Country Roads, Earth, Wind, and Fire: Defining Elements of "That One Memory" of childhood on a farm

in Silver Bloggers4 months ago (edited)

Dirt was a fact of our childhood.

Digging in the garden, working in the field, running barefoot down dusty roads and coming back coated in off-white. Earth, Wind and Fire, too, though we have no old snapshots, no videos, that would capture our loud and windy world. My sister's husband, city-born and raised, had never known such ever-present wind.

Dirt roads turned to mud and ruts back in the day, and even now (this is a 2019 photo I snapped), it feels like going back in time a hundred years when I drive the gravel roads to my parents.

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But I have no room to speak: less than half a mile from where I live now, in the 21st Century, this dirt road floods every spring. Our dogs love it. Cars, not so much!

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Kids on country roads rode the big yellow school bus...not gonna talk about that part of it, not today.

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"Country Roads,"

The kind John Denver sang about, might make you think of the colorful, fanciful side of a childhood bordered by dirt roads. So, never mind the snow plow, the wash-outs after a flash flood, the things you hear about in third-world countries but don't expect to experience in modern America. Go ahead, picture the pretty part of it all. The bunnies, the blossoms, the scent of clover hay, the fleecy white clouds in the blue, blue sky. This 1980s greeting card (sorry, I can't find it now to locate the artist!) came from my sister:

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Dirt, dust, the ping of rocks on the underside of the car, the chalky white coating on windows, vehicles, line-dried laundry, shoes, and bare feet. I barely even gave it a thought, until I graduated college and got a job in town and lived on pavement ever after. Every trip back to the farm, I'd go back covered in dust. Just part of life in the country.

My own children were born "in town" -- and we farm folk would always pity such children -- but on the bright side, town life meant music lessons, dance classes, clean feet, and other hallmarks of civilization. If there was dirt to be found, or sand, my kids would find it, and gravitate to it. I had the "dirtiest" children in the neighborhood, back in the day. New houses were going up all the time, and before our daughter could walk, she was crawling up dirt mountains with her big brother. No, I'm not gonna inflict on you share every dang family photo here, but this one, I cannot resist. Here is Claire in 1994:

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This same daughter grew up to be a fashion design major. Inspired by her Liberian-born fiance, she used African wax prints for her senior project. These are dresses she designed and sewed, modeled by women walking down the road, a modern, paved road, not the dirt roads of yesterday.

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Earth, Wind, and Fire

Growing up on a farm, the proverbial Earth, Wind, and Fire defined our daily lives, along with Rain, Snow, and all things Weather. The weather was the first thing we'd ask about: not "How are you," on answering the phone, but 'How's the weather?"

These photos seem to capture the closeness to the earth that defined my childhood. Mom, burning off weeds in the garden, and Dad, burning debris after pruning trees in the grove. I'm trying to focus on one thing here, the dirt road of my childhood, but in the background of my mind I keep hearing "Fire is the devil's only friend" from the Don McClean song Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. Because....no, not because I cannot forget the 79-yeard-old woman who died when her brush fire blew out of control (one gust of wind! One little gust! That's all it takes!)--ok, yes, I am haunted: what a way to go, and there but for the grace of God go I. And yet, and yet, I remain a pyromaniac.

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Fire was fun as well as functional,

and dangerous, always, of course. BUT. In our politically incorrect 1970s high school, Homecoming festivities began with a parade and a bonfire, with the uniform of the opposing team being burned in effigy. My sister Julie, Class of 1975, snapped this iconic scene:
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This meme--I wish I knew who to credit!--just has to be included here. Must I explain why?

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Fire, Fire, Fire,

The final solution, the sanctifying way to banish weeds for a season or to reduce abandoned homes to rubble. I fear it will be the fate of this forlorn farmhouse. Sister #2 of the 5 raised her daughter in this house, a mile from our family farm, within walking distance of the grandparents. It still stands today. Empty.

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I'm trying to focus on "One Childhood Memory" but my mind is on my dad, who now has dementia, whose farm is in ruins. Only four years ago, I shot this photo of my dad with his first great-grandchild doing what all kids love doing on a farm, commandeering the tractor seat:

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While I'm still derailed, allow me to sneak this in: I need to believe that something of my father's father lives on in my son, though Grandpa died half a century before Miles was even born. Ridiculous, I know. But it haunted me when Miles came home from school saying his history teacher asked the students to name their great-grandfather, and none of them could, though he kinda/sorta thought "Emil" but couldn't come up with the other great-grandfathers (and no, I'm not gonna do the exponential 2-4-8-16 thing). Just, here is Miles, here was Emil at the same age:

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Getting back on track, I will add this recent shot of my mom at age 83, in better shape than a lot of women half her age.

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Duly note the cows! Still part of our world, or our neighbor's, anyway.



And now, and always, I come back to this.

A certain dirt road, five miles from home.

This one.

Here, in March 1976, my sister was found dead in a ditch, that childhood phrase parents would warn teen drivers with, but that isn't what took her down. This newspaper photo, this caption: "The dark, earthen area ... where the body of Julie Ann Benning was found" - how does a mother, a father, a sister, read those words and find a home for them inside their minds, and just move on? For half a century, we have learned to "Live in the now" and not be defined by this tragedy, but Julie is a fact of life, a fact of death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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But DEATH is not the final word!


