Page 4 of 4

In A Farming Country

farm2

Clouds were spun like sugar at a carnival, pure white puffs set against a brilliant blue sky. In those days, all the mysteries of the universe were quiet, a whisper lost in the wind. Grainy stalks of corn reached up from the loamy soil. A gravel driveway, shrouded by forest that lasted a mile in a farming country, was full of anxious monsters. Monsters that were sprouted from vines on trees and sagging shadows. Monsters that were always hushed when I walked to the school bus, granting me passage. I needed them to be kind. But, how I wished one of my cousins would fall prey.

barnGrass grew waist high in a field left fallow to tend itself back into usefulness. Our Summer was – and is, still – marked by hay season and the grinding of tractor gears. The big red barn sat nestled against a hill, sheltering the animals like a long-suffering mother waiting each night for her children to come home. Step by step, hoof to hoof, they’d come in a long line, cows walking nose to tail.  I would fall asleep each night listening to the nicker of the horses, the mewling cows, the pule of the crickets. The whole farm chorused.

Pastures led to fences, led to forests that surrounded our home and sheltered us in a strongbox of our own making. How arrogant one can become when barbed wire and Buckeyes stand hale against the world.

My Father, the strongest man I ever met, sat tiredly beside the yellow Formica dinner table with the metal rings along the edge. With a resigned smile for a daughter begging to play; wrestling in the living room with chocolate ice cream rimmed around my lips. Or, with a tear and strangled voice, “Baby, Grandma is dead.” Again, I am sitting on the yellow padded kitchen chair, pulling at the cracked vinyl and blanched foam.

My Mother, a mausoleum to her own sainted mother, soothed tears brought about by the vulgarity of being the youngest of three, always chasing the others and never quite catching up. She taught me how to knit, simple stockinette stitches, the night I accidentally killed my white kitten, Snowball. I cried as I wove, tears soaking the yarn at my finger tips. She ran a hand over the crown of my head, knitting her fingers through my hair until the tears stopped.barn3

Autumn passed make-shift memories of leaf piles and down filled jackets into my mind. The smell of leaves burning still carries visions of smoke drifting through an electric night sky. Countless times we gathered around the fire like pagan worshipers thankful for the hunt, for the close of the harvest. Nothing could have been more benign that those moments, entranced by the dancing flame, we celebrated the simplicity of our life.

Clearing the drive of snow in the first dawn of winter brought forts compacted like huge snowballs. Our throats full of laughter, I would bump against my brother as we cleared new paths, our cheeks bright red against freckled pale skin. He thought he was Superman in his crystal cave. I thought he was stupid. When the gauntlet was thrown and war battled between the snowmen we’d become, the first ball of ice was usually mine.

farm

My sister found a beagle our last winter on the farm, stranded along a country road. Its ribs stuck cruel against skin thinned by starvation. She brought it home and begged for its life and sure enough, it ended up in a straw filled dog box behind the house. She had no way of knowing that with its belly full of loving dinner scraps,  it would growl and bite in her direction. My father named her Bitch but we christened her Lady.

When Spring found its way back to us and winter was swept from our front porch, confusion hollowed out the house. Piece by piece, our furniture, our things, were stuck like livestock on a truck and moved far away. In the empty rooms, our laughter would echo of times past but eventually, the orange shag carpet of the living room absorbed the noise and left the house eery in its silence. But, these memories of my first home smile at me as new puffy white clouds grow daily and I will wear that grin forever.

IMG951492
Hay Season

Note: All photograph credits belong to Katherine Wallick, my awesome sister. 

Earth and Water

Image

“I didn’t ask for much,” he said in a voice of crushed rock. “I never asked for too much.”

“You say that, man. You say that all the time, Ed. Problem is, ain’t no one left to care,” Detective Waters replied.

Ed smiled over at the detective, a drowsy close-mouthed tightening of pink chapped lips. He couldn’t stop himself from licking them every time the cold wind blew through the trees. Detective Waters kept both eyes on Ed, his right hand seemed to be resting comfortably on the service revolver holstered at his hip.

“Yeah, well, maybe I could make you care.” He tipped his head back, took a deep, slow breath. He felt a chuckle, barely more than a bubble of trapped air in his barrel chest.

