Josh and I were riding around in search of the new feed store in the area with windows down and the local country station cranked up to be heard over the warm Georgia wind. Alan Jackson’s latest song, Small Town Southern Man, just finished playing and Josh turned to me and said, “I hope that whoever that song was written about knew how lucky he was.”
I smiled, nodded, and then became thoroughly lost in thought. You see, I’d returned to The Farm.
In life, there are a few places or events that earn the title “The ______” and when “The _____” is said in your family — everyone knows exactly what you are talking about. In our family, The Farm refers to my grandparents’ several hundred acre farm. It was never Grandmother and Grandfather’s house, but always The Farm. The Farm was sold before I graduated high school and has likely been violated by a subdivision or two by now. I have not returned to see the damage and probably never will. We can’t afford to buy it back. Though it is a danger to my mental health, I sometimes let myself imagine my husband riding around on my grandfather’s tractor or fishing out of one of the ponds where my grandfather taught me to cast using my old bamboo fishing pole. And then I am back:
My grandfather stood beside me alongside the rush of cool mountain water with the peppering of shadow tiptoeing across my bare shoulders, listening to the sounds of the wilderness — both of us in Carharts (mine a size too big) and then in a liquid flash of artful motion he casts. He turned to me and smiled. When my grandfather smiled, he smiled with his entire face — eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, and brows. Being on the receiving end of such a smile can be compared to experiencing stigmatic ecstasy. Bliss.
Yes, there is a reason for everything that happens. I was meant to leave my senses and let myself traipse back to The Farm — my soul needed to feel that smile once more. And in that moment, I felt it and gloried in it. Picture horses rolling in the field post-bath and there I am turning about in the joy his memory gave me in those seconds. Life and death are not so different from one another, I’ve discovered. The gap that separates them is not as broad as we are often led to believe, as we are often comfortable believing. He is not so far from me. Not as far as The Farm.
Of course, not one of my grandfather’s children wanted The Farm or could have maintained it. My uncle is a very nice city-boy and my father lacks any common sense. It was written in the stars for The Farm to be sold and for the love of that land to skip a generation. Of course, I married a man just like my grandfather and we will dream, save, and pray to eventually end up on our own version of The Farm.
And that’s why Alan Jackson’s song and my husband’s wistful comment sent me racing the cloud-shadows over the rolling hills of The Farm. We’ll get there. Just watch.