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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Endless Fields of Corn

Sarah has a wonderful post up that brought back images from my own childhood, reminding me of the unfulfilled farmer-girl still somewhere inside me.

My Mom grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, so as we were growing up, we learned about farm life even while driving country roads in Illinois, with the river on one side and endless fields of waving stalks on the other. Summer has always brought to mind images of green summer fields, stalks growing taller by the day, the rows seeming impossibly straight, and constantly fascinating.

We were told to NEVER wander into a cornfield, for while the rows appeared straight, they weren't always and people would get lost and end up wandering in circles, unable to find their way out. She warned us of the ticks and the bugs (always a terror to me), wanting to be certain that we did not get the idea that we could go for a walk in these fields. "Pa", as she called Grandpa, had given these same warnings to her and all her brothers and sisters, so as Mom warned us, she echoed the love in Grandpa's voice, and the worry of a parent.

In our little hometown in Illinois, I still remember the diner on the short Main street that we'd go to on occasion. A loud air conditioner rattled in the window as the door opened and closed with a BANG!, allowing local farmers to wander in and out freely between the fairly cool interior and the humid summer afternoon. They sat at tables and counter stools with their friends, resembling grown-up versions of the pictures that graced the walls. What farming town hasn't seen the pictures of the two boys on a dirt road, one looking dejected while the other asks, "Been farming long?" As I sat and gobbled the most perfect hamburger in the afternoon and enjoyed one of Ma's famous Malts, I'd stare at that photograph and contemplate the meaning.

I was always entranced by that picture of children my age, and would look from them to the men who came in, wondering if those men were once the boys in the photograph.

It was a comfortable place, a wonderful hometown, and I knew that the people there were the ones responsible for the food we had on our table every day. Throughout the summer months, always, we had the corn and the hay to wave at us in the bright hot breezes; it was a time of life and increasing life, a time of hope, even in the oppressive humidity.

But Mom did not marry a farmer, and so my brother and I did not grow up on a farm, only surrounded by them. When we traveled to Minnesota on vacation, we were comfortable with the fields always surrounding us, and in the summer days at our Aunt and Uncle's farm or at Grandma's house at the "old homestead", we obtained a piece of history for our memories. I hope those memories never fade for they are beautiful in their simplicity.

I still remember the day in late July when Mom, one of the youngest of the family, pulled off the gravel road leading to the old farmhouse where Grandma still held down the fort. We'd grown up hearing about how we should NEVER wander into a field, but that day, Mom decided we needed to take a walk. So she lead us into the field, making sure we stayed together. I think she could see over the stalks, but we could not, and that is what she wanted us to understand. I didn't like it one bit; there were webs, and spiders, and we made my brother knock them down so I could pass through. It was a hot, breezy afternoon, and somewhere in the distance we could see a combine at work in another part of the field. We finally turned and headed out, and upon doing so, met the farmer who had seen us walking through the field. I don't think he knew Mom, but she explained who she was and what we were doing, so he actually also explained that we should never walk in a field, and that we needed to be sure to look out for ticks when we got to Grandma's house. I remember that he'd been very concerned to see us walking, and had come to our car to make sure we would make it out of the field safely. Mom was very apologetic and was somewhat chastized by the farmer, but he understood the lesson she was conveying and asked her to, next time, come knock on their door before walking in the field.

It's one of the funny memories of Mom; she ALWAYS instilled in us the necessity of asking permission before trespassing on someone's property, and the one time she did not follow her own advice, we were caught! Thus, Mom's advice was STILL held up by the very person we "offended."

In any case, that afternoon, we continued down the long gravel road that passed between one farm and the next, knowing the corn far more intimately than we ever had before. As soon as we found the horseshoe-shaped driveway that went around the old farmhouse, Mom was asking us to check for ticks. We were all covered in them; and she used this to remind us NEVER to walk in a field again, a warning I'm not sure we ever really needed. I CERTAINLY never had any inclination to enter a corn field, before or after that day!

When my family moved to Minnesota permanently, we lived in town for the first time, and sadly, I've been within city limits ever since then. But I love the countryside, I love the corn and the grasses and the prairie that forms the romance and the down-home feeling of the Midwestern states. In so many ways, I feel like I'm languishing in the world of pavement and fences and immaculately-planned lawns and housing deveopments.

I want the sunflowers and the dandelions, the violets, the crabgrass...and the corn. I want to look upon green fields and waving hayfields. I want to see the horses in the pasture, grazing contentedly. In essence, I want to live out the images of my childhood, images that have fed my imagination for years, but not my reality.

Corn is just as much a staple of my memories of childhood as it is a staple in a midwestern summer diet; it tastes of the warm humid afternoons and evenings, family gatherings, and if I concentrate hard enough, sometimes I can still feel the caress of the green stalks against my arms and my cheeks as we walked through a Minnesota field that summer day so many years ago.

I may be a city girl now, but I think I still have the soul of a country girl, still trying to find her way home.


Sarah Reinhard said...

That's what it is about you - you're the consummate country girl inside, though you live in the city. :)

These are great memories. You should share them with your mom sometime. :)

Adoro said...

Sarah ~ I was thinking about that as I wrote this. I don't think Mom would remember this at all, but I'm hoping if I do share it with her, it'll jog something in her own memory. There's a lot of stories pent up in that mind of hers, but it's all locked up. :-(

We lived in a neighborhood in the country, not a development, exactly, just a grouping of country people who couldn't afford the country and didn't want to live in town.

I still miss our neighbors...Abe and Ethel, Lois and Jim, Vicky...

I'll have to write about them someday.

Lillian Marie said...

My grandfather owned a farm in PA. When my dad was young, the barn burnt down and they decided not to rebuild nor continue with the farm. I always wondered what it would have been like to live on a farm - however, my farm would have been more like 'green acres'. lol

ignorant redneck said...

Ok--Now I'm homesick, and even miss the cows!

I hate city life.

Maureen said...

Clearly, cornfields where you come from are considerably larger than cornfields where I come from. :)

Melody said...

Your post made me homesick! I'm a country girl at heart, too; grew up on a ranch.