Another Spring

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The seagulls moved inland the year Bill Wagner planted corn on my Grandpa’s island farm.

They left the harbor where their gliding watch decorated the landscape and dirtied the docks. They abandoned, temporarily, the fishing boats where they lazily waited to claim the discarded remains of each day’s catch.

For the novel taste of earthworms and slugs, they came inland to follow the slow, gray tractor as it muddled over and plodded through the tough, overgrown fields, left fallow for thirty years.

My Dad noticed them first. “Get my gun,” he shouted to my daughters, “here’s dinner!” They remembered his similar suggestions at holidays, that Santa’s reindeer might make a good venison stew, or that the Easter Bunny might be good to eat. They knew he was teasing. Still, both responded with the squeals, looks of horror and groans he expected, and that made him grin.

Seeming more like one large, feathery organism than several hundred birds, the seagulls followed the tractor closely. Seagulls hovered overhead, flapped alongside and marched behind, like white rag ribbons bouncing along with the humming machine.

Bill led the parade daily, tilting over the broken soil with the birds, like bouquets of kite tails, in close attendance. They gave him the comic appearance of a balloon man.

The seagulls stayed when Bill went home at night, keeping watch over the tractor and the plow.

Impatient to get started each morning, the birds were already fluttering busily, vying for position, as the farmer made his early trek across the field to begin his work day.

Dragging the plow behind, the tractor slowly transformed the field. The first pass lifted the earth in clumps, pulled out the juniper, tossed up a few rocks. The second time over, the lurching machine turned the brittle grass under, exposed the roots and left a finer texture. With the disc attached the tractor made waves in the freshly turned, dark earth. Fertilizer next, then the planter left crooked rows of yellow kernels as the small machine moved grudgingly over the stony field. Another swipe covered the seeds, and a deposit of weed killer completed the job.

The work took nine days from start to finish.

Bill plowed one long day in the rain, and allowed the rain to keep him home the next.

The seagulls had perfect attendance.

We watched the progress from the house and yard.

Aunt Katie drank her morning coffee on the kitchen porch, to enjoy the smell of freshly plowed soil with the morning sun. After dinner she and Dad took their beers outside. Leaning back in their lawn chairs, they followed the tractor’s path with their eyes as their voices and laughter filled the evenings with sound.

My daughters protested the change.

“Nothing’s going to be the same!” they told me day after day.

“Now he’s ruined our fort!”

“There goes the rock pile!”

“That was my favorite little tree!”

Every report was a sad one.

Each pronouncement, they thought, was the one that would finally raise me up and drive me out of the house, to throw myself in front of the tractor, if necessary, to stop Bill’s wild destruction.

I understood their feelings.

I remembered, too.

In my own childhood, we made paths, piled stones, made forts and “hide-outs” in the tall grass. We found wildflowers and berries and caught fireflies as we roamed the fields morning and evening.

“Wait,” I told my young daughters, “you’ll have great fun playing in the tall corn.”

“Watch the birds,” I said, “They’re so funny!”

“Watch your Grandpa,” I told them.

That’s what I was doing.

Every day Dad walked the field.

His long stride covered the rough ground easily. He seemed to be measuring with his steady pace.

He moved quickly, as if he had a specific destination, then stopped suddenly, and without plan, to study the changes around him.

Feet planted firmly in the soil, his legs formed a triangle with the ground. His broad shoulders rounded,  back swayed and arms akimbo with thumbs hooked into his belt loops, hands resting on his hips.

He would stand for so long, surveying the daily progress, that his solid form could have looked like a statue.

Except for his head, nodding his grinning approval at everything he saw.

Now, that field has been planted nearly every year for more than twenty five years.

My cousin, Bob, has it planted this year with alfalfa and kale, in anticipation of pasturing his lambs there.

Aunt Katie still lives in Grandpa’s farmhouse there, as she has since she retired. Though she’s older and more frail, she still enjoys having a beer outside in the evening, to watch the activity on the farm.

Bill Wagner died many years ago; he’s still remembered and respected as a good man and a hard worker.

My daughters are long grown and gone from home, with children that wander the fields when they come here.

My Dad, so hard to believe, passed away close to fifteen years ago.

Many things have changed, with the passage of time, but the memories flutter, like those long ago seagulls, so close and so vividly that I can almost hear the laughter.

68 responses »

  1. Cindy–

    I love this. It has similar memories to mine in the farming aspect with Keech, John, and nuclear Joe. Another thing I remember is that the seagulls left behind as much as they consumed, sometimes right on my head.

    • Aw, Claire, thank you kindly! As I so enjoy your writing, and how you bring us all along with your endeavors in garden or kitchen, any comments you offer carry a lot of weight with me. Thank you!

  2. Oh, Cindy, I LOVE this piece, especially your description of the seagulls! Such lovely work!

    Sara and I have arrived safely in Ecuador–and I will try to get a post up sometime this week or next. Still trying to get oriented here! Miss your work!

    Hugs,
    Kathy

  3. Cindy, you have such a marvelous way with words that lets the reader feel a part of the whole process of your tales,. I so enjoy reading your blogs and how they take me back to when life was much less complicated .

  4. Touching and memorable. Lovingly written. Wonderful memories of a time gone by. Gee if only we could everse time but you did a very good job of doing that with your wtitten memories. I liked this post a lot.

    • Thank you, Yvonne, for these thoughts. Yes, I seem to be having lots of those “Our Town” moments, where I’d just like to go back and relive a day…and appreciate it better, knowing it won’t last. All we can do, I think, is learn to appreciate the present moments better. I try.

