot summers days.
I remember my bed. My back touches the goose down pillows and mattress. The sleep of well earned physical exhaustion, of throwing hay bales and running from copperhead snakes.
Take me back to the day where my greatest fear was copperheads and rattlers. Any day where you reached the sunset not dead from snakebite was a good day, a time to silently rejoice, full knowing tomorrow there will still be snakes. Let me linger there in those boyhood days for a moment longer when the woods were crawling with snakes and quicksand.
The snakes got meaner and more viscous as I aged. I walked out of the woods and the fields and found more deadly vipers on the streets than ever existed in the forest surrounding the farm. I think I drown daily in someone’s quicksand.
Staring at the faded image I taste the cool early morning air of sunrise. I smell the coffee and the eggs from our henhouse, cooking in the kitchen and homemade bread baking.
I touch the wet morning grass, barefoot, and I remember the deepest greens of the tiny manicured lawn, that ran right up to the edge of the manure covered barnyard. Standing still for a moment of the morning and inhaling the scent of the farm and looking skyward at the purest blues.
Days being drunk on the fumes of rotting corn in the silos. Long before vodka and reds consumed me.
The sweet grassy scent, always present, cow shit.
The sting on my ass from the hot metal seat of the FarmAll Cub tractor and the constant fear I would roll that monster, sideways, off a hill.
I remember my uncles tough and hard earned smile, he and I working side by side, shirtless in out straw hats, the brims stained a darker brown from the salty summer sweat running down dark browned skin, decades before anyone ever heard of sunblock.
When we needed to block the sun we sat under a tree.
Then life happened.
I brought the old picture with me today. I came here to hide. I came here to stand on the porch of the farmhouse.
The planks of the deck are rotted now. I walk carefully so I don’t fall through.
I sit in an old wicker chair, a victim of the rain and wind and snow of two hundred seasons, that long time since I last sat in this spot and looked at the field.
There is a richness in the perspective of age and a poverty in the reality that those days and this place are now turning to dust. I realize as I stand here at this place, in this time, it is vanishing from under my feet. Each time the wind blows a little more of the dust that once was this place is scattered to the breeze.
The barn is collapsed in rubble and ruin. I wonder was it a big north wind, or a heavy February snow that took it down. A part of me feels I should have been there to watch that old barn fall. I wonder did it die in a loud and screaming crash or a silent and creaking collapse.
I can no longer smell the cow shit. The scent of the barn long, long gone.
Out behind the house there was a tree, next to the smaller out building. In there we kept a car and a tractor and Sam, the meanest creature to even walk on four legs.
I spent my entire youth knowing that my demise would surely come at the razor sharp teeth of that viscous hound. Only my uncle could go near Sam. Sam would kill anyone else.
I walk up to the tree, a giant and towering oak, up to where Sam’s house was shaded. I remember the tree as a boy, maybe ten feet tall.
I look down at the ground and laugh, fifty years past and I can still see the ground leveled and worn down to the rocks from the pacing paws of that man killing beast.
I touch his tree, Sam’s tree, my fingers feel the bark and I celebrate quietly. I’m standing here and Sam is gone. Off, I’m sure, gaurding some minor back gate of Hell where he belongs; scaring even the devil himself.
I never liked that dog. Nor he, me. No love was ever lost between Sam and I.
I turn back to the house and look inside the windows. Dirty and grey and covered in grime. Streaked stains from raindrops form what looks like muddy tears.
I wipe away the years as best I can with my shirtsleeve and peer inside. Open cabinets and broken dishes betray a mean and dirty end to the warm and loving kitchen.
I see the table, now splintered and rotting with mold. I remember big cups of coffee and my uncles and my father, cigars and conversations about Kennedys and wars and segregation and civil rights and maybe men on the moon and hippies. War was something to be expected and revered around that table. As much a part of life as breathing. Part of being an American, I always supposed.
The sun is fading and I need to leave. The warm day has turned cold. I look back at the overgrown field, to the exact spot in the picture from so long ago. I think about the cow. I’m sorry we ate her. All these years later, it still don’t seem right.