The farm was beautiful. It drew us each June down eleven hours of highway, seven minutes of rural route, and a long gravel drive between cornrows, where the farmhouse stood under the giant oak. Its beauty lived in the woodwork around each doorknob. In the stairs to the second floor, narrow as if built for smaller, shorter people from old centuries. In the jar of marbles, and the jar of little pastel soaps shaped like flowers and shells, which never changed position from summer to summer, which collected no dust.
Afternoons, I’d stretch belly-down on the brown and gold shag in the parlor and sort the marbles by size, then color, then beauty. There were few toys, so I drew the oak, or folded napkins for dinner, or tried to lure wild kittens to a metal dish of kibble in the barn. My brother would examine the tractors, would struggle to get a kite aloft. We dug our first potatoes in the kitchen garden, guided by my grandfather. We were ignorant of the earth and its fruits; we held hoes and shovels awkwardly.
At dinner the locusts hushed and crickets took their place. During the blessing, I would thank my lucky stars that I was not asked to say it. Grandpa ate sandwiches of sliced liverwurst and Miracle Whip, or peanut butter and lettuce and butter. Grandma cut watermelon for dessert. A small metal napkin holder spelled out SHALOM. It was from the Holy Land, Grandma and Grandpa’s great pilgrimage away from Nebraska, taken several decades before.
The farmhouse was sold years ago. The SHALOM now rests in my brother’s apartment in Urbana. The farm may still be beautiful, but I feel certain that it smells different now, that some of its beauty has lifted, blown from the plains into other corners of the world. Sometimes I walk through a patch of air that seems to know it, to possess a part of it. I shut my eyes and am drawn across the fields under the oak tree again.