I can still remember those long drives to our Grandparent’s farm in Northern California. Finally, after what seemed like years, our mother would turn onto road 24. For about half a mile, the road was bordered on both sides by eucalyptus trees that blocked out the sun. As we came out of that and crested the overpass, we could barely see the roof of the farm house. Our little hearts practically beat out of our chests in anticipation of our Grandparent’s hugs and the summer to come.
The farm house was an old two bedroom, one bath home that always smelled of wood smoke and clean linen, built back when building codes were scant and walls were insulated with newspapers and magazines. It was heated with a wood stove in the living room that did nothing to take the breathtaking chill from the hardwood floors in the winter time. In the summer you opened the windows and hoped for the best. Grandma and Grandpa slept in the room at the end of a long hallway. When the grandkids were in town, we all slept, dorm style, in the second room in the middle of the hall, a room that was filled with twin beds with spongy mattresses adorned with thick homemade quilts and threadbare sheets that smelled like sunshine and cool breezes.
For a few magical years in the early 70’s, our grandparent’s house was the hub around which all of our hopes and dreams revolved. Reality was a home where we ate government surplus cheese and put up with an ever changing cast of men damaged by alcohol and character flaws (our mother made her choices and we lived with them, but this isn’t about that--I covered that here). The farm was a place where we were serenaded to sleep by the chirp of crickets just outside the bedroom window, and awakened to the scrape coffee cups and quiet conversation around a worn kitchen table. Love was given freely and without pretense, unhindered by booze and self-loathing.
You might have driven by the place back then and saw a beat up farm house with a burned out barn and some old farm implements rusting in the weeds. What we kids saw when Grandma shooed us out the door on those long ago summer mornings was a magical world full of forts and monsters, of heroes and villains, and the promise of childhood as far as the eye could see. We had no Xboxes or cell phones. Who needed them? We had muddy ditches and skinned knees and trees to climb and barns to explore. Every day, and all summer long, we ran breathlessly into a world of our own making and joyfully reclaimed, once again and for as long as we could, that sweet innocence that we thought had been lost.
The farm, like my childhood, is long gone. But for a short time, it was a beacon of hope for five bewildered little kids who needed to be reminded that the world wasn’t such a bad place after all.