the columbine grew on the east side of the house. colorado’s state flower is blue columbine. but – here – it grows pink on the farm and is called origami red and white. delicate and beautiful, healthy and thriving, it clearly loves the dirt and air and sun of iowa.
we were sitting in a circle on the southside, trying to avoid the windy wind. it was happy hour, on a day fraught with emotion. we had said our final goodbyes to columbus, d’s dad, bringing him back to his hometown in iowa – a tiny morsel of a town, bustling with family and traditions and giant farm equipment and passed-down farms. the southside – where most of the tractors and machines and accessories-of-which-i-know-no-names were parked. the southside – the direction the deer ambled from, late in the day, waning light their protection. the southside, the old farmhouse blocking most of the gusts, letting the sun warm us.
we had had lunch up at the hillside bar and grill – the place where you could get humongous pork tenderloin sandwiches – where the tenderloin hung off both sides of the bun. just the sheer mention of those used to bring a big smile to columbus’ face. many of the people at lunch chose those in his memory. we didn’t, but we snagged a tiny bite from cousin kate’s plate, an absolutely necessary respect-nod to david’s dad.
and now, here we sat – adirondackchair-bagchair-adirondackchair-bagchair-adirondackchair-bagchair – all in a circle, just sitting and talking and being quiet.
we sipped from wineglasses and bottles of water in the later afternoon circle. we all talked about life-we’d-missed-together, life-now and life-one-of-these-days.
kate looked over at us and asked if we’d ever move from wisconsin, if we’d consider going to the mountains. though we hesitated a moment to clear space in our current-angsting for actual dreaming, we nodded, and i added, “of course we’d love to be in colorado. the high mountains always call us.”
we don’t have any idea what that might look like. we don’t know when that might be.
we just know that we feel like happy-go-lucky columbine when we are breathing the air of the rockies, our feet in the dirt of a deep aspen-lodgepole-pine trail, under a colorado sun.
gracie – like babycat – followed the sun. gracie – like babycat – sought snuggles…on her terms. gracie – like babycat – adored food time. gracie – like babycat – spent long periods of time curled up or stretched out sleeping. gracie – unlike babycat – is a farmcat.
she lives outside on the iowa farm, a heated waterbowl on the south side of the house. her food is by the front door and is moved inside at night, so other critters aren’t attracted. you can watch her hunting out in the fields and i shudder to think of what her successes have been. she is free to come and go. i nicknamed her “sweetie” last time we stayed on the airbnb farm and it stuck; she came to any singsong call.
we’d find her – in early morningtime – curled up in the pillows on the porch bench swing on the east side of the house, sunrise warming her. out the dining room windows or the old door to the porch we could see her, eyes closed or maybe just waking, yawning her way into the day. the moment she sensed you were watching, she’d jump down and make a beeline to the door as if to remind you of your veryimportantwork of putting out her food dish.
as the family gathered, everyone adored gracie-cat. she was the belle of the ball, wandering from person to person, collecting sweet nothings. a darling of the farm, this cat was a generous hostess.
there wasn’t much about this farmhouse that wasn’t charming. there wasn’t much about this farm that wasn’t charming. the old silos and barns and sheds – a photographer’s dream. simplicity and tradition, passed-down.
we watched the comings and goings of big farm equipment, witnessed the field on the east side cut down, watched multiple pick-up trucks in and out of the long driveway. it’s a working farm and it’s spring, so it’s busy. we cannot understate how much work it all must be and, though we were unable to see activity from where we stood by the stand of trees with the hammock, we knew all the farms in the distance – close-up and far – were ever as busy.
we went outside in the night. looking in the direction of my favorite two trees, a line of lights on the far horizon…likely farm lights down another country road.
we looked up. the big dipper greeted us and other constellations vied for our attention. we felt tiny. the sky stretched further than we could see.
somewhere out there gracie was likely hunting. she didn’t come around as we stood in the grass. cats are independent creatures, after all.
and babycat – in the plane of the universe that beloved cats go – gave her a high five. “do what you want,” he telepathed to her, knowing full well that first thing in the morning – as the sun rose over the fields and tickled the porch swing – she’d be there waiting, just as he always was. different but the same.
