I can remember, back when I was a very young girl, my father knew I needed a vacation from all things vexing and confusing.
So he hugged me, told me he loved me and said to me, “Why don’t you go visit Aunt Dorothy on the farm for a week? It will help clear all the cobwebs in your head.”
I knew exactly what he meant, too. My head was full of confusion, and I really loved my aunt Dorothy — or so I thought. So I packed my car and headed to the north country. When I got there, I was honestly surprised by all the chores waiting to be done.
“Chores?” I said to my aunt. “That’s interesting.” (I think this was a meeting of the minds, actually, and a well-planned-out plot between my father and my aunt Dorothy, now deceased.)
She had a very messy, overstuffed attic that needed cleaning — and I was still just about the right size to be told what to do.
What I had planned, of course, on this glorious vacation to the great Northern Woods of Michigan, were times of fun and laughter with a few of my zany cousins and maybe a game of croquet or badminton or a trip to a beautiful, serene lake in the country — the kinds of things city girls love to do.
But reality wasn’t prepared to follow my plan. My first ominous clue about that should’ve come from my first meet-and-greet on this visit.
And the strange personality I encountered was the farm’s cranky goose. She was busy, as one would expect, with the maternal duty of protecting. But rather than her precious offspring, the goose was guarding an old, rusty gas pump –used to fill up combines and a vast array of farming equipment.
These mechanical monoliths didn’t fit the fun, play-toy image that cowboy farmers got all “giddy-up” about. Rather, these machines would chop up anything and spit it out in seconds. I learned quickly to keep a safe distance. But to my surprise, I later learned, their guardian, the goose — meaner than most penned-up bulls — was a wise choice as sentinel.
Geese were so deployed by countless farmers in those days, because stealing gasoline was very common. But even the most sure-footed thief couldn’t get past such a wired, web-footed warrior.
Aunt Dorothy, with her sinister, calculating mind already in motion –- and wearing an apron stained with chicken blood — was so happy to see me.
“Come give me a hug, Mary,” she said.
I froze instantly. I immediately thought, “Dad, what have I done that was so terrible?”
Thoughts of kicking back, putting on blue overalls, petting the goats, setting milk out on the front porch for the scrawny, stray barn cats (which I had done on previous summer visits) and swinging from the old rope in the barn out back became a fading dream.
“Chores,” she said? I was being sold off like a child slave to my own relatives.
My aunt’s old farmhouse was the epitome of scary, but nonetheless had much character and a peculiar charm. So, with broom in hand, I slowly climbed the steps that creaked unsettlingly with every soft, calculated footstep I made.
I passed my Cousin Charles’ bedroom on the right (he was away for the summer in Sweden as an exchange student). I peeked in and saw an amazing collage of pictures of the Beatles pasted all over his bedroom walls: those, I liked. I then slowly, and very cautiously, crept past another bedroom on the left and saw a very bleak, sterile room with an iron bed, that didn’t even have a mattress, just the metal springs. Thoughts of some strange bed fellow sleeping there, tethered to an electric wire, with high voltage current running through it, kept turning in my mind. Whoever vacated that room post haste was very wise, indeed. I was chilled to the bone. But the attic door — to my sure doom — still awaited me straight ahead, just up three more lonesome little steps. I don’t know what terrified me more: the thought of what was behind the attic door or my aunt’s old apron, not knowing now if it was really chicken blood or something more evil and sinister.
With the door ajar, a small glimmer lit the room just enough for me to see a path forward. I quickly made a bee-line to the small attic window on the wall in front of me, my feet barely touching the floor. I thought, in my childish ways, that if I made it this far, it must mean I have a future, and don’t really deserve an untimely death.
On looking around, I couldn’t help but notice the cobwebs, hanging everywhere like the sunburnt-tinted lace draped from my mother’s living room windows. In the corner, I spied a tall ladder-back chair, layered with generations of dirt; this was one of the chairs my aunt sent me to retrieve for her dining room. My mission was to bring some antique furniture and small whatnots down for her to dust, admire and show off to her circle of lady friends.
So I took the chair straight away to the window, hoping desperately to bring in more light; I stood on my very tiptoes, as I was too small to see outside without added assistance, and was just able to get my chin upon the sill comfortably.
I wiped the foggy window with the palm of my hand, then opened the window for a fresh breeze. Peering out the window, I could now see for miles on end. The magnificent vista below me was absolutely breathtaking. This perch was the envy of eagles. The green summer meadow was sprinkled with Queen Anne’s lace; it looked as though a host of stars had given up their place in the heavens and come to rest for a short stay upon the soft, waving grass.
Smells of sweet woodruff — which crept along the rambling cow paths–tinged the warm air and dared to confront the dank smell of the dust surrounding me. I could breathe so much better now, with my lungs filling with the fragrance of fresh-mown hay. Earth, to me, now, was crystal clean and deserved my respect and notice–even though it was nothing more than black, sooty dirt that one would wipe briskly from one’s boots. I then captured a glimpse of the morning glories next to the hollyhocks, and followed their wandering trail up and over fence posts and broken-down wooden gates. Most of the outbuildings and fences were in a state of constant flux and disrepair, so to see a splash of color on a rusty piece of farm equipment or a weathered fence that needed mending was a part of the farm’s rich history and imposing tapestry.
The stunning breadth of the prairie outside the attic window kept me in a starry gaze; for it seemed to me that time had lost its momentum, words and language were no longer appropriate; all that was needed was a visual interpretation of the vast hillsides, valleys and the meandering streams that could be seen in a running frenzy for miles upon endless turning miles.
I was convinced that being earthbound was a very foolish burden placed upon humans. How long I stood there in wonderment I cannot say for sure, but it was long enough for my imagination to take over. I envisioned myself (as is the folly of most imaginative children) being lighter than air, soaring through the green maze of the corn fields below, spying for and suspicious of any varmints that would prevail upon my pleasure-filled garden. I fancied myself the surveyor and keeper of all things green and simple; knowing full well this was the Lord’s good earth. My footprints counted for nothing. Nonetheless, this was country. I was smitten.
Scampering down the stairs with my last chair in tow, I was so anxious to tell my aunt what I had seen, and tried desperately to convey to her the amazing landscape laid full out for my purview, just as if God chose this expanse for my vision alone.
But she was totally oblivious to my annoying, run-on chatter, and just kept quietly and contentedly to her needlepoint, like, “yes, and so … we see it every day, come rain or come shine.”
But to a city girl, it was a world away in my own fairy-tale dreams, away from all the cares and clattering in my own head. On that tranquil, summer getaway, I learned to love and appreciate old dusty things — things my Aunt Dorothy referred to as “An-T-ques,” and old people, and old barns and the old ways of good, solid farmers.
My days have been long on God’s good earth but these memories, still to this day, tug at my heartstrings. I will never relinquish the vision of the field corn that stretched in never-ending rows up to the neighbors’ distant doorstep and beyond, and never forget being enchanted by the pastoral music of the old homestead — the quiet, gentle mooing of the Jersey cattle.
After my momentous visit with God’s patchwork design, I found myself never looking back into the dark, recessed corners of the attic for more cobwebs. They disappeared completely from the walls and rafters and from the deep crevices in my hurting brain. Everything ominous and gloomy took flight that day, never to return. The room seemed almost cheery, almost inviting, as if to say, “Come again any time and sit for a spell. We’d love to have you back.”