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A Day at the Farm: Generation 2.0

Mary Niehaus Ralles

With spring fast approaching, and plans underway to make my move out of the city, I’ve been thinking more and more about the summer days I spent as a kid on my grandparents’ farm.

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It was with these fond memories that I decided to take a few “field trips” of sorts with my boys, so that they could get a better feel for what to expect once we move. Right now, my boys — who are both teenagers — have mixed feelings about the move. They’re excited about having more room to roam and new adventures, but changing schools and moving away from their friends is also a worry for them. My hope was that I could help ease their fears and get them a little closer to the excitement I have in getting back to places that I love. You guessed it ... we spent a day at the farm!

Those hot summer days I spent at the farm with my brothers and cousins were among the best days of my childhood. For me, the farm meant hours of outdoor exploration — running through creek beds, catching crawdads and salamanders, fishing, and scaring away the fish while looking for tad poles. 

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I grew up in the city, moving to the farm once I entered high school, and so the chance to spend a day at the farm was exciting for us and everyone else in our neighborhood. We would beg and plead to each bring a friend. There were four of us, so it made for an interesting ride with eight kids piled in the back of a station wagon.

On the Friday night before we were to leave, we’d water the backyard and wait until it was dark so we could search for our fishing bait; night crawlers. We had great fun shining flashlights in the mud and pulling the wriggling, earthen-clad, sticky worms from the dirt. Sometimes catching the worms was almost as much fun as catching the fish, sometimes more so since we didn’t always catch a fish.

We’d start out early in the morning and load the wagon with fishing rods, tackle boxes, and us kids. We all piled into my dad’s old, blue, Chevy station wagon with the rear-facing seat and the back window that had a power roller — a new modern invention of that era, now commonplace in most cars. Looking back, thinking about growing up and learning how to drive and becoming a parent instead of a child, I often find myself wishing for a ride in that old station wagon, facing backwards, watching the miles roll by, mindful of nothing except the excitement of arriving at the farm.

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My memory as a child was that it was a very long journey. Much like growing up, it takes forever to get there, and when it happens it’s like you blinked your eyes and went from being a carefree child to a responsible adult. But we are all in such a hurry growing up. We can’t wait to be 10 or 16, then 18. 

Back then, we also couldn’t wait to get to the farm on those warm, Saturday mornings. We’d manage to muster a small degree of patience the first 10 or 20 minutes of the trip. But the excitement mounted when we’d cross the humming bridge — that’s the John A. Roebling Bridge for those of us who have crossed over into adulthood. But at the time, we sat crunched up in the back of the wagon and hummmmmmed all the way across the metal-grated bridge that took us into Kentucky from Ohio and brought us closer to where we wanted to be. I have no names for the other bridges I’ve crossed during my life, and some even had as much significance in bringing me closer to where I wanted to be. The only difference is that these days I’m not in as big a hurry to get there.

Once we crossed the bridge, we’d start the chant. The chant that, as I look back, must have driven my parents near the brink of insanity. We’d begin slowly and softly at first: “We’re almost there. We’re almost there.” Then louder as we grew closer or saw a familiar landmark: “We’re almost there! We’re almost there! We’re almost there!” And once we reached the two-lane road that would eventually take us to the turn that led to the farm, we’d chant non-stop until we arrived" “We’re almost there-We’re almost there-We’re almost there-We’re almost there!” At the turn, there used to be a white farmhouse with green shutters. We would go crazy when we saw that house and heard the sound of the turn signal. Then another quick turn, over a stone bridge, and back a winding, bumpy gravel road going up a hill and down a hill and over a cattle grate and down a hill until we went up the steepest of hills and my Granny and Pop’s house came into sight. We’d then jump out of the car and race out in all directions. Later in the day, we’d be called to supper and enjoy a homecooked country meal with fresh garden vegetables and the occasional blue gill, depending on my Granny’s mood for cleaning fish and our luck in catching them that day. What I wouldn’t give to have just one more day like that.   

That two-lane road once bore familiar houses and lots, fields and acreage. Sadly, today, when I take a trip to the farm, it is not past a few houses sprinkled here and there on either side of the road, but instead subdivisions and signs of the so-called progress in a quickly disappearing rural community. The turn, once marked by the friendly farmhouse, has been replaced by a large sub-division. There are very few familiar signs remaining from the window of my childhood memories. I sometimes question whether or not it was a child’s perspective that changed the vision, or if the rearranged landscaping muddied the picture.  

Whatever the case, I can still cross the small stone bridge, follow a bumpy road back up that steep hill, and arrive in front of my grandparents’ old house. They’ve long since passed away. I’ll never have a mess of blue gill fried by Granny again; I won’t have the chance to cower in fear from my Pop, who was stern and intimidating yet loved us just the same. I’ll never have another ride on an early morning in that old, blue, Chevy with my dad behind the wheel. He, too, has left this world.  

But I still have a chance to share these memories and this place with my kids. The farm remains still intact, and we can still go back. And this past weekend, my sons walked through the same creek beds I ran through as a child.

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The drive feels like no time at all before we get there. The magical spell that was cast upon a child has now re-ignited through the eyes of my own kids. It is still a beautiful place. It is peaceful and calm, isolated yet surrounded by progress. Farms like that succumb to progress and developers every year.  

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I pray that this place remains intact. That somehow it escapes the change of times. I can’t imagine there coming a time when it is no longer a place we can come back to. So few opportunities in life remain suspended in time, waiting for us to revisit and embrace them. Maybe a little more patience would net a bigger payoff in the anticipation of an experience of a lifetime. Maybe a lifetime of experiences would be better served enjoying every moment of life instead of moving quickly ahead and chanting, “We’re almost there.”  

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Here’s hoping we all get where we want to be and enjoy the journey as much as the destination!