As I drove to the farm yesterday afternoon, it hit me that I haven’t been here since January. That ten month period is the longest absence I’ve had in all my life.
As I passed through Forest, I noticed that the town has changed. Stores that had been there for years have gone out of business. The Taco Bell was even closed. Highway 35 was in horrible shape through town. The log trucks, chicken feed trucks, and chicken trucks have taken their detrimental toll on the thoroughfare.
I turned north on highway 21 and settled in for the last 15 miles of poorly maintained state asphalt. I turned the volume up on my audio book and listened to a gravelly voiced woman with a southern accent read a story by Eudora Welty about some women in a beauty shop, pregnancy, and a $500 reward for turning in a wanted man in a freak show that happened to be visiting the town. It brought back memories from my childhood when Maw took me to Mrs. Jayroe’s beauty shop with its smell of permanent fluids and its wall of hair dryer equipped easy chairs. Each chair was occupied by an over 60 lady drinking cokes from glass bottles and flipping through whatever out of date magazine that was in reach when they sat down.
As I turned off the highway onto the county road of patchwork asphalt sections, I found that the familiar surroundings weren’t as familiar. There were sections of woods that stood dark for the entirety of my recollection that on this trip were not there to block out the sun. A house once hidden by the undergrowth was now standing naked in the middle of twisted, broken limbs and a mine field of stumps.
A few miles later, I pulled in the driveway at the farm. Dad was tinkering with and old cast iron wood stove that had been sitting under an oak tree in the front yard being used as a flower planter probably since the original house was dismantled in the mid 1950’s. He’s of a mind to convert it into a grill. I went over to say hi and watch him fussing with it. He headed back to the shed to look for some bolts to put it back together, and as I wandered back there to join him, I looked up at the sun, now waning, illuminating the underside of the leaves on a pecan tree that has been standing there by the old tractor shed since my great-grandfather planted it. The cool fall breeze tickling the dry leaves made a crispy crackling sound that filled the air. I then looked around and noticed how different things looked to me since I’ve been here last. How different must it be since my grandfather was a young man. How different is it from when my great grandfather bought the land, cleared it, and farmed it.
Things change. The land changes. People come and go, are born and die. We make our mark on time and place and other people. But, one day that mark will fade. Our name will be forgotten. Our grave stone will become just a name on a rock with nobody to remember what we were like; just that we lived from some date to some date and were buried somewhere for some unknown reason. Change is inevitable.
The present is all we have. The past is gone, and we aren’t promised the future. The goal is to spend the present making the most substantial mark on those and that which are around us right now. Make a positive mark.