Crocuse and snowbells reached for the sun in the shelter of a broken foundation. Red-winged blackbirds made a racket from the branches of an ancient elm, as I surveyed the vacant property where the farm used to be. A stray barn swallow dove and swirled in the distance as if protesting the destruction of his home. I sat among the rocks where the milkhouse once stood and felt, for the first time, the fragility of life.
I saw myself as a young girl heading for the chicken house to collect eggs and being stopped by mean-tempered geese. I remembered bedding down my horse for the night after a dusty afternoon ride, and looking wistfully at the runners of the horse-pulled sleigh stored in the loft. Looking in the direction of the now missing barn, I remembered wrestling giant silver milk cans as big as myself, as I rolled and pushed them into place for the collection truck.
A great sadness welled in me at the impermanence of life. Everything I valued and loved about the farm, and the people who made it real, was gone forever. The only place it lived now was in me. I cried long and hard for everything in my life that was dying, but most of all for the farm and all it represented. It had been my safe place. The only one I had. Now it looked like a giant wind had picked it up and blown it all away.
I knelt near a pile of broken cement to admire the snowbells, and noticed a glimpse of silver wedged beneath the soil. I dug it out with my fingers, cleaned off its encrusted surface and discovered the long silver key to the kitchen door. I pressed it in my palm, turning it slowly in my hand.
Aunt Ethel was yelling at me through a closed door. I’m going to lock this door and you can not come in, do you understand? I was just big enough to see through the window and was devastated by her intentions. Every Friday she mopped the floor, and every Friday I forgot her instructions and went parading across the wet surface in muddy boots. She was determined to keep me out, and I was just as determined to be let in. In my youthful fury, I braced the offending boots against the front porch wall and shook the door for all I was worth. I couldn’t bear to be locked out by the one woman who cared for me. I yelled, screamed and pounded to let her know. Finally I fell in an exhausted heap against the door.
After what seems like hours she relented and came outside. I was so crestfallen I could hardly speak. Don’t lock me out anymore, I sobbed, I can’t bear it, not from you. We reached an agreement that day about muddy boots, kitchen floors and love.
Now some forty years later, I stood with the same key in my hand and was glad to have it. Actually, I was more than glad to have it. The child in me was literally beaming. I tucked it within the silk lining of my jacket as a treasured reminder of another life. She can never lock me out again, I told myself, because I’ll always have the key.