They call it paradise, I don’t know why. Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.” — The Eagles
While revising a few early chapters in my book this week, I came across a short scene that needed a few additions. I started making them, adding details, and 200 words later, I had to stop myself — it was just one scene, after all. But it’s about… the farm.
I could probably write an entire book about the farm. Actually, in second grade and fourth grade I did. My picture books earned me perfect scores from my instructor. But since the slightly longer book I’m working on now is not about the farm (though there are a few pretty major events that happened there), I’ll instead write some more about it here, since I’m just in that kind of a mood now.
You’d think some place so significant, so engrained in me, would be a good distance away… take a little while to get to, not be that accessible. Yet it was only about 20 minutes from my house. You simply drove down one highway for about 5 minutes, got on another highway for about 10 — taking you into a small, unincorporated town — and then this, this was the most crucial part.
Turn left at the blue barn.
I’ve heard the same directions a million times over the years. Someone may have looked at you funny the first time you called the blue barn out as a landmark, but after they made that turn once, they knew… that was the way you got there. And once there, well….
We’d head outside early every morning for “chores;” only me, the city-girl, I never saw our daily responsibilities as chores. My four cousins who had to get up at 5am every other morning did, but I loved them.
We’d start out with the bunnies, filling the water bottles and pellets, careful not to get our hair caught on the metal wires of their cages. “Magic,” the gray bunny with floppy ears, was always my favorite. I usually spent a little extra time at his back-corner pen, petting that soft, fuzzy fur.
Once the bunnies were cared for, we made our way over to the big dairy barn. By then, my uncle had usually brought the cows in for milking. We’d watch him fill his wheelbarrow at the feed shoot, and then, as he emptied a portion into each cow’s trough, we’d follow behind with the cup of their mineral. Maybe it was the smell — sweet, somehow — but I could never get enough. In fact, feeding the mineral was usually the chore I “called” as soon as we got outside.
The calves needed their morning meal too. My uncle would milk the mother cows first, so my cousins and I could fill some bottles and get over to their pens. The female calves always caught on quickest to the whole bottle-feeding thing, while the males slopped all over. I usually walked away with at least a little of the liquid on my clothes. Oh well.
Don’t tell Mom, but after that, my cousins usually drove me around on the tractor to give the steers their food. She’d warned that only my uncle was supposed to drive me on the big, yellow, loader, but sometimes he got busy. Sure my middle school cousins didn’t exactly have a driver’s license yet, but they did this every day… they were pros. I’d sit on those wheel caps flanking the driver’s seat, the breeze blowing in my face fresh will all of those wonderful farm smells — hay, a little bit of manure. Not a care in the world.
After a hearty breakfast served by my aunt, it was time for the real adventures, and let me tell you, we had some adventures. Like the kitten we rescued in the hay barn.
There were always farm cats around. Some, like “Peaches,” an orange, chubby tabby-cat, were regulars. Some came and went, and litters of new kittens running around proved typical. Yet the meow in the hay barn as we climbed the 20-ft stack one day caught us all a little off guard. The poor thing had fallen into a shaft left by a few bales my uncle had removed. So we had to rescue it.
The problem was, it was a tough climb down. I wasn’t going to do it, and though my youngest cousin claimed to be brave enough for the task, it would be nearly impossible for him to climb all the way back up with a kitten in his hand.
Enter the bucket and rope.
The seven-year-old made the trek down into the shaft, wearing oven mitts on his hands (who knew what to expect from a feisty kitten who’d been trapped for a couple of days). My three other cousins and I lowered the bucket down, he deposited the little gray feline (hissing and clawing — good call on the oven mitts), and we pulled it back up. Voila! Saved kitten.
The majority of our adventures were more routine, like riding our bikes down the “dusty trail.” The windy path was supposed to be for tractors, yet its rocks and gravel were nothing a dirt bike couldn’t handle. Some days my cousins and I rode well into the cornfields (again, don’t tell Mom) and got lost in the endless stalks. It took a little time to find our way back, but what else did we have to do?
Campfires were also common place. My aunt would pack up supplies at dusk and walk us all the way down their half-mile driveway to a small wooded area where my cousins had set up a perfect, cozy spot. Sitting on tree stumps, we roasted marshmallows for hours amidst hooting owls and growling bears (okay, the bear was just my cousins’ huge black dog, and he didn’t growl, but if he snuck up behind you on a dark night, it was quite frightening).
Sometimes, our adventures didn’t even stop at bedtime. Half-asleep, the whistle of a train would wake me up. My cousins and I would race to the window to count the passing cars, sometimes topping one hundred. On other nights, rare, but not as rare as you’d think, my aunt would come wake us to go down to the barn to watch a new calf being born. It’s kind of gross to think back to now, but at the same time, hilarious that we’d all stand there, huddled in the middle of the dairy barn in our pajamas, watching my uncle bring a new baby calf into the world.
I’ve quoted one of my all-time favorite songs at the beginning of this entry, the Eagle’s “The Last Resort,” which suggests a place called paradise can’t last forever. And the farm didn’t. My cousins grew up and my aunt and uncle sold it eventually. A turn down that road by the big blue barn doesn’t take you to the same place anymore.
But it doesn’t mean I can’t get there.
The picture books from elementary school, and the manuscript I’ve recently completed (side note, there are a number of more fun stories in that), are only a sampling. The rest is all in my head.
A childhood’s worth of memories.