I gaze about me at the rolling hills of the ‘Funny Farm’. So much looks familiar…yet something is different.
Grandma’s maple tree still stands tall and erect. So does the old gasoline tank near the corn-crib. As the heat swells its rusty sides on sunny afternoons, the gassy old tank makes rude noises. ‘Old Fartful’ booms each day, its flatulence regular as clockwork. Year after year. Generation after generation.
The tired old barns are mostly the same—leaning a bit more to the south, perhaps. A dilapidated windmill creaks in the breeze with its blades long since sheered off by the winds of a forgotten storm.
The sun sizzles in a clear, cloudless sky…spinning across the expanse of heavens. It rises and sets in the usual directions—the same sun that I’ve seen rising over the Redwood forest for the past couple of years. I’ve been gone forever, it seems, living in a distant land behind the “Redwood Curtain” of northern California….
It all seems surreal to me, now.
Aimlessly, I wander into the garden. Picking an ear of corn, I strip off the silk and husks—-sinking my teeth into the raw sweetness. Sugar drips off my chin. Incredible stuff. Raw sweet corn. For generations, my kinfolk have done the same thing. Crunching on raw sweet corn in the hot summer sun.
“Hey, Garden Girl…!” I can almost hear Grandpa’s voice, and see his ghost standing near the fence post, grinning at me. “That corn shore is good, ain’t it?” He would laugh and clap his hands. Grandpa always clapped his hands. I do the same. It’s a family trait. We clap our hands for no reason….for every reason. When we’re happy. When we’re mad or sad or glad. We can’t help it. It’s in our genes.
I toss aside the corncob and turn to leave the garden.
A dark shadow flits across the farmyard. In the coop, the chickens fall silent—even the noisy rooster. The cats turn wary and vanish. The dogs lift their heads and stare. The pigs cease their wallowing. A shriek rends the air as the dark shadow drops lower.
I run across the yard, shouting and waving my arms. “Go away or I’ll have to kill you!” An idle threat. I have no gun—but I sound fierce. The hawk continues to dip and soar, shrieking profanities at me. Eventually, he slides behind a misty cloud and is gone.
Thirteen cats come out of hiding. The dogs return to their naps. The cock crows, pompous as ever. The hens resume their clucking and scratching in the dirt. They have yet to lay a single egg, but they look industrious. The potbellies go back to wallowing in the mud. Fat. Lazy. Content. They live pampered lives. They can’t be butchered for meat. They are family.
Yes, indeed. This is the Funny Farm, the Old Home Place—buried deep in these ancient hills. This is the Farm-that-Time-Forgot.
The screen door bangs on the farmhouse. I can see Mother sweeping the front porch. The stray cats entwine about her feet, but Mom isn’t deterred. She remains spry and feisty for someone who’s almost eighty years old.
Eighty! Is it possible?
No. Of course not. That would mean I am almost a half-century old, myself. And I know that’s not true! I’m still young, swirling and twirling in my dreams, dancing across the barnyard as a full moon rises above these hills.
Dreamily, I wander down the old rutted trail with the trio of dogs by my side: the dachshund, the three-legged mutt, and the big black hound. Small, medium and large. They troop along in an orderly fashion, with the smallest leading the way. We climb the familiar hills, walking the trail that Dad has blazed through the timber—the infamous “Humpty Dumpty Road”—a trail that is as meandering as my father’s thoughts. As whimsical and nostalgic as my own.
The dogs and I circle around to the pond, pausing to rest by the old farm wagon. I lean against the wooden rails, remembering hayrides in the fall, bonfires at midnight, scary stories, snipe hunts. Distant voices echoing across the dark waters…
I look at the boat waiting patiently on the shore. It fills me with a nostalgic longing. How often I’ve paddled those waters, soaking up sunshine, hearing the slap of carp, the splash of crappies. I was so young back then, so full of vim and vigor…and dreams.
Leaning over, I gaze into the watery mirror of the pond. Surely I will see her. The youthful eyes of the farm gal who romped through these hills with a trio of dogs by her side. But no! She’s not there. A crinkled gal is looking back at me, a gal with graying hair and wrinkles.
With a start, I straighten and stare about me at the distant soybeans and cornstalks, waving in the field. It has occurred to me, at last…This nagging thought at the back of my mind.
I realize that the Funny Farm isn’t any different. Not really. It’s me who has changed.
Each new experience alters us forever. The things we’ve seen and done. The people we’ve met. The joys. The disappointments. We may choose to think we are old and set in our ways, but as long as we are alive, we learn and grow and change.
My mindset is different than it used to be. I don’t think like a Midwesterner any more. I’ve experienced too many California earthquakes and strange happenings. Too many odd folks with purple dreadlocks and multiple piercings. Two years of living behind the ‘Redwood Curtain’ have altered me, somehow.
How good it is to come home to these old hills…to regroup, and to romp with the dachshund, the black hound, and the three-legged mutt. To stretch my limbs and clap my hands—hearing the echo against yonder bank. It is the echoing clap of my father…and my grandfather….and my great grandfather before him. The sound makes me smile.
I glance at the trio of dogs who are looking at me expectantly, their eyes intent on my face. I say the words that they are awaiting. “Let’s go!” I say. “Let’s go, boys!” Like spring-loaded jackrabbits, they head for home. Small, medium and large…in that order.
Back to the thirteen cats and a pompous rooster. Egg-less hens and fat, lazy potbellies. The creak of a windmill. The rudeness of ‘Old Fartful’. The thudding of walnuts on a shady lane. The sound of the wind in grandma’s maple tree.
Back to the Funny Farm… The Old Home Place…. The-Farm-that-Time-Forgot.
Ah yes….It’s good to be Home!