My two favorite spots on the farm were up at the old hickory and out on the island in the middle of the pond. From the old hickory one could see all over the acreage that comprised the farm. It was a great place if you had to do some thinking. Despite the presence of the family cemetery it was quiet, relaxing and peaceful. On a hot summer's day if there was a breeze to be found, it would be up there. The early evening hours afforded the most remarkable sunsets of wildly painted skies. When the moon was full and I had the chance to, it was always worth the walk in the moonlight. In the spring and fall, natures changing of her clothes was on full display. Early on I noticed the subdued explosion of color as the hardwood trees would shed their long winter's dormancy and their leaf buds would burst forth, showcasing the colors of a season yet to arrive. In the fall, when the seasons of renewal and growth were slowly coming to their conclusion, the signs were first visible from high atop that hill. Fall was the season of glorious splendor, crops were in, the last of the hay had been mowed and bailed, the years beef and hogs off to market and the fields prepared for a long winter's rest. As the days shortened and the temperatures cooled, the surrounding woodlands created a fiery palette of colors at mother natures beckoning.
It has been written, to everything there is a season and a season to everything. Nowhere is it truer than on a farm. The cycles of life were magnified on a farm and up at the old hickory, one was able to distance themselves from the daily grind and observe the splendor of the magnificently framed, ever changing larger picture. I often sought perspective from this vantage point, the need to place in order the events happening all around and within me. The old hickory was always there, the hills, river, fields and forest would always be there. The old stonewalls were another constant reminder, I was but a temporal soul simply passing through. While I knew my time was limited I would often forget this in the excitement and rush of daily living. When I was sitting up at the old hickory in the presence of those who tilled and worked the land before me, it made me comfortable and gave me a sense of belonging. It was here that the wars raging within me, were understood and dealt with.
My parents at times couldn't fathom way I wanted to choose this sort of life, away from the books and learning. That they and those before them, had created an artificial life, where sustenance was derived from those in the trades. They were so far removed from the actual process of what constituted the life they lived, that they failed to see the connection to the world I loved.
Everything is joined together, basic science tells us this. It takes all parts of the whole functioning together to keep us going. Without my parent's world, improvements in daily living would not be possible, you need ideas after all. Life on the farm today is much easier than twenty, thirty or a hundred years ago. And yet without the farm and the industries that exist below the world of ideas, that world, their world would cease to exist.
There's a basic honesty in dirt, a simple pure honesty. What you put into it, you'll get out of it. What you do to it, is how it will treat you nothing more and nothing less. There's no deceit, lack of effort is readily apparent, it demands an honest day, everyday. We are after all…dirt, we all come from dirt, we spawn in dirt and it is to dirt we'll return. We eat dirt, wear dirt, breathe dirt and create dirt. Dirt is what we do best. It's really all we'll ever know.
It was something my folks thought anyone of good sense would want to overcome. Being teachers at the local community college gave them a bad case of the aspirations, especially when it came to their offspring. We were under a perpetual case of expectations that couldn't be cured. I believe it is a disease that was spawned in the dirt of where you came from or were trying to escape from. They were to smart for petty arguing over the daily matters of life. They simply knew better and knew of the better way. It was silly, and when I really think back on it and with the best of intentions, it was self-serving and sanctimonious.
We sacrificed many things on the altar of expectations. We were a family but one where relationships were cordial not familial. We all had our roles to play like so many impersonal units. It wasn't what you were or who you were so much but what were your accomplishments were. And for me and my siblings, we were rated by our grades.
There are many ways to punish a child. You can scream or threaten with physical punishment or you can in an emotionless manner, infer to your offspring that the current effort was disappointing. One could withhold any signs of affections and attention. It was expected that this would suffice, that these cold criticisms would be the impetus that would illuminate the path forward. We were expected to be self regulating and self correcting. To me, that disappointment expressed was code for simply not good enough. It was a cold calculated rejection.
There were epic fights between my folks and I, all of them waged under the guise of civility. It was kind of like going up against the old British Empire. They couldn't simply understand my fascinations with the world outside. It was outside of theirs and outside of the classroom and worst of all, of a life on the farm. With both of my siblings enshrined in institutions of higher learning, the engagement of wills, the silent wars over my future raged. I fired the first salvo. If I was going to stand a chance, have any hope, I needed to take care of my business first. I was in love with the one I wanted to spend the rest the rest of my life with and a vocation I could be proud of.
It was really hitting below the belt for me, I was going to fight with all of the tools at my disposal, and if I had to get nasty then I would. Being my parents you figure they would have held the higher ground and I needed to take that advantage away. In doing so, I would reduce their superior tactical position to rubble. How the next phase and on what plain the future battles would be fought was yet to be determined but I was going to win this first initial skirmish. In the end it was easy, I had the motivation, in so many unemotional words, and I was told it was something I could never possibly hope to succeed at.
Tell me there's something I can't do and I'll prove you wrong or die trying. More than once others have told me my middle name must be stubborn, I retorted it was persistent. I buckled down and hit the books and took extra credit where needed. With Ethan off in the service, I spent my time wisely doing what it took to bring my grades up, spending hours in the local library. I did my chores without complaint and found additional duties to tackle. I opened my own bank account and deposited my earnings weekly. I picked up after myself and never overstepped my boundaries. I had a future to plan and look forward to. I was the dutiful son who listened, was clean, neat and respectful. My grades improved from a C average to straight A's. I made honors and moved into the college prep classes the very next semester. My parents, they never saw it coming, it was a brilliant stroke of genius.
If I hadn't had the old hickory tree I seriously doubted if I could have pulled it off. While my time during school and studying limited my time on the farm, I made the most of it. So that I could spend as much of the weekend up there, whenever possible I did the Good Doctor's chores weekdays after school. I'd pack a bag on Friday mornings and take the afternoon school bus that went by the farm after school. Often I would take the same school bus back on Monday mornings. When I couldn't, Dad or Mr. Tompkins would take me home Sunday evenings. I spent many an hour at the end of the weekend work day up at the old hickory. Seeing my world spread out before me and having the time of contemplation I was able to put the things I needed in perspective. The Tompkins noticed the change in my attitude and motivated me wherever possible with encouraging words of support. Nudging me when it seemed I was losing focus.
Many a Friday and Saturday night at the dinner table, they would help me to understand the homework I was struggling with. I wouldn't understand until much later just how much I learned from Mr. Tompkins or how much I came to depend on the mothering Mrs. Tompkins provided.
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