Mary's Farm: Visit to the Family Homestead
When I first came here to Mary’s farm, I named the place “Stillpoint” because it was so quiet here and because it was the still point in my turning world. It still is that, even as the world turns ever faster. The stillness in the early spring is especially profound, with the fields still deep in snow and the animals, for the most part, still sleeping.
Last year, my aunt died. She was the last of my parents’ generation in our family to pass away, and her passing prompted a great gathering of cousins in New Jersey, where most of us grew up. Only my cousin Carol still lives there. It was her mother whom we had lost. The service was planned for early April. As close to a reunion as we’ve ever had took shape as cousins we hadn’t seen in decades flew in from London and Oregon, while the rest of us drove down from New England and came up from D.C. So there was a lot of excitement about seeing one another, despite the sad occasion.
Driving down was like watching a film about changing seasons in fast motion. By the time we hit Massachusetts, the snow had vanished. In Connecticut, the grass was greening, and in New Jersey, forsythia blazed and daffodils bloomed. When we arrived and opened the car doors, mild, soft air greeted us. No trip to Florida could have given such pleasure. I’d prescribe such a trip any day for treatment of the winter blahs.
One of my cousins had a surprise for us. Somehow she knew who was living in our grandparents’ home, a big old house with all kinds of secret places and wonderful memories, a place where we were all spoiled beyond words. And so she arranged that we should go there for a visit–en masse. The current owners were amazingly accommodating of our nostalgic mission.
The day after the funeral, we caravanned to the old stucco manse, two towns away. It looked very much the same, except the new owners had done some appropriate updating. They welcomed us and took us on a tour of the house. They lived in 21st-century comfort, but every floorboard, every outlook from every window, even the overhead of the old garage, brought back memories. It seemed like an extraordinary privilege to be able to walk through one’s past, in the present.
They took us to the basement, which is now a comfortable game room. I recall it as a dark place where the coal was delivered down a chute and where my grandfather went each morning to shake the cinders down. The kitchen, where my grandmother left oatmeal to cook on the stove overnight, was radically changed, but the owners had saved some of the old cupboards.
They took us up to the attic, too, where my grandfather would go on Christmas Eve to stomp around as if he were Santa coming down the chimney, and we all believed it. Outside, the trees and the lawn were exactly the same. How could that be possible? I wondered. Except the new owners had planted dozens of daffodils that were, on that day in April, in full bloom. I was grateful for those flowers and for that house, a surprising still point in the whirling world of New Jersey.
Edie Clark’s memoir, The Place He Made, revised and updated, is now available at: edieclark.com