Past Prologue

The old barn.

The blue gate. In the foreground, there used to be a red hay barn in which we grandkids used to play. Climbing on piles of hay bales may not be wise, but it sure was fun. Sadly, the barn was torn down several years back to keep it from collapsing under its own weight…

Cows and trees.

V and Francie’s old place (or what’s left of it).

The road less traveled…

The LaCygne power plant. One of my favorite sights from the farm. On a still, cold day the plumes go on forever…

Hay bales. Sometimes they take up so much space that they look like herds of buffalo…

The government tried to assign street numbers to the rural roads several years back. Didn’t go so well. The farm’s still sitting right where it used to, on Rural Route 3…

We all have places that awaken in us stirrings of memory, where every detail holds for us immense significance (even if the source of that significance be insignificant on a global scale). The Durst family farm does this for me. No matter where I am in the world (and I have been many places), this plot of earth calls me back and reminds me of who I am and where I (and those before me) came from. It speaks to me–I heard its voice as a child, and I hear it still, the insistent tones of something both fundamentally human and fundamentally natural, the fulcrum in the connection between humankind and the earth we call home. I am not a farmer, but I come from farmer’s stock–I do not feed the world, but I belong to the line of those who have. Whether or not I ever lay hand to plow, the hands that did are an integral part of who I am, and I cannot understand myself without first understanding them…

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Southeast of the old house lies a field I have traversed dozens of times, from childhood through the present. At the moment it is planted, but since I can remember it has been used as pasture, and venturing across was for neither the faint of heart nor the fancy of footwear. One eye to the horizon, one eye to the ground–those of you who have spent any amount of time on a cattle farm will know what I mean by that. To the left runs Miami Creek, winding its way toward the southeast and the Marais des Cygne, and beyond that, the Osage. To the right, an old, crumbling barbed-wire fence (three strands against straying stock) divides the Durst land from their neighbors to the south. When I was very, very young, it belonged to a couple named V and Francie, at whose house I spent many an hour, staring through the grating in the living room floor into the basement (which hole for some reason I found extremely fascinating). The old house burned in 1998 or ‘9; now all that remains are a few lonesome outbuildings and a water tower or two.

If I had a dime–as the saying goes–for every time I’ve wandered off down one of the gravel roads surrounding the farm, the good old “mile roads,” I’d be a rich man. Financially, at least. In some ways, the mere fact that I have had access to these out of the way avenues fills me with feelings of a different kind of wealth. Everything around me moves so fast: weekday becomes weekend becomes weekday again, clouds fly overhead like some sort of time-lapse film, and it’s hard even to keep up with myself. Which is why walking these lanes bears such an attraction to an overburdened soul supercharged with an overactive mind. Here time almost ceases to lapse, at least for me. I’m transmogrified, alchemized, into my childhood self, waiting impatiently beside the cattle chute for Grandpa and a chance to “steer” the tractor across a pasture or two. I’m young again, ready for a mad dash through pig-puddles in search of the “peepers” called forth by a night of gentle rain, or for a channel-cat hunt at one of the myriad watering holes/stock-ponds scattered around the property. I’m ME again, washed clean of the intervening years of experience, heartache, and “knowing better.” And for an instant–just a brief fleeting instant before I remember who I am–I feel the grip of immortality, given force by my own tarrying ghost which will, I hope, haunt these backroads long, long after I am no more…

7 thoughts on “Past Prologue

  1. How do I tell you how much I enjoyed reading this without sounding trite? Vance, your words become like a motion picture. Thank you for inviting us to be a part of your childhood memories, your heritage, and history.

    Some of my fondest memories come from when I was a child, spending time on the farms of friends and family, though I never actually grew up on a farm, per se. Your story brought back wonderful memories of visiting and sometimes living with my Nana, surrounded by tobacco farms, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Good times. 🙂

    1. I’m glad this resonated with you. That makes me happy.:o)

      I love this old farm like I have loved nowhere else on this planet. I’ve moved around so much that I really don’t have anyplace to call my “home,” but through it all there was always THIS place, the one constant in a gypsy life. I miss it every second I’m not on it (and in it). Although in a way, I’ll always be in it.

      Sadly, Grandma died a couple of years ago, and Mom and my Uncle Dean are in the process of divvying up the land between them. I feel that it is the end of an era in my life; soon I’ll be a trespasser on my own heritage. Mom and Dad have agreed to set aside a small plot for me so that I still will be able to maintain this connection that’s so important to me, but even so, it will never be the same again, never the one piece of land containing all the old familiar haunts and hiding places waiting for me as they once did. Don’t know how I’ll deal with that…

      1. Don’t know how I’ll deal with that…

        I think you already are. In sharing like you do, you keep it all alive, just like you do when you share about your deceased grandmother. I feel very fortunate to have been an active participant of my heritage, as I was the only grandchild who got to live with my Nana at two separate times in my childhood.

        It was primarily due to being hit by strong hurricanes where I was living at the time, and so I’d ending up staying with my Nana through the school year, about 2000 miles away, and attend school there. It was the most adventurous time of my childhood — living with my grandmother.

        I remember the heartache I felt when she had to sell her property, and move to another state and live with my parents. It was sad to see that part of my life come to an end, so I can’t even image how it must have felt for her. She passed away a few years back. I would never visit the place again. They ‘paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’

      2. Joni definitely knew what she was talking about. Sometimes I wonder how much paradise will be left to the generations after mine…

        I got to live with Grandma during my college years, and while we had our moments of squabble (two hard heads will clash from time to time), I feel like I got to know her in a way I didn’t get to know any of my other grandparents, and in a way none of the other grandkids did. They are years I will always treasure.

        Thank you for understanding. Most of my family, I think, does not. Anytime I start talking about how I feel about the farm, I see the old eye-rolls and looks that say “Here he goes again.” (I seem to get those looks a lot…) My Dad seems to be offended that I don’t feel as close to his side of the family as I do to Mom’s. My sister and her husband have no real connection to the place beyond Sara’s childhood memories. Tammy doesn’t really get it: she spent her whole life in the area, and was nothing but thrilled to get out when we came to Texas. If I could talk her into going back, I’d be there in a heartbeat, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I’m pretty sure they all think I’m crazy for asking for the five or so acres they’ve promised to set aside, and part of me agrees–I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle all the “progress” going on around the area.

        What it comes down to is that I just don’t like change, at least not too much of it–not the kind that comes with strip malls and 4-lane highways. But, I suppose life is change, so there’s no use tilting at that particular windmill. Ah, well–I’m getting older, and I do NOT like it…:o)

  2. Reblogged this on anglophiletoad and commented:

    I don’t usually reblog things, but on this occasion, I thought it appropriate.

    In the next few days, the Durst Family farm will be officially recognized as one of Missouri’s Century Farms, i.e. farms that have been in a particular family for 100+ years. The Dursts ourchased their original acreage in 1909, and have been in possession of the farm for 104 years.

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