Claus came over from Chicago for a visit while I’m here. Aside from the interest he has in seeing where I grew up, it’s objectively great for him to see a quaint Midwestern village. It would be the same for me if I were in Germany; I’d probably travel miles to see a “real life” German village. I’ve shown him the theater; we went to see some covered bridges; we’ve eaten several meals at the local Northside Cafe; we checked out the high school football field.
And this afternoon, we took a drive into the countryside. But it wasn’t just any old Sunday drive; we drove seven miles south-ish and west-ish of town to the farm where I grew up.
Lord Almighty, all our old pains. So precious, so deep, so white-knuckled. Our most blinding pains are woven into us and the older we get, the older the pain gets and don’t you dare pull that thread. It’s the first tragedy of my life, leaving that farm, and the story of it — mythic, epic, now — has been squatting on my heart ever since, despite hours of therapy, true love, art. Despite travels to Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, to the far reaches of the galaxy, to Florida. I’d love to say it was different, that I’m resolved and actualized and enlightened by age if nothing else, but I see that farm and it all comes back. Blah, blah, blah.
I was little. My sisters were little. My mom and dad were getting divorced. My sisters and I got on the school bus one day. We never went back to the farm. We didn’t know we wouldn’t go back, we just never did. We never slept in our beds again. We never saw our toy box again. We didn’t say goodbye to our cats. We were country kids, then we were not. Cry me a river. Amazon.
Why go out there? I don’t know. One may select from a variety of Sunday afternoon activities and ghost-hunting is an activity one may choose to select when you’re me, in Winterset. It’s all out there, just seven miles out, south-ish and west-ish of this particular and particularly quaint Midwestern village. The acreage looks a lot different from when I was eight, but it’s the same. It is exactly, exactly the same and I would know because I know every inch of that place.
There’s a long drive to the property from the road. It’s not possible to get to the house without making a big production of it: you don’t visit my farm by accident. I don’t know the people who live there, so Claus and just parked the car on the road. That was for the best. I wouldn’t be able to handle touching the yard, the doorknobs. I just know I couldn’t. Squinting at things from far away was plenty.
Claus took pictures of the landscape and of me. Of all the pictures he took, there’s one that truly works. It’s a closeup of me. I’m wearing my Iowa Hawkeyes hooded sweatshirt. The wind is blowing my hair around and I’ve got one hand up to hold it back. My nails are lacquered red because I got a manicure for TV taping tomorrow. The sun is glinting off the gold baby ring I never take off. I’m squinting because the sun is behind the camera. I look every day of my thirty-six years. I’m not smiling. But I’m not crying. The farm is behind me, blurry.
*There’s more about all that right here.