Does any story truly "end" with death? The story goes on. New players, new plots, or not:

"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." ― Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

If the dirt road of my childhood is "That one childhood memory that lives with you", I will also take heart in seeing the great-grandchildren running down this road. Yesterday, my grandchildren met their Germany cousin for the first time: Julia, namesake of the oldest of the five sisters who grew up on this farm, which still exists, with its dirt roads, in defiance of all that is modern, all that is "civilized." Julia of Germany is on the far left (Goats belong to our neighbors, not my parents.)

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I am a grandma now. Whenever I go back to my childhood home, this fact of life still amazes me. Here is my daughter, with her youngest of three, and me:

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And here are her older two, legs chalky-white with dust, running down the road with their newly met cousin Julia, making new memories at the old home place where it all began:

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Life is good. Life goes on.

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Oops, not to leave out my mother from this one....this was yesterday. Greatgrandmother with lap kittens.

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With Intermittent Fasting (pick your 16-hour window to fast, ZERO calories, every day) she has lost 20 pounds. For me, nothing else has worked except for this, and any medical practioner who advises against fasting should not over-generalize.

Eh. I found a photo of her, snapped by me in June, and added it to the original, because when do I ever stop hitting that EDIT icon???

OMG I am in tears here! What a roller coaster of a post!

Love the ending, the goodness, the dirt road as the central theme. The road of life, ruts, abandoned homesteads (love that house), smooth rides, tractor rides, your sister Julie (which never stops shocking me), Julia, your parents. It's all here in a way that only you can put it together.

xo

Thank you so much--you articulate what I wanted to express better than I did. :) You poets! I hear a haiku almost every time you comment on any random thing.

The road of life,
ruts, abandoned homesteads,
smooth rides

Eh. Nope, can't haiku it after all, but smooth rides and tractor rides will stay with me! Thank you again for the kind words.

Oh, Carol... what a great post! This is one of my favorites from you, of all time.

Thank you Rhonda!!!

WHY is my upvote worth ZERO today.....

How beautifully you tell your story and what lovely messages within, thank you for sharing this with us all xx
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Thank you!

Thank you so much! you are my kind of people, focusing on "health & wellness - body, mind, soul and earth" - I must find more time for more communities!!

my god I have never seen such abject poverty.. This place wherever it is needs a go-fund me immediately..

LOL!! Abject poverty! Rural roads all over America are terrible. Maybe worse in the Midwest, with our extremes of weather?

These people have to be rounded up and put in reeducation camps so they can conform to the urban society.. to become dependent on government, and democratic voters..

lol. First @carolkean gets the tears running down my face, then you get me laughing. I've fallen off my tractor here.

I like to kid around with Carol.. I think she gets my wacky humor..

Yes, Mike, I do!
@owasco you remind me of that song "My Irish Molly O," with "off my tractor" - vs "I'm off my trolley" in the song. You have a great line for everything.

This was a really lovely post!
Reading this post brings back some of my own memories...I graduated from high school in 1973, so I can relate to some of the things in this post. 😊

Thank you so much. I'm guessing you rode the big yellow schoolbus, too....

Why, yes, yes I did! 😀

Wow! What a beautiful post. So well written. I loved every bit of it.

Aww, thank you!!!

Thanks for sharing your experience with us!
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Thank you so much. Another community to join! I've got to start keeping up! #lifehappening - love it!

What beautiful memories @carolkean, your mother is like an oak at her age, she looks full of health, thank God for that. Children seem to enjoy going to your childhood farm and it shows. They will also have in their childhood memory the farm of their great grandparents.

An 80+-year-old oak - great image. I like that.
Family farms are dying out, falling by the wayside. Like prairie remnants.
The rutted, dusty roads may have us saying "good riddance," if/when these areas of the country modernize. (Don't even get me started on slow internet speeds - GLACIALLY slow!)
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. :)

great post. loved every bit of it. you had a full life. kids need to be spending more time out there in the dirt as well instead of screening.

Thanks, and I agree. My grandkids may live in town, but their daddy's garden, full of earthworms and ground cherries (their favorite, inexplicably), strawberries, and peas, is their favorite place.

 4 months ago  

I was from the countryside myself before moving to the city. We had the same dirt roads and sometimes these were flooded.

Flooded, and frozen, and washed out... but memorable. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Loved this post and the memories.

Oh, gosh. What a ride. Thank you so much for this.

Oh, gosh. What a ride. Thank you so much for this.

Life can be a rollercoaster for sure, I often think of life as a road with all its twists and turns, you've told your life story beautifully @carolkean!
Thank you for this awesome #bow entry!

Love your skill as a writer and storyteller, Carol. I can relate as your memories of childhood and growing up in the countryside are similar to mine. I have memories Dad burning the grass and everyone helping to make sure it didn’t get away.

Your son, Mile, does have a look of his great grandpa, especially nose and mouth.

Your sister Julie’s unfortunate passing will forever leave an emptiness in your heart. 🤗 I hope the truth of what happened to her comes out one day.🙏

Lovely happy photos of your family and grandchildren. True indeed, “Life is good. Life goes on.”💕

Thank you for the kind words, @redheadpei. You have suffered some great losses yourself, yet your writing reflects hope and fortitude. Soldier on! Soak up some sun, keep breathing - we never get to know why, or who, or how, it seems, but we have to go on. Thanks again. :)