26 Feb Coming Home
It’s time. The fire lanes, I hear, have been ground; there are red flag warnings on the weather site. California may be wet this year, out of drought threat, but the Texas Panhandle remains dry.
It’s time to go home. To check the farm. It’s been on fire twice, once because the highway department truck dragged across high grass in the nearby bar ditch igniting the pasture. The other fire was on the land near town. Someone apparently tossed a cigarette. There are blackened out patches all along this segment of I-40. Careless passers-through who think of the area as expendable, just a part of the boring drive they have to endure on their way to and from California.
To check the house too. It will be 100 years old in 2025. I think about having a party for it, opening its wide baseboards, old burnished fixtures, and clawfoot tub to visitors. But it needs so much work. Old farmhouse, old windows, years of dust. “Bring your own dustpan,” I joke with friends who want to stop by.
I awake lonely this morning before the 400 mile drive there from here in Las Cruces. I like Las Cruces and New Mexico but will I ever feel as at home here as I did in my Panhandle days? There’s something irreplaceable about losing your immediate family. Even those college years when I’d really left home, I visited my parents, napping early Sunday afternoons on their couch as the football games or whatever droned on. It was pure comfort, security–and love.
So when I’m “going home” now it’s more out of duty, responsibility for all the family is gone. Oh, I miss those plains and pastures. The clear throated meadowlark songs like rainbows over my walking road. The far view at the farm looking out toward the Canadian Breaks canyons, despite the rows and rows of giant wind turbines on my neighbors’ land. I feel a sadness in having unwillingly neglected what I can no longer realistically take care of. The house alone needs new windows, paint, inside and out, who knows what that I cannot even see. I worry every time I turn on the lights. I think the electrical wiring dates from the l940s.
But house, you’ve been my old turtle shell, my protector and harbor, through relationships, family loss, the joy of the first crocus. The yard alone is a history lesson. Plants persist there that my great aunt and uncle planted, including a small asparagus bed and until a few years ago the most delicious cling peach tree. They’re all at least 70 years old. My age, come to think of it.
Like old jazz standards you sing along with, wondering where in the world you learned the lyrics of something performed long before you were born, the house feels familiar despite its age–dirt root cellar, old well house, linoleum-covered kitchen cabinet tops: I embrace you all.
I think about selling the house. There’s a surrounding pasture, a barn, the shelter of evergreens I planted long ago. But who would I be if you were gone? The family photo albums, the china cabinet filled with my mother’s china paintings, the cedar chest full of childhood memorabilia of my brother, Roy, and me–where would they go? I’m not living in the past, but I try to take care of history not unlike the Chinese tradition of feeding the elders with offerings on their graves. I say “hello house” when I enter and, after all these years, I can smell the spicy cedar of the back bedroom’s chiffarobe.
But if someone who had historic interests, could restore the house and barn, would love this place, would buy it, wouldn’t that be best?
Thinking of this, I had a local realtor come over one day, as I sang praises to the bungalow, the barn, the iris and lilac and fenced pasture. She was stunned and hardly made it past the front room. “I have no idea who would be interested in a place without a dishwasher or proper garage or washing machine,” she said as she backed out the door. I never heard from her again.
So house and farm, it’s you and me for a few years longer. Probably you’re the loser in this. You are always there, more or less, despite swelling doors and whatever needs care– and I am coming home.