The old gray barn my grandfather converted into a home sat at the end of a long gravel drive, behind a pasture, and surrounded by pine trees, dogwoods, and wisteria. The tall teal doors creaked when I opened them, but they were always inviting… and didn’t have a lock because people didn’t need them ‘in those days’. A graying silver box sat on the marble threshold anxiously awaiting the next delivery of fresh milk.
Breakfast at Grandmother’s came early. If I was clever, I’d ask for ice cream before the cooking began. My grandmother would giggle and lovingly serve up a bowl of Mayfield’s neopolitan. If I neglected to place my breakfast order early, it would be homemade biscuits, grits, and bacon. Not a bad substitute at all. Grandmother would tear the bacon and delicately place each piece on top of the grits to form a smiling face. Sometimes the grit man would have a hat. Other times, a beard. He always made me smile back at him.
After breakfast, I would be turned loose to explore the local wilderness. 32 acres of pasture, woods, and farmland in the rolling hills of the North Georgia country. I’d meander barefoot down the rocky drive past the orange day lilies looking for aging tadpoles in each muddy red puddle. The horses would beckon from the pasture searching for a handful of fresh grass or the apple I had tucked into my pocket especially for them. I’d stop for a little visit before heading up to Granddaddy’s vegetable garden.
I could see him up there, sun beating down on his tan shoulders, riding his tractor or tilling the fertile red Georgia clay. He would show me how to choose only the ripest tomato or watermelon before lifting me onto the white metal seat he had added to the tractor so we grandkids could ride alongside him. We’d plow the plots that needed plowing together and ride back to the barn just in time for a hearty lunch.
Approaching the front doors, I would listen to hear if my grandmother was at her grand piano playing her favorite tunes. If she was, I would sit on the red velvet couch and pretend to play too, listening reverently. Her musical talent was inspiring, though sadly not passed on to me. When she was finished, she would make us all a modest lunch –a fresh tomato sandwich or soup– ideal for summer.
Then it was back out into nature for the afternoon. Sometimes on horseback, other times on foot, my cousins and I would wander down the overgrown path deep into the woods that had once be the place of Civil War battles and camps. Along the trail we would visit the 19th century graveyard, secret waterfalls and cool creeks. We’d look for ancient treasures and wonder what it was like to be in that quiet place back when Sherman’s fierce march to Savannah was delayed by determined Confederates. We idled away hours in that forest never knowing how much that time together in that historic place would someday become so cherished to us.
Intuition drove me back to the barn in time for a dinner. I suppose that intuition is hereditary because any number of aunts, uncles, and cousins were likely to join us. My grandfather would inevitably arrive with enough fresh vegetables for everyone to take home and a flower for my grandmother. She would draw the bloom to her nose and inhale. “It smells wonderful!” she would always proclaim. We’d all sit at the table discussing history, dishes, or poetry (Grandmother loved them all), laughing at whatever made us laugh… enjoying the company of our family.
When the dishes were licked clean of all remnants and tucked away on the shelf, Grandmother and Granddaddy would take me out to watch the sunset and wait for the first evening star to appear. The first person to spot it would get to make a wish. Our chaise lounges set to the flattest position for optimum viewing, Grandmother would tell me the story of a land made only of candy while I watched the sky intently. Cotton candy clouds, lollipop trees, and caramel stars.
I was always first to spot the star and we’d recite the poem together. “Star light. Star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may. I wish I might. Have the wish I wish tonight.” Back then, I’d wish for a horse of my own or for the plums out back to ripen.
These days, I’d wish for my kids to have a sweet summer day on that farm.
*Image courtesy of Jan Herbert Photography (since Granddaddy's farm is now home to a collection of McMansions). Thanks Jan!