I remember piles of broken china and figurines half buried in mounted earth near the small shed by the front porch. I used to sift through them with my young hands, each shattered piece a treasure of discovery.
The farm house was my safe place. I would wake from the chaos of my home, go to the stables, saddle my horse and ride six miles through unfenced terrain until I reached the welcome land that defined my aunt and uncle’s farm. The pond was the first to come into view. It lay quiet on my left, like tea in an unmoved cup. Herds of cows milled behind barbed wire fences on my right, as bright red barns with tall silos beckoned me forward.
I was going away to boarding school. This would be my last visit for a very long time. I was terrified to leave the land and move into an English academy in Vermont, where my days would be alien, structured and organized. I was being sent away for my health. When I neared the barn, I saw my aunt herding cows toward its shadowy interior. I stripped my horse and set her free in the field.
Aunt Ethel, I shouted, I’m leaving for boarding school this week-end.
She barely looked up.
I don’t know when I’ll be back.
She fingered the cloth hankie that slept in the pocket of her apron. Her red print dress hung above black rubber boots, a splash of mud marked her forehead below short curly hair. She slapped the rump of a cow into the stall and motioned me inside.
Don’t go givin’ yourself airs now, she said, Just cause you’re going to that fancy boarding school. Don’t come home callin’ horse shit, manure.
My heart ached at the thought of leaving. I did not want to be ripped from the four a.m. mornings, when we turned on the radio and danced around the barn together; me balanced on my uncle’s boots, Aunt Ethel squirting warm milk into the mouths of the barn cats, who were lined up waiting and mewing. I did not want to leave the symphony of clocks that ticked and chimed in every room of the house. I wanted to keep smelling black tea served in blue willow cups that warmed my fingers each afternoon. I wanted to keep seeing their reflection in the polished silver sugar bowl that sat on the large oak table.
I put my arm around her.
I’ll come back, I promised.
No, you won’t, she said. Once kids go away, they’re gone. Too bad though. You were the best of the lot.
I lifted the handle on the egg basket and walked to the hen house. Warm tears splashed against soiled brown eggs, as I carefully lifted each one from the safety of its nest. I fingered their fragile vulnerability, as I positioned them layer by layer inside the cold metal wiring of the basket.
written April 16, 2008