When we had a little pocket of time last week we took a drive together, Allen and the little kids and I, to the places I lived when I too was little. The first stop was this farm outside Milwaukee where my grandparents boarded and bred horses. My youth is divided into two distinct eras - the 'old farm' years and the 'new farm' years - based on where my grandparents and the horses were and hence, where I was to found whenever possible.
I have been back here once or twice before but never with a camera. It was good to have real pictures to connect to my memories. I can remember what it was like sitting behind that picture window in my grandmothers' office while she sat at her desk writing letters. I remember the tulips that used to bloom in a circular brick planter in the yard. The Victorian picture frame that came from this attic is sitting in my house in England. Whoever would have imagined?
I remember my grandfather teaching me to skip in the gravel drive between the house and the barn. That drive seemed to be a vast wide open frontier that stretched to infinity. It took a loooong time to cross that space at one point in my life, to climb the ramp into the hayloft and walk very carefully avoiding the cracks in the wooden floor.
It was a happy place. A place where my grandmother made snow angels with me. Where she polished white nurses shoes before her evening shifts. Where a plank was drilled with two holes and threaded with a coarse rope to make one perfect swing for me in a tree in the yard. My dog is buried in those woods. If I close my eyes I can hear dry leaves crunch underfoot as I made the pilgrimage to pay my respects to that old friend.
The milkhouse with the cool concrete floor where I played for hours on end still stands. The fields where I used to race my pony are now full of suburban homes, no longer new. Ironically the streets were all named after British locations. I cried a little on those blacktopped streets where grass once grew tall and the wind used to whip through a sorrel Shetland's mane.
I miss this place and the people who loved me there. I miss the visits from the city relatives in cat's eye glasses and cars with leather seats. I miss my grandparents. Since they couldn't come to the wedding I really wanted to 'see' them. This was where I went.
We had a little time afterwards so we made a wide swing into the city to show the children my other homes. This gets trickier all the time since most of the homes we have lived in over the years have been torn down. This city holds different memories for me. Not all good. But it is a city I moved back to for college, the city I became engaged in. It was the city our son was married in, right across the street from the college his father attended. Surreal. That's all I can say.
Much has changed here too. When we turned around this bend in the freeway you could smell the breweries long before you could see them. This was especially true in the summer in the days before air conditioning.
As the sun sank in the distance we headed back to the wedding preparations. Many thoughts were hidden in my heart however. Images of people now gone are a little more vivid. There is that sorting and processing of memories, that work of making sense of what was as we move into what is and what will be.
There is gratitude. Those were hard years peppered with bright spots of joy.