pssssst. wanna play telephone?? i remember this as a little girl. you would whisper something in your best friend’s ear who would whisper in the next littlegirlear who would whisper in the next littlegirlear until you went all the way around the circle. that last littlegirl would announce what she was told and all the littlegirls would giggle at how silly it was that what had started as one whispered thing quickly became another.
columbus tells stories of growing up in a little town in iowa. he delights in the stories of everyone-knowing-everyone and everyone’sbusiness being everyone’sbusiness. whether thebusiness is true or not. pssssst. now living in a suburb of denver, he still yearns for monticello, iowa and his littletown. he has not recollected stories of thetelephonegame type silliness to us, but i am certain they exist.
this island…well, wow. mike said to us, “if you sneeze on one side of the island, by the time the news reaches the other side you will have pneumonia.” this is ridiculously true. even if you didn’t sneeze.
monticello is a small town. there is a main road and a few arteries – small businesses dot these arteries a block or two off the main street. we’ve driven through there a time or two before, to see the place columbus talked about, but mostly to try and buy him a t-shirt. somehow, we managed to always get there after the shops closed, which is a little earlier than we were used to. so, no t-shirts.
this time, though, we were there to stay a few days. we picked up columbus and jeanne from the airport and brought them to an airbnb farmhouse we had pre-arranged. i knew that was the place to stay when i saw the porch. i could picture columbus sitting on that porch, with the surrounding land to which his soul was ever-connected. i booked it, despite my mother-in-law’s wishes to stay at a motel in the area. now, it is dangerous to not listen and, even with my certainty about that being the right place for this pilgrimage, i was a little nervous about how they (read: she) would feel about it. they are dear to me and i don’t want to – well, let’s just say – tick them off.
the first time we sat on the porch columbus had a lite beer and stared out at the corn and soybeans (at least we think they were soybeans.). he talked about his days working in fields, traveling the roads he wondered if he could now remember, his friends, his growing-up house.
i sat in the back row on the porch and listened and watched. although we all asked questions, no other voices were really necessary…just his. the back row is a good place to listen from and to watch from. i could watch my husband listening to his dad, absorbing the details, sometimes patiently listening to repeated stories. i could watch my mother-in-law help with some of the details, talking about the history columbus had and their shared decades of life, some of it spent in this panther-highschool-football-team-land. i spent a good bit of time staring at the corn and soybeans too. and a good bit of time silently taking pictures of a sojourn that my father-in-law had talked about for years.
he had wanted to “go back home” for quite some time. he wanted to visit the cemetery where he “knew a lot of people”. he wanted to go see and touch the home that his grandpa built, proud to have been raised in a house where he saw the toil that made it possible. he wanted to visit with his aunt joanne, a feisty woman just a couple years older than him. his list wasn’t long. not much else. he just wanted to BE there. and so we were. we followed his heart around his home town.
we sat on the porch the second day to greet the morning and later in the day to process the day. we seemed to have assigned seats, mine, once again, in the back row, a place i lingered in, petting the farm cat i had fallen in love with, listening, sipping coffee or wine. i watched the satisfied look on columbus’ face take hold, the longing of wanting-to-go-back sated by the being-there. he was surrounded by memories-he-remembered and by memories-that-were-slipping-away. he navigated trying moments of confusion in his talk-talk. he spoke of glorious times. he spoke of hard times. he talked -like we all talk about the place that was home- with deep love and a root that is unbreakable.
the next day we visited with his aunt, a couple other relatives, a few old friends. we went and found a pork tenderloin sandwich for him. we drove away from town for the last time and back to the farmhouse. it was a little chilly that evening. early the next morning we would be taking them back to the airport. we didn’t sit on the porch.
i went out to see sweetie (the name i gave the cat) and to look at the sky, to remember. i, momentarily, took my back seat on the porch and quietly gave thanks for this time. i know why columbus didn’t want to porch-sit that night. sometimes, it’s a little too much. sometimes, a porch can make you feel more emotion than you can handle. i think, for columbus, that last night on the porch was one of those times.
so this time we were there -in that little town- when it was open. and this time we got him a t-shirt. he was planning to wear it the day he got back home. and who doesn’t get that?