I had returned to my parents home on a warm July evening and was immediately greeted with a smell that brought me back to my childhood. The smell of freshly cut alfalfa is one that always causes me to have a sense of nostalgia. If I close my eyes I can go back to waking on those lazy, dewy mornings, a breeze coming through my upstairs window and breathing in that grassy freshness. Most of the time I was praying I could drift back to sleep without hearing dad’s voice echoing up the stairs to get up because there was work to do. Summer on the farm in Nebraska meant laying out irrigation pipe, walking beans and picking up hay bales back in my day. Today it’s been replaced with automated pivots, herbicides and big round bales picked up by tractors. No more loading square bales onto the pickup bed as high as you could and then throwing them up into the hayloft to stack. What fun we would have walking through those piles and making forts in the haymow. The old calico farm cats almost certainly would choose to have their litters of kittens somewhere among the bales of straw or hay. When we saw the mama cats had lost their big bellies we were on the hunt to find those babies. We knew not to get too close or sure enough she would move them so we would keep a watchful eye from afar. Summers meant gardens and beans to snap, sweet corn to freeze, 4-H meetings and livestock to take care of and it also meant a lot of time outdoors. To some the smells of the farm may be offensive and some certainly are. I can’t say I want to relive my scooping manure days anytime soon! However the smell of fresh turned soil in the spring and the rows of ripe cut alfalfa will always bring back fond memories. Life seemed simple then when as a child our biggest worry was finding the newest litter of kittens.
I watch the freckled face girl in pigtails slide into the passenger side of the 1970 two tone teal and white Ford. The off-white vinyl seat is hot to the touch on her bare legs. July in Nebraska can be sweltering but a 7 year old rarely seems to notice such things as she bounces on the seat and slams the door shut. She quickly grabs the handle to roll the window down, sticks her head out, much like a dog would do and turns at him and grins. He has on his usual green khaki work pants and a pair of work gloves in one hand. Quietly and effortlessly he slides behind the wheel then grins back, “Are you ready Snicklefritz?” She smiles, nods and points her pink nose out the window taking in the early evening air as they head around the curve out of town.
This is my memory, almost 40 years ago, of going to the farm with my Grandfather. I close my eyes and can recall exactly what it felt like that warm summer evening. If I could go back in time I would I want to go back and remember it all – the words, the conversation, every single detail of our outing to the farm that day. However I struggle to remember anything but the feelings I had of being in the truck with him. I imagine the long talks we had were the same as we always had throughout the years. I can hear him talk of his fishing trips to Canada, asking about my piano lessons, what books I was reading, of us singing the old songs he would teach me and stories of his childhood. There were always so many stories. Why didn’t I write them down? I want to go back and hear them again, every single one. However I can’t. I could make up something but somehow that doesn’t seem right.
While I desperately want to remember the words…perhaps there were none that day. Maybe I just grinned like a fool with my tongue hanging out the pickup window, wind in my face with my favorite person in the whole world and that was enough. I wonder why this memory stands out so vividly in my mind when I cannot remember a single word that was said? Maybe the point is that there are times in our life when being with someone you love is all that matters. Years later as I sat by my Grandfather’s side as he lay on his deathbed and Alzheimer’s had taken away his ability to speak or recognize me – it was enough. On that hot July afternoon this 7 year old girl had not a care in the world and everything she needed to be happy. It had nothing to do with material things and everything to do with the unconditional love and attention of one man. In a world where we are so quick to buy our children the next latest and greatest toy or take them to the newest attraction we fail to realize that our love and attention are the greatest gifts we can give.
Life is about connections. This I am certain of. I had a connection with my Grandpa that to this day transcends time. After Alzheimer’s overtook his mind, after he left this world, his love for me is still there in countless memories, in so many things I do, even as I write these words I am filled with his love for me.
Like that smiling girl feeling the wind on her freckled face on that summer day in 1974, I am as blessed today as I was then. I only need to close my eyes to go back in time to feel it.