To me, “the farm” has always meant the farm where my mother grew up, one of 11 children. Every book I ever read that was set on a farm, and many other books as well, all took place in my imagination at my mother’s family farm and the surrounding woods.
The farm seemed enormous when I was young. There was a barn full of cows and a coop full of chickens and a granary full of all sorts of things we weren’t supposed to climb into but did anyway. There were lots of feral cats and usually one dog, who was always named Rex until my Uncle Andy inherited the farm and took the unprecedented step of giving the new dog a new name. The dog was named Thor.
The farm housed hundreds of stories in my mind that had nothing to do with the actual farm, but were situated there because the place was so embedded in my heart as a child.
This week I visited the farm for the first time in more than two years.
The first thing I noticed was that the farm had shrunk. In some ways, it actually is smaller. The barn is gone, as is the chicken coop. The granary is empty, there is no more vegetable garden, fewer trees, and a number of outbuildings gradually yielded to gravity and were burned.
My Uncle Andy is still there, however. And so is his wife, Bea. They will both turn 90 soon. Andy broke his leg since I last saw him and is now relying on a walker, but if his movements were slowed, his wit was not.
“Did you hear about the bald guy who always had a comb in his pocket?” he asked me.
“He said he couldn’t part with it.”
The jokes were the same and so was the food. There were desserts disguised as salads and desserts that were supposed to be desserts. My Aunt Carol, who is 92, baked a key lime pie. It was her second pie of the day; the first was the coconut cream she’d brought to church.
“They ate it all up!” she reported with satisfaction.
But while the people seemed very much the same, the farm seemed much smaller, less mysterious, no longer filled with stories from all the books I read when I was young.
Sitting with my aunts and uncles and cousins on the front lawn, I realized how little I actually knew about the farm and how almost all the associations I had with it came from my imagination. The farm was a pleasant place, but it no longer seemed filled with stories.
The next day, my cousin Jill posted a photo she’d taken at the farm.
It was a photo of tattered white curtains hanging in the attic window of the farmhouse. They had been there as long as I had been alive, growing more frayed with every passing year. By now they are a bit spooky, hanging in shreds, only visible in a certain light.
“Aunt Ruthie hung them there in 1944,” Jill wrote. She keeps track of family lore.
“I never knew that!” I said.
“She told me herself.”
Now I want to ask Ruthie what had inspired her to climb up a ladder and hang curtains in this nearly inaccessible place. Ruthie died several years ago, so I will never know. All I know is that, like me, Ruthie loved to read. I think she’d be pleased that, more than 75 years later, she’d given us all a good story.
— Carrie Classon’s memoir is called “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at carrieclasson.com.