Even as I write this, fingers flashing across the screen of my phone-slash-computer-slash-camera, I am amazed at progress and technology; amazed at what we can discover about our world. These days we stab the Google icon and we are transported across the globe to discover the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of something, information is at our fingertips and we seem to accept that information as ‘good enough’. While we are young and as we are growing we touch, we taste, we listen, we feel; we participate in our world. It seems that as we grow older and busier we tend to settle for conceptual learning rather than experiential even when the opportunity is there to actually ‘do’ something, i.e. reading about dodgeball rather than actually playing the game. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a well-thrown red playground ball as it flattens around your head and drives you into the dirt, (that’s not a legal hit by the way- Torso and limb shots only). Perhaps that is why some memories are so vivid. It is seared into our minds by touch and sound; we remember the taste of salt in ocean water, we remember feeling the sunburn from a particular 4th of July day. We remember the taste of wild strawberries on a hillside at midday. Every summer we would spend a few weeks at my Uncle and Aunt’s farm near Empire, Michigan. Springdale Farm was paradise to children brave enough to explore their world. At the Farm the nearest neighbors were a quarter mile away, woods and meadows dotted by horses and cattle nestled in with summer cottages and the tourist shops such places engender. Many times we arrived late in the evening. Now I see the wisdom of my parents as they set off for the Farm late in the day. My brother and sister and I were already in pajamas fast falling asleep amid blankets and pillows in the back seat of a Dodge Dart or Plymouth Fury, (my dad’s favorites) my baby sister Kelly Jo was usually in my mom’s arms or lap for the three hour trip from Grand Rapids. ‘The faster you fall asleep the sooner you’ll get there,’ my dad would say. We didn’t believe him but he was right. Sleep brought my dad a peaceful trip and us a quick passage of time. Mom would wake us as we neared The Farm and we’d sleepily hear the tires crunching the gravel of the driveway. Barely conscious we stumbled into the house lulled even closer to sleep again by my Aunt’s quiet tones or my cousin Betty’s soft touch giving direction to warm beds with dreams of forest paths, sunshine, sand, and Petoskey stones.
Waking in the morning brought a momentary disorientation followed by recognition and a subsequent dash down the stairs and across the living room to look out the big picture window framing the barn, and beyond it the old schoolhouse. If I were lucky I could watch as a group of wild turkey made their way through the back yard and along the driveway, oftentimes following Aunt Louise like chickens as she spread corn around and into the feeder. Still in my pj’s I’d make my way out the screen door and down the porch stairs that led into the back yard. The dew covered| grass was cold on my feet as I walked through the yard looking out toward the woods for deer. Many mornings we’d wake to find Aunt Louise looking out the kitchen window at a handful of does and one or two majestic looking bucks as they made their way along well used paths. In my excitement I wanted to do everything now! Ancient apple trees and plum trees laden with fruit beckoned, raspberry bushes marched in an orderly line in the garden, rows of corn filled a larger garden beyond the yard, outbuildings and old cars sat waiting with grasshoppers, snakes, and toads! I looked up beyond the garden and outbuildings,
up to the top of the big hill where a massive tree had fallen during a storm: my own personal jungle-gym, and woods and valleys to explore. My earliest memories of Uncle Frank & Aunt Louise’s farm had hay in the barn and cows nearby or grazing on the big hill behind the barnyard.
I remember too, at some point the cows were gone, the barn sat silent , Uncle Frank painted houses and a life done right rolled on. He would come and go while we played around the fields and hills, sometimes waiting anxiously for his return. ‘today Uncle Frank is going to make ‘tree whistles’ for us!’ or ‘today Uncle Frank said he’d make us ‘berry pie!’
Even now, making the trip North and rolling into the driveway Uncle Frank and Aunt Louise have passed but my cousin Betty stands at the door with a wave and a smile. The Farm pulls me in close and wraps itself around me. Memories of childhood excursions filled with laughter and joy fill my heart and rest comfortably in the corners of my mind. I see my brother Mike and Sister Shannon running ahead, up the hill, calling out at every discovered wild strawberry patch and tart dewberry. Mom, with a basket, follows with baby sister Kelly Jo in a backpack chair. Aunt Louise packed us a picnic lunch to eat at the top of the hill. The fallen tree, my personal Jungle Gym, is calling and the sun is shining.