Image

“I wasn’t askin’ for earth and water, man,” he continued, his eyes blinked once, slow, as if he was awakening from a long lazy dream. He shifted to lean against the tree at his back, his orange jumpsuit a glaring contrast to the muted browns and greens of the shadowy forest. His fingers flexed as he tried to draw the blood back into his cuffed hands. It felt like pins and needles against his skin. “That’s what the Persians used to say: Earth and water,” Ed’s voice was a whisper against the steady shhnnk of the shovels, the grunts of the men digging. “Absolute submission.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about? We didn’t bring you here to listen to your garbage.” The detective took two steps away from him and drew in a deep, weary breath. Ed lifted his manacled hands to scratch his cheek. His fingernail scraped over the stubble and left an angry red mark against his pale skin.

“This life has a way of making a man want to go back to the earth,” Ed said, as he watched the men digging around him. Watched as they turned that black earth. When the first white bone popped up from the dirt, he looked away. When things are buried, they should stay buried, he thought. When something goes to the ground, it becomes sacred. “Problem with you men is you got no respect for the work a man dedicates his life to.”

 

Fiction’s Victim

Image

In high school, I was on the school newspaper. I was a writer, and later an editor, of The Camel Tracks at Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming. We later changed the name to The Humphrey Herald, and as far as I know, its still called that to this day. I was a hard hitting journalist – publishing such awe inspiring pieces as Valentine’s Day: The Darker Meaning and The Great Simpson Debate Continues. Oh, 1995, I miss you in a lot of weird ways.

I’ve always loved writing fiction. In ninth grade, I spent an entire year in math class writing a romance novel in a black and white composition book. It was pretty slutty for a ninth grade girl afraid of boys. It was full of supernatural elements, damsel-in-distress-like situations, an impossibly sexy overbearing man and the one woman that could change him. Every month, I would go to the book store and buy those monthly Harlequin serial romances. I would devour them. It really sort of messed me up on a very basic fundamental level. My husband would agree.

I wrote a story in my tenth grade English class called ‘Cancer of the Soul’. I was very proud of this piece – so proud that I pushed for it to be published in my journalism class, despite the fact that it was:

  1. fiction
  2. completely inappropriate.

Here is the basic breakdown of the story: Narrator, told in the first person, is sexually abused by her father. Narrator is terrified, believes nothing could be worse than the nightly visits of her deviant father. Until that one fateful night when her father bypasses her door and moves down the hall. To her little sister’s bedroom. EPIC REVEAL! So heartbreaking! And poignant!

Good stuff, right? A little dark for a tenth grade English class, maybe. A little dark for a school newspaper. But, I was good. I was ready. It was published. We spent the requisite time developing the layouts of the pages on our old Macintosh desktops in Journalism class – white space was a real problem back then. We sent it off to the printers. It came back and was distributed to the student body. Not one single person ever said anything to me about my story. In hindsight, I see that we neglected to tell the reader that it was fiction. I certainly hope that was obvious. My father probably hoped that, as well.

I brought an issue home and gave it to my parents, completely oblivious to how it might make them feel. My father is a quiet Midwestern Guy – spends a lot of time in his garage. I remember him calling me out to that garage to talk after he read my story. I didn’t recognize that he was confused. I didn’t see that he could be hurt.

Let me clarify: my father is wonderful. He was a little scary when I was younger – in that way that all great fathers are. He was good and kind and always thought the best of us. Even when we didn’t deserve it. So, for him to read this story must have come as a real shock. Also, I don’t have a little sister. (My mom does have a brand new puppy that she treats like a child, but that is the closest I’ve gotten.)

Image

As he worked at his bench in the garage, he asked me about my story.

“Where did you come up with that?” he asked me, never once looking up at me.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “What do you think?”

“Things are ok with you?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I responded. Why wasn’t he telling me how great he thought my story was?

“Ok, go help your Mom with dishes.”

Case closed.

It happens in quiet ways – writers start to pull from real life experiences and oftentimes, our loved ones are the victims. And, sometimes, fiction is just fiction. It gets messy though. People get hurt. But, as a writer, no one in your life is safe. I didn’t learn that until I was older, when I could look back and see what my writing could do to my loved ones. Its a lesson I still violate to this day. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I will probably never stop doing it. I don’t know how else to do this.

People read fiction and they want to read into it – if I write a story about a woman killing her husband, I’m dissatisfied with my marriage. If I write a story about an alcoholic, I have a drinking problem. Not true. Look for the smaller moments. The quiet moments. That’s where I am.  You might be there, too.

Image

Notes:

  1. How innapropriate was the comic beneath my story!? I had nothing to do with that one!
  2. The picture of Bailey, my mother’s favored daughter-dog, was taken by my mother: Nancy J. Downing