On a hot August evening I turned right on a gravel road, drove past the church my parents were married in and took a left at the fork to head down a road I’ve traveled many times. At the bottom of the hill sits an old gray farm house with a weathered barn, a plot of land that has seen many storms. On the ramp stood my uncle George, the years have aged him, yet his eyes were still the same. He puffed on his cigar as my mama and I walked up the drive, he couldn’t take his eyes off of me.
When I approached George he smiles and said “Mandy the last time I saw you, you were this big…” The last time I was on the farm I was girl and I returned 20 some years later as a woman. A woman trying to dig for memories of a farm she barely knew. I have few memories of the farm, I remember my grandpa sitting on the swing in only his shorts and boots, a dog with one blue eye and one brown named smokey, and the unwelcoming face of my grandmother.
My fondest memory of my grandpa is from when I was about 6 George told me if I helped him plant corn, I could play with the baby chickens. I obliged because I wanted to play with the baby chickens. I planted the corn for what seemed like forever when I heard my grandpa’s voice “handy Mandy what the fuck are you doing?!” I excitedly exclaimed “I’m helping George plant so I can play with the chickens!” My grandpa said to me “you don’t need to plant no fucking corn! Come on now.” With that we were off to the grainery to play with the chicks. Grandpa sat down on a bucket and scooped one up and put the chick in my hands, he reminded me “not to tight handy Mandy you will squish the chick.” I remember how my Grandpa would sing “this little piggy” while playing with my toes and he always called me “handy Mandy.”
Being on the farm that night felt odd. I was going through the remains of lives that I never knew. As I walked through the house I so desperately wanted to remember something about my grandma. I wanted to feel connected to a woman that never took the time to know me. I touched her things, ran my fingers across the dusty shelves, and stood in her kitchen, nothing came to mind. George puffed on his cigar as I opened and closed kitchen drawers. I looked at him and said “its incredibly strange to be going through the things of a woman I never knew.” He squeezed my shoulder, in that moment he understood that I was looking for a connection to the past that just wasn’t there.
In the bedroom my Mama was going through the drawers of an old dresser, the drawers were full of photos. In one we found every single photo, card, letter, and drawing that my sister and I had sent to our grandparents. My grandma held on to my high school graduation, college graduation, and wedding invitations. Every single Christmas card that I sent to her was right there in the drawer. I held back tears as I held the photos in my hands. I couldn’t believe that grandma had kept them all, in those drawers I found truth, she secretly considered us hers. Even thou she never had a kind word to say or the time of day to give to us, she secretly loved us.
Each room was overly dusty and filled with knickknacks that they had lovingly collected. The house by the time I got there was well picked over and hardly anything was left of the couple who had 13 children. Grandpa’s music boxes lined the shelves, Indian statutes were abundant, old photos of grand kids were plenty, and somehow in what was left I got to touch the past. George kept showing me things he thought I would like and told me “take whatever you want Mandy.” I didn’t want to seem greedy so I carefully chose the items that went into my box.
My box of things has been riding around in my trunk for almost a month, I am not ready to bring her things into my home. Bringing them in means I accept that she was mine and that I was hers. Mentally I am not ready to forgive her and I am not ready to let her things which are her memories into my life. So in a box inside the trunk they will sit until the day comes that I have made peace with the woman I never knew.