Life on earth is a sojourn somewhere between human dependence and spiritual awakening. Living to a ripe old age is as much about what’s been forgotten as what’s remembered. She chose to go back for one last visit. Her days were numbered and she was determined to place her feet on the ground of her beginnings. A kind janitor at the nursing home offered to drive her the ten miles to the narrow, gravel road obscured by overgrown weeds and ancient, overhanging trees. Others will soon be tearing down and building a new life there.
She knew the road like the back of her hand, where she and her sisters skipped and giggled with their tin buckets to pick elderberries and strawberries, the exact spot where the barbed wire sagged enough to step over. Yet, she was unprepared for the dilapidated state of the deserted buildings, and the house bare of any paint, every window broken, and a caved-in roof with the brick chimney askew. Bull thistle, looming weeds, and milkweed disgraced her father’s once immaculate farmyard.
Silenced, the windmill remains, a mere skeleton pinned against a billowy sky. The orange tiger lilies, a rhubarb patch, and lavender lilac bushes entangled with grapevines ramble thickly along country borders, like dancing old women clinging to what once made them beautiful, vivacious, and nurturing.
Livelihoods were made here on acres now deserted. Hardworking, Christian families, neighbors who shared joys and hardships, have long since passed away. In fact, at 96 she was the sole member of her family still living. Everyone she knew and loved was gone. Only the sun and moon remained to divide her days and nights.
How many ways do the elderly speak of yesterday? Its ambience seeps through their mannerisms, the look of bewilderment as they reach to understand the present times, their sentimental spirit for that lost art of being simply happy, and through the things they carry to the end. They freely and candidly speak the truth who have nothing to gain or to lose by it.
A whole lifetime of making memories simmers down to her final visit. It was after that that she felt the need to lie back in her sick bed, fulfilled, teetering at the brink between heaven and earth. Acquaintances and caregivers passed through her brief consciousness. It seemed to them a lonely death with no mourners’ tears.
Homestead sensations carried her back – to the dusty, leathery scent of work horses as she led them back and forth on those long steamy days filling the haymow with bales, the way her throat eagerly ached from greedy gulps of fresh cold water pumped into a chipped enamel cup, the first forkful of Ma’s delectable spread at noon dinners, out beneath the mammoth oaks, during thrashing time, the heart-pounding moment of her first kiss - no touch would be as tender or as endearing again.
She hears a dog barking in the distance, just as a screen door slams. Flies, deep summer’s torment, skim over her sweaty flesh as she paints the open porch floor. She knew the boards’ knots and gouges, from coat to coat of shiny gray paint. Her knees bent firm against splinters and footprints of the many visitors and family travelers who crossed the threshold to the summer kitchen beyond, fragrant with chores of the season at hand – butchering, canning, putting up preserves, feathering chickens, and baking for the church bazaar.
We all know her. She’s the loving and devoted daughter who helped her aged and ailing parents on the farm long after she could have gone out into the world and cultivated a life of her own choosing. She understood that dying has no patience for melancholic regrets or festering grudges, and that Planet Earth is a great place to visit but it’s not where it’s at! She had prepaid reservations elsewhere.
John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” In the end, we have nothing to say about it…what a heavenly new beginning for those who believe!
Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.