In an all too bittersweet moment, my family has gathered in Somerset, Kentucky to visit some old family property one last time. My mom’s cousin currently owns it, but she just had the house and all of the property auctioned off recently. So this is it – one last look around the old farm.
I’m amazed as I take it in. My mom and aunt tell a bit of the history of the place – how this outbuilding was the old wash house, how this one was the smoke house. The barn, unpainted and untreated and built 100 years ago, is still standing strong. Surveying the panoramic view from the house, I’m suddenly saddened that this will be my last visit. My grandpa loved coming down here where he was truly in his element. He positively glowed when he was “back home,” sitting on the porch or eating pie at Lois Jean’s kitchen table while her husband played guitar and sang.
It was grandpa’s heaven. During my childhood, we’d come down for a summertime visit every few years. The allure of the farm animals always kept me amused. Cats were everywhere and cows were in the pasture close to the house, tails swishing constantly. They were in a pasture next to the driveway and were usually the first thing I’d see. I also loved seeing the horses. My mom still has the old picture where I’m riding on one, led very proudly by my grandpa.
By the time I reached my teens, I wasn’t interested in the farm anymore. I liked the mall, my friends – the burbs. I had no appreciation for the work involved in keeping a farm running and wouldn’t even entertain the thought of touching the animals or riding on one. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to live that way, with the animals and the big horse flies and the quiet of the place.
Now, standing on top of this hill, I see this place in a different light. I’m older now, a lot busier and a lot less concerned with being just like everybody else. Now, I see this place as a refuge from my all-too familiar world. It represents a simpler time. The silence is intoxicating.
We take one last look around and leave for the tiny cemetery where my grandpa’s father and two brothers are buried. It’s a tiny little plot of land that sits behind a few white frame houses on a hill. While looking at the graves, I’m re-introduced to the tragedies of living in the 1930s.
My grandpa’s father and little brother drank tainted water from a creek and fell ill – apparently from typhoid fever. Within days, my great-grandmother lost her husband and her youngest son. Without her husband to run the farm, my great-grandmother moved to Cincinnati to find a job. The children were split up and sent to live with relatives until she sent for them. It was a hard life, but as that generation did so well, they survived.
The other brother died either at childbirth or shortly thereafter. The three little headstones are unmarked.
We drive past a few old sites – the clearing just around the corner where the original family cabin was located, an old farm down the road where my great-great aunt used to live. There are small wooden houses with tin roofs, old barns on the verge of toppling over and old men sitting on front porches. I expect to see them whittling, just the way grandpa did.
As we stood by the house on that old property, I felt in some small way that I got to visit with my grandpa one last time. There was something in the feel of that place, something in the wind and the trees and the fields. The memories were all there – memories of him so happy and so full of life.
I heard a country song not long after our return from the trip that seemed to sum up the whole experience:
“There’s a black-top road, a faded yellow centerline. It can take you back to the place, but it can’t take you back in time.”
Heather Y. Miller