Morning. The rising sun promised another hot day, humid and full of sweat.
Grateful to be in the car soon for the next five hours, with its frigid blast of AC on my face, I greeted the day with the anticipation of home. I loved my parents deeply and always welcomed the sight of my Dad’s farm, with lazy days sitting by the pond and admiring the beauty of nature; however, I also loved my suburban house outside the busy metro of Atlanta and looked forward to driving south.
With my bag packed, I took one final look at the surrounding forest and pasture of the old homestead. I grew up on this farm with no electricity or running water, save for the slow, gravity fed cistern outside the kitchen window. I grew up with the embrace of nature, living off the land and appreciating the simple things in life. My parents were artisans, scratching a living selling kilts and concert harps at renaissance and craft fairs, from Ohio to the rolling southern hills of Georgia. I came of age blanketed by the sounds of my mother’s loom banging thread count after thread count of wool tartan, hand dyed by her skilled hands. We raised a flock of sheep in the pasture, sheared and carded the wool, dyed it, spun it, and made yards to thread on the loom. After hours of labor, there came the beautiful craftsmanship of a homemade kilt bought and used by men and women of Highland heritage.
My fondest memories of that little house in the Kentucky woods was lounging in my tiny nook of a bedroom listening to my mother’s rhythmic breathing at her loom.
Outside, my Dad tapped hammer to chisel on a piece of wood from our own forests.
He spent twelve or more hours a day in his little workshop. When he wasn’t there, I could hear him in the long barn slamming boards looking for the right material, shoveling manure out of the pen where we kept our mule, Jenny, or fixing the pasture fence far off from the house. Dad was a true working man, giving his body to the land and his craft. He built magnificent harps, wooden jewelry crafted with different types of wood elegantly wrought together in perfect harmony, and boxes of all sorts, from little jewelry cases to wooden musical instruments. It was his harps that etched his name in the artisan world. Because he did not use machinery, a single harp took four to six months to build, all made by his bare hands and his skill at carpentry. It was frustrating work, especially in the hot summer months when the wood would warp and bend from the humidity in the middle of his tedious and detailed craftsmanship.
When he finished, there stood a concert harp, carvings of Celtic knotwork adorning the walnut, oak, or poplar wood, bronze strings glistening in the sunlight, and the hum of the harp in the wind that sang through the valley. My mother played the harp - a Scottish jig or a wedding waltz. It was beautiful and musically grand – a symphony of nature.
Stepping out onto the wrap-around porch, I gazed around one more time. Many years had passed since my childhood days, and my Dad had also moved forward in how he lived his life. He had electricity now, and a wonderful bathroom he made himself. The house was built by his own hands from the trees he cut down decades ago where the house now stood. Soft light from lamps decorated the open area instead of candles and kerosene lamps. No more did he pump water from the pond to the cistern during summer droughts or hitch up the iron plow to the mule and turn the land to grow our long gardens of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. It was a modernized home now, yet still maintained its simple tone and cleanliness as I remembered. I moved on after high school, joining the Army and traveling the world; so did he, in his own way.
The trees moved gently in the morning fog, full of green leaves and the buzzing of bees, cicadas, and crickets. I always felt sad leaving my childhood home after a visit, even though I did long for my Netflix, books, and my two cats in Georgia. I waved my final goodbye, watching my Dad drink his morning coffee, now made with a coffee maker instead of the boiling water from a wood stove. Winding up the gravel driveway, I turned on my favorite album of Coldplay, settled into the seat, and prepared myself for the five-hour drive south.
There is a creek down the road to cross, which led to another one-lane road that meandered through the countryside roughly ten miles before one gets to the main two-lane.
At one point you had to drive in the creek, carefully navigating to avoid the deep holes unseen in the water to get to the other side. It was a dirt road when I was a kid on the farm, and my parents knew the creek and could drive it blindfold. Now, a small bridge was built by the local farmers and the dirt road paved for easy traveling. It seemed everyone had moved on from the homestead life, building modern homes and driving big trucks. I feared some big, dirty 4x4 would come barreling down and run me over in my little car.
Driving slowly and taking in the countryside, I noticed the fog begin its slow lifting-up in the morning rays. I topped a hill and was greeted with the natural beauty of my homeland. It brought me back to homespun wool, the smell of fresh wood, potatoes frying in the skillet over the woodstove, the bleating of sheep and goats in the barn, and the hot humid air making its way through the large open windows of our simple home.
Although I longed for my own modern house, I had to stop, pull myself away from my new car with all its gadgets and modern comforts, take out my phone and capture one more picture of the simple life:
The road rose up on a hill, banked by a wire fence that stretched for miles. Groves of forest dotted the landscape as the morning fog hung for a few more minutes before it ran away from the sun. It was a beautiful sight, and it carried me back through time and space to the modest life of my youth. If there is anything innocent in this world, it is our childhood, full of mystery, excitement, imagination, and the struggles of growing-up.
For a moment, I was a child again, chasing dragons through those hills and forests before me, picking tomatoes from the garden, mucking out the manure in the barn, stacking hay bales for the winter, listening to the sounds of the harp echoing across the fields, or casting a line in the pond for catfish and bluegill to fry over an open fire.
I remembered fondly the feeling of ice-cold blankets in the dead of winter, waiting for the pot stove to heat up from the fresh wood recently piled in, wrapping myself close in a warm cocoon of body heat.
I remembered the fairs we traveled to, setting up our pavilion and placing those handmade tartans and beautiful harps for passersby to purchase.
I remember washing clothes with a ribbed washboard in a tub and hanging them on the porch railing, jumping into the pond in the summer to take a bath, and taking in the smell of fresh cedar emanating from a tree we cut from our own woods at Christmas. It all came back to me, one more time, as I gazed at the country road before me.
All good things must come to an end, yet the memory will stay with us always, forever in our thoughtful morning wanderings and sleepless nights.
I slowly walked back to the open door of my car, reluctantly settled in, wishing I didn’t have to leave this beautiful land of my childhood, and drove the five hours back to my busy home of gadgets and the deafening mechanical sounds of modern life. At least I had a picture now worth a thousand words to remember my youth and where I came from.
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