  5. Cindy, wow what powerful writing. I was right there with you. I know what you mean about “Our Town” moments having a few myself these days. There are places in my life I would like to walk again and some I’d choose to erase perhaps, but I do find myself a bit nostalgic for the ease of life back in the day. Really nice.

    • Yes, good memories seem to hold on, don’t they? Thank you so much for these generous comments…you know how much I admire your story-telling ability, so this means a lot. Thank you!

  6. I love the way you write, very real, very entertaining. My favorite line “the seagulls had perfect attendance” I think you are a lot like me.. grown kids, enjoying the grandchildren, writing and living life.

    • Oh, thank you for this sweet comment. I like writing about real life, all its tragedy and comedy, in a down to earth, readable way. I’m glad you found it entertaining. Thanks for reading!

  7. Oh my goodness, I LOVE this. It made my eyes misty, because your Bill Wagner reminds me so much of my own dad, who is also a self-made man and a farmer. This paragraph: “My Dad noticed them first. “Get my gun,” he shouted to my daughters, “here’s dinner!” They remembered his similar suggestions at holidays, that Santa’s reindeer might make a good venison stew, or that the Easter Bunny might be good to eat. They knew he was teasing. Still, both responded with the squeals, looks of horror and groans he expected, and that made him grin” is SO like him, haha. I hope that, with practice, I may develop a similar grace with my own writing. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work!

    • Oh, you’re so kind! Thank you!
      Actually, it was perhaps unclear, but Bill Wagner and my Dad were two different people. Bill was a neighbor, planting our field with corn for his cattle. My Dad was here visiting the farm home he grew up on. To my daughters and I, this was a big change…to Dad and Aunt Katie, it was a change BACK to how it had always been. They loved it, and I loved watching their enjoyment.
      Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

      • I’m sorry I got that wrong! I think I got excited when I realized Bill was a farmer, and automatically thought of my dad. But I really liked reading the story. It had a nostalgic feel to it, and made me want to think on my happy memories for a while.

      • Oh, no apologies necessary! My father was always a farmer at heart, too. Though he moved away from the family farm when he married my mother, he planted a large garden and raised chickens and pigs on our half-acre! He was quite a character, as it sounds like your father was as well. I’m so thankful for all the memories!

  8. i come from farm people also, although we now work in orchards. Birds are constant companions when we work, and i’m happy to see human progress through their eyes for a change.

    • Oh, I’m glad to hear that! Language can be a tremendous barrier, even when we’re all writing in the same language. I try to have a direct approach in my writing…not too many flowery embellishments. I appreciate your kind comments. Thank you for reading!

  9. Beautiful: “For the novel taste of earthworms and slugs, they came inland to follow the slow, gray tractor as it muddled over and plodded through the tough, overgrown fields, left fallow for thirty years.”

    • Oh, I love to hear that! I hate to see the old farmsteads fall away. They offer so much more than the huge industrial growers. Thank you for reading, and for your kind comments!

  10. Very sweet piece. I love memoir, the struggle with change and the passing of time is something everyone can relate to that is what makes memoir such a great genre.

    • I love it, too. I’ve always wondered if it was because I lacked the imagination for fiction. I think, rather, it is that memoir offers it all: humor, drama, irony, angst…and everyone can relate on some level. Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

    • Oh, thank you for that! I wrote this piece a few years ago, but altered it slightly to bring it up to the moment, and reflect my current speaking and writing style. I submitted it to our local news magazine, and it was printed, but the publisher took it upon himself to alter it, quite drastically in my opinion, and I’ve always had my nose a bit out of joint over that. So, it is particularly nice to hear all the good responses to my own piece as I wrote it! The publisher of our on-line news source just printed it there, too – also without changes! Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

      • isn’t it so irritating when they edit things like that? I had that happen once and I thought they cut out the essence of the dang piece!! I still won the 250.00 prize money (at a time I desperately needed every dime) but the hack job they did on it always stuck in my craw! 😉

      • It is Irritating! I suppose professional writers put up with it all the time, but I never like it. I had the same guy have me (because only I could do the job justice, he said) work on a lengthy piece for a charitable organization here. He then changed it completely, saying simply “It’s always easier to edit than to start from scratch.”

    • Thank you very much for these kind words! Spring has been slow coming to northern Michigan this year, too. In fact, we had a good snow yesterday…all over the tulips and forsythia and daffodils! Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

  11. I live in Oregon nut much bad weather haunts us thank god, but I dislike our rain, how much?? I if I was pretty good baseballer? I would not play for either Oregon Or Oregon state? why?? the rain. Im also in the cant wait mode to spring and summer!!! great blog

  12. What a beautiful story, Cindy! Your writing is very inspiring! My favorite part was the description of your father looking over the field, studying his work. I still catch my father doing this in our fields. Enjoyed reading about your memories. Thank you for sharing.

    • I’m so glad to hear that your father still enjoys watching the work going on in the fields. I think when you grow up farming, you always appreciate that ethic…and the smell of freshly tilled soil. Thank you for reading, and for your kind comments!

    • You appear to be quite a wonderful writer yourself! You also appear to be still very young…I’ve been writing in one form or another (many pathetic, melodramatic poems and angry letters to never send) for well over 40 years. Still, your comments are wonderful to hear. Thanks!

      • Thanks, Cindy! I really appreciate it! Be sure I’ll keep on reading your amazing writing!

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