I guess I'm getting sentimental in my old age, but doesn't everybody? Why? Because the older you get, the more things change. Change is good, overall, but sometimes it hurts.
Moving back to my other home, my heart fills every time I look around. The red dirt, the bluffs, the trees, all these are familiar from my childhood and have not changed. This makes me feel like I have indeed come home. And yet, some things have changed, and while I know in my head that everything must, it breaks my heart.
My uncle Melvin and I recently took a trip to the cemetery to visit Nana's grave. Once at the cemetery, we took our trip through town. The town is Southwest City, Missouri, and Nana lived all the way through town right before the tri-state cornerstone. She didn't live there her whole life, but that was the house all her grandchildren remember the best. It was the house where we all came every Sunday for dinner. It was the house where our parent's traveled to spend weekends when we were small. I can remember waking up on the living room floor with all my cousins, where our parents had deposited us like so many burritos wrapped in our individual blankets.
The house was down a winding road, and walking up to get the mail was a big trip for little legs to make. I was never old enough to go, and sometimes my cousins got to ride the horse to get the mail. I was never old enough for that either, and by the time I was old enough there wasn't a horse to ride. Nana lived on a farm, and I can remember going with her milk the cow. I would watch her pour off the cream, separate out the butter milk, and pour the milk over oatmeal for our breakfast. Gathering eggs did not just mean from the chickens in the coop. Nana had banties and guineas as well, which involved roaming the fields to find the eggs. I wasn't old enough for that either, denied because I would step on the nests. She had rabbits that she raised for meat, and geese that I don't know why she raised but remember as being very mean. Nana always had bruises on her thighs from those geese, and I can remember seeing her reach out and wring their necks nonchalantly when they were headed for one of us little ones.
She sold the place years ago, and a family bought it but the house later burned. In all these years we had looked in vain from the highway above trying to see what was left, but were always foiled by the leaves during the summer.
This time the leaves were gone, and we could see that nothing much remained. My uncle Melvin pulled up the cattle guard at the top of the hill and asked me if I thought anyone would care if we drove down there. I said I doubted it, but was secretly thrilled that he was going to do it, as I and my cousins had often hovered there too afraid to go on down for fear of trespassing. We started the drive and I cannot tell you how it felt to once again travel down that winding gravel drive. It truly did feel like coming home again.
We drove slowly, commenting on the new barn that didn't used to be there and all the things that did used to be there but no longer were. We were prepared for everything to be gone, but were surprised that the car port remained.
As the truck stopped right in front of the old carport, I said "How many hours have we all spent sitting right here drinking tea?" and the tears started flowing. I got out, and through tear filled eyes, made my way across the cattle guard that I could remember being old enough to walk across for the very first time. This was the cattle guard that my cousin Billy lost his play holster in and all us kids looked for it down there for years but never did find. Funny the things you remember.
We started just calling out memories. How bad a driver Chief (Nana's second husband) was. How there used to be clothes lines strung between the posts. Nana had a dryer but did not prefer to use it. How no one ever used the front door or porch even though it was on the front of the house. The little wooden box with paper and pencil to leave a note and a clock to position on the front for when they had stopped by. The spot where she butchered her chickens. The old tractor seats welded onto posts with circular bottoms that she had instead of lawn chairs. The hooks that had faithfully held the porch swing, still there but empty. The water tank for the horses that used to also be a home to goldfish. The time Chief wanted to try Melvin's new motorcycle and ended up driving it straight into the trash barrel and crashing it. This turned the tears into laughter. We have laughed about that for at least 25 years and probably will till we die. Where the rabbit cages used to be. We wiped tears and laughed and swore there never used to be a tree in a certain spot. I looked at the hill where the hollyhocks used to grow and asked if it didn't used to be steeper. Melvin said no, and I had to trust his memory more than my own.
This one was taken standing in the car port and looking East toward the highway. In the summer the fence row up there is covered with honeysuckle. The fence remains but all the gates made out of wagon wheels are all gone. There used to be irises along the fence in front and no doubt they will bloom again this spring, perhaps unaware that they alone remain the same. Whatever was left of the house has been cleaned up really well. You would never know, could never fathom, the house that used to be there. There was no cellar but there was a basement full of canned goodness from Nana's garden, shining like jewels when the sun hit them. I could still see Chief in that field baling hay in the little square bales. The tractor frequently broke down and how he could cuss when that happened! It was more common to see him working on the tractor in that field than it was to see the bales rolling off like they were supposed to. Something about twine and how you couldn't find parts anymore...........I guess that tractor was probably an antique even then.
These graduated cement blocks surrounded the outside of the shed on the back of the carport. Rabbit cages used to line them on the yard side. I remember being warned not to climb on them from my mother's fear that I would fall. I did it anyway and did not fall, but never when my mother was there. They seem much smaller now, with the lowest set being about shin high on me now. That was the glory of Nana's. We were often there together, us cousins, while our parents were gone or just inside and not paying attention. I do not remember ever getting in trouble there, although we surely did. I do remember a round picnic table, covered with contact paper, that my older cousins put me on once and spun me around until I threw up. I was so sick I could hardly tell our parents that I had wanted them to do that to me. It was even better than a merry-go-round! What I remember is us getting called in to eat and myself making it as far as the screen door before I erped up everything that was in my stomach. The adults asked what had happened and I told them but they interpreted my story as a mean trick the older boys had pulled on me. It wasn't that way at all. I asked for it. I only remember my panic that my cousins would think I had sold them out and my mom almost getting me all the way into the bathroom before I could make it clear that it wasn't their fault. That is the only time that I can remember anyone even coming close to getting in trouble at Nana's.
You can't go home again, I know. And yet. We were home. We were together. Nothing of this earth remains the same, but our memories make another kind of home. As long as we are here together, nothing can ever take our memories. I thank God that I have this time to be home, here, again. With my family that I have been so far away from for so long, I will make new memories. They will never overshadow my old ones, though. This is hald of my foundation, my roots, and my future, all tied up together. Nothing can ever take that away from any of us. No fire, no rebuilding, no tornado, no storm.
Nana's legacy is us, not a house or a farm or even a carport where you might pull up only to find her in her underwear pulling clothes off the clothesline to put on. In Lori's last days, she said to me "Let's go to Nana's", and I was surprised that she remembered. She was a little miffed that I was surprised. Lori said of course she remembered Nana's, because she was so welcoming and that being there was so relaxing. All true, and I can only hope that each of us continues her tradition. We are so very blessed to be part of this family, and need to do better to get together and remember her, and ourselves, the way we should. We can not forget who we are, where we came from, or what is really important in life. Nana runs through all of that, and all of us. We will find our home in each other forever, and where ever location we might be in, a part of us will always be right there on that farm. Sitting outside on the car port, drinking sweet tea, waiting for Nana to call us in to dinner.