Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 29, 2010

Tractors, turkey, tea towels and time

Last week was the 10-year anniversary of Mom and Dad moving from the farm into Manhattan. I had planned to recognize the milestone simply by giving Mom a bouquet of flowers. Then brother Dave's e-mail arrived. The young couple who had rented the farmhouse for many of those years is moving to Oklahoma and Dave felt it would be best if we went down Saturday to check things out and return their deposit before they left.

Husband Art was immediately up for the trip when he heard there was to be a dinner with turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes at the Methodist Church that same evening. Burns was Dad's hometown, but Mom had spent most of her life there, so she didn't have to be asked twice if she wanted to go along.

Arriving in mid-afternoon, we first drove past a few of the farms that had once been the homes of our neighbors, but now house strangers.

Shortly after we reached the farm, long-time friend Tom joined us. After a little arm twisting, he had kindly accepted the request to be our rental agent.

Often renters sort of use up a place, but Laverne and Roxanne had done the opposite. Improvements were everywhere - a new sidewalk, a new vanity in the bathroom, recently-painted barn siding. So there was no sadness of a home - our home - being run down.

Still, a bittersweet feeling overtook me as I looked around the grounds and wandered through the mostly-empty rooms. My family shared Christmas mornings, celebrated birthdays, eaten Thanksgiving meals and saw many 4-H projects completed within the walls of that home. Sister Gaila and I were both married in the yard nearby. Yet the house in my mind is larger than the one we walked through Saturday. The barn that was central to Dad's labor, unused now for more than a decade, seems to be little more than a monument to the past.

Yet it is unlike so many other farm homes that have fallen silent as small holdings have been combined. For Laverne and Roxanne, it has been a place of life. They moved in not long after they were married and all three of their children know no other place to call home. The old tree outside the kitchen door that provided shade for many Freeland reunions now holds a child's swing. So the place has continued to be a place of life. We still own it; it just isn't really ours any more.

When we had finished, Tom headed over to the church to help with the dinner preparations, while we drove to Galen's place. He's been renting our farmland since Dad retired and, while we didn't have any real business to discuss, we still wanted to say "hello."

I think most of us have a sort of romantic notion of what it's like to be a farmer - it's an image of a man responding to the rhythms of nature and his own heart. This belief is reinforced when we pass farms where machinery appears to have been parked wherever the spirit moved the driver and farm buildings are in a mixed state of repair. But those images share little with Galen's place. Everything from his yard to his shop appears to be in perfect order.

We found him in the yard next to his shop, working on a new unit attached to a tractor that would have dwarfed any Dad had owned. With a friendly smile, he explained how it would place liquid fertilizer and other nutrients directly into the ground rather than on the surface. He figured he would save about $8,000 per year on anhydrous ammonia costs alone. The positioning system he uses allows him to place the chemicals and run the blades within a couple of inches of where he maps them out on his computer. It all seemed a long way from when Dad used to just climb on the tractor and go.

We asked if he knew anyone who would be interested in renting our farmhouse. He said there have been so many comings and goings over recent years that he doubted he knew most of the people in town any more, but he'd keep us in mind.

We said "goodbye" and headed to the church basement where the supper was being served. Soon, Mom, Dave and I were having fun talking with old acquaintances. But it was also disquieting to see so many people who somehow seemed familiar, but whom we couldn't put a name to until others helped us. One of the servers said Mom had been her second-grade teacher.

Dave asked someone how many attend Sunday service now. "20 to 30," he was told. Dave wondered aloud how they could keep the church in operation. Recently, I had read in the local paper that a nearby one had just closed.

Dave and I reminisced about when we were kids and how that very room had been where Grandma and Grandpa Freeland's 50th wedding anniversary was held in 1963.

After we left for the community center, Mom commented that while she enjoyed seeing so many of her former friends, they all seemed so old now. Her slight smile was an unspoken acknowledgment of how we can be startled over how our friends have aged, but not be conscious of getting older ourselves.

The bazaar at the community center featured a drawing for a quilt and an auction of donated items to generate money for the church. Tom's wife Nedy was somewhere between pleased and embarrassed when her jalapeño jam fetched $30 a jar. While I let the tea towels go by, I couldn't pass up bidding on a table runner and a dresser scarf. Art frowned at me.

"I know just where I'll put them," I said.

"I do too," he replied. "In the drawer with the others!"

It was nearing 10 p.m. when we piled into the car to head back to our homes. Everyone agreed it had been a most enjoyable day.

Still, days such as last Saturday make the passage of time tangible. My mind drifts back to earlier days when we lived on the farm. Dad drove our school bus, Mom taught at a nearby school and Tom's parents ran the hardware store. We knew all our neighbors well, and we could name the families who lived in almost every home in town.

Now those things exist only in our memories.

Yet, Mom, Dave and I are grateful for those memories - and grateful too for days like Saturday when we had the chance to bring them back to life one more time.

Left: Mom, left, and long-time friend Marie Clark share news at the church supper;
right: bidders strain for a better view of a quilt being auctioned at the bazaar.

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