He’d asked me a couple of times during my foolish, younger days, if I thought he’d been born yesterday. I was getting older and realizing maybe I had thought so, back then.
It was 2013. After trying to write something for Father’s Day gift, I came up with a list of questions instead. I wanted to know his stories. Too fresh off the keys, I let them sit a while and gave him purple calla lilies instead. I mentioned it would be nice to ask him one day about life on the farm. Two weeks later we were driving the back roads of Iowa, to the lane I remembered as Grandma and Grandpa’s.
“There used to be a school house there.” he said, as we were halfway down the gravel path. He remembered a performance of “Pop Goes the Weasel” at a special open house night and the excitement of new school shirts ordered from the catalog. He’d looked forward to going, but it closed just before he was old enough. With only a few shrubs and corn left in its place, he painted for my mind the bridge crossing a spring into a tree-sheltered space. There were willow trees and the enchanted school yard he played in long after it was vacant. I could hear children’s voices through the rustling weeds.
Further on toward the house, the two red barns built on each side of the lane, like a gateway to the farm yard, weren’t there like I remembered. The cattails weren’t lining the creek. I was hoping to pick some for my girls.
Just before that place of the missing barns was a corner of field where grandma had a garden. He remembered how he would go with her and help like a 4 year-old can and loves to do. He had a few years there with her to himself while the older ones were down the lane at school. I don’t know that I had ever thought of him so small.
The house was hollow; locked to us, but open to critters through the missing upper window. I remembered the smell inside, the cuckoo clock on the wall, the plastic flowers blooming year-round, and the scary, hairless cat which held the toilet brush. I remembered my grandpa in his pinstriped pajamas; the mud room with the enormous freezer holding meat they had raised just past the yard.
We walked out back and imagined the rabbit hutches and more trees than now. In the shade he’d played with his brothers. The oldest made impressive, miniature farm equipment and buildings. When the rain came through, they had a bridge for navigating the creek that would form in the middle of their toy farm.
We followed the terrace along the cornfield behind and I saw corners I never knew. One bordering creek separated into two and joined again, leaving an island full of trees and wildlife. It was there that my dad traveled afar.
We walked through corn that was once both pasture and baseball field when work was done. Over the fence was the neighbor’s field where my dad would catch gophers. Two front feet brought to the courthouse was 10 cents and the farmer would double it.
There was a lot of empty space. Lots of stories of “in this spot we did this” or “this used to be there.” The hen house stood quiet with hay still in its boxes. A hoop hung from the wall of the milking room, the makeshift basketball court. There were no wild cats like I had found in bales of hay on visits as a child.
We talked long, sitting and looking over our sandwiches and rolling fields from the top of the lane. Singing birds and the swaying grass overgrown accompanied our conversation.
As I reflected on that day in all that quiet left on the farm, in the spaces left wanting, there was something born that day. My dad and his stories were born in me.
And I’m thankful for my God who sees voids and fills them, makes the unknown familiar. He took chaos and deep, moved over it, and created. And I’m thankful that His creation, which can happen by a word, in a moment, is still moving and filling and happened to us on a Once-Upon-A-Time farm in Iowa.