Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Country

When I was a girl, we had to make a weekly visit to my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa lived out in the country, in the same house they raised four girls and four boys. They were farmers, and their nearest neighbors were I don't know how far away. We could see the houses beyond the cornfields when we were driving along the road, and to my child's eye they seemed miles away. When we pulled into the driveway, my mom would remind me not to go too far back into the corn. (I was known for getting lost, even then.) I think the most I ever went back was four or five rows. I don't think I ever got seriously lost, though late one night, when my brother and sister and I spent the night at Grandma and Grandpa's, everyone went out looking for me anyway. Turned out I had burrowed deep into the covers my brother and sister had thrown off (I was really tiny), and no one found me until my brother accidentally stepped on me. He'd woken up, thought I'd wandered off into the corn, and alerted everyone in the house.

My grandparents were not "interesting" to me, I'm ashamed to admit now. Grandma always had a litany of complaints, and Grandpa, if he spoke, exhibited a Buddha-like patience when Grandma interrupted him. He would fall silent until she finished whatever tangent she was on, and then he would simply pick up where he left off, as if the interruption never took place. In the next room, they had an organ I liked to play, and like most American kids who only knew one tune, I banged out a number-by-number rendition of "The Entertainer" over and over again while they talked, before wandering outside to play.

Like any Midwestern farm, my grandparents' farm had a lot of trees. In an especially large tree in the back, Grandpa built a simple tree house, and me and my cousins spent hours there fighting, playing, and fighting again. There was also a rudimentary track—just some grass laid flat, really—that my cousins would race around on in their go-karts or their tiny motorcycles. I desperately wanted to ride one, too, but I was simply not big enough. My father still had to ride with me on roller coasters, and he always had to hook a finger into my belt loop to keep me from flying out. No way were my parents letting me on one of those homicidal pieces of equipment without a chaperone. But it didn't matter. In the country, there were all sorts of interesting things to look at: rusty tractors, snakes, apples with worms crawling out of them. It sounds impossibly quaint, but Grandma and Grandpa's truly was a big part of my Midwestern upbringing.

After a few hours, Mom would rustle the kids back inside, where we would start our goodbyes, a process that often took an hour or more. Mom would keep gently telling Grandma we needed to go. Like those performance artists whose movements are imperceptible to the naked eye, we kids would back up ever-so-slowly toward the front door. "No need to rush off," Grandma would always say, and Mom would say she needed to get home to start dinner. No matter how long we stayed, Grandma always wanted us to stay a little longer.

Grandma and Grandpa sold their land to a grocery store in the 1990s, and they spent their last ten years or so in a neat little ranch in the suburbs. It was a nice place for them to be, but I never felt it suited them. When Grandpa died (of a heart attack, right there in the house), Grandma began to lose her hold on reality. The dementia had already started before Grandpa died, but it seemed his death accelerated it. She spent another year or two in that house, with my mom and my aunt taking care of her, swearing Grandpa and his friends were playing cards under the bed. When my mom and my aunt simply could not care for her anymore, she moved into a nursing home, where she died. I know it's not what my mom wanted. But what could she do? That time comes for everyone, eventually.

I've been a city girl my entire adult life. As a kid, the country didn't feel interesting. I mean, I didn't think about it that way, even though it was. And while I love Chicago, I'd give a lot to go back to the country now. I wonder if my path will ever lead me there again.


Old Kitty said...

I hope so!!! But I guess you make your own special memories wherever you set roots.

Thanks for sharing a little bit about your wonderful Granddad and Grandmum and their idyllic countryside home! Take care

stacy said...

Thanks, Kitty!