I missed a call on my cell today from my sister who was checking in to see how we were progressing on our way back to Nebraska. An hour later, Mom hands me her cell phone. "It's for you." "Hey, I tried to call you." "Sorry. I was really busy." We're both laughing because we know that I've been sitting in the back of the truck watching the terrain change: the Monfort meat packing plants outside of Greeley, the rolling hills of yellow grasses peppered with the occasional herd lucky enough to have found itself under free range ownership, then finally crossing into Nebraska. I imagine a giant woman in a long skirt ironing out the wrinkles of the land. We roll across the plains like a marble her boys have set free in a game that so many other travelers are playing today, straight and true and a little tired. East.
The last few days have been spent in Colorado, the Wild West, home of the bronco and the mountain men and the canyons carved by the white waters of the Colorado river. I am staring out the window. I had forgotten how tall the mountains are around my dad's place in Silt. The two horses have been replaced by a Ural, a motorcycle with a sidecar. The hillsides glow with oil rigs and big houses. This is not the town I grew up in. I drive Nora up to Roy Moore Elementary school only to find a patch of bare dirt, a rectangle, a barren ghost of some seven years of my life where I learned to read and curl my hair with a curling iron. I have to turn around and drive back down the road again. "I don't understand, Nora. It was right here. It's not here anymore." I look for the busses turning around, the green lunch trays, the water fountains, the construction paper train that wound around the entire school three times, each car a book we'd read that year. Gone.
We drive up the winding hill to the mesa, and I take Nora to the dirt road we walked down each morning to meet the bus. Grandma and Grandpa's house is still the same stormy blue color, but the roof is falling in. There's a pick up truck out front and a "No Trespassing" sign. I turn around. "There are so many houses here now, Nora. All this land used to be Grandpa's and the fields were green and we played out there all day long." "Did you bring toys?" "No, we didn't have many. We didn't really need any. We just...roamed. I can't believe how many people live here now." "You shouldn't be sad, Mommy. Maybe you should be happy that all those people who needed a place to live have found their houses." I stop talking, letting her heart teach mine, but it's still hard to be that generous with my memories and how I think it should be.
And here I am now: home. I have told so many people about this farmhouse, how Ila and Merle raised three kids, how it was built in '49, how I am here now and Lynn has to knock on the door to come into the place he called "home" for so many years. I think of Ila finally telling me after another invitation to come out and see the place, "It's just too hard to go. There are just too many memories."
And I'm thinking of the disappearing school, the principal it was named after, the one I loved. I'm thinking of my dad's place and the trees growing up through the deck and in front of the swing set, and I'm thinking of Grandpa's fields sectioned off and occupied, and the roof that covers us all, the renters who wait to be called to the mansion He built.