I am not the nostalgic type. I don’t reflect on “the glory days” of high school, and I don’t have particularly fond memories surrounding the town where I grew up, but lately as I’ve read The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, stubborn memories float up, persistently tugging and scratching at my day to day.
To be completely truthful, I am a hard person to befriend. I wouldn’t call myself reliable. I can’t be depended on to keep plans. I’m up front about that in my life now because I figure if you’re looking for some true blue good friend, you’re better off looking elsewhere. I suspect with my anxiety comes some depression, but I can’t be bothered to deal with the paperwork and conversation necessary to have that confirmed by a doctor. It’s possible I may just be an asshole, but my husband assures me I’m not. Often I don’t want to leave the house. I struggle to find motivation. The littlest thing feels insurmountable, and I am a master of avoidance. I enjoy Kelly’s company immensely, but other than him, I generally prefer to be alone. I will cancel most plans I make. I never answer the phone. I’ll put it all on the table for you here—in the course of a friendship, I will undoubtedly let you down. That’s not what I offer. That’s not what I’m selling. When I do follow through, I generally make people laugh. At the very least, I amuse them. I can be a great storyteller. I am good at adding whimsy to a day. I am better at orchestrating hedonism. Is this enough to make up for my faults? I doubt it.
Reading The Shepherd’s Life reminds me so much of my Grandmother and her ranch in West Plains, Missouri. I haven’t visited in years, and I haven’t seen my Grandmother in years. I talked to her on the phone on my birthday and cried shortly after hanging up when she ended our conversation with, “I hope to see you again before I die.” I’m not sure why I’ve stayed away this long, but it’s typical of me. The longer I didn’t visit, the guiltier I felt about it and the more uncomfortable I was confronting it. It seemed easier to avoid my feelings, but here we are on the phone, and she is wonderfully the same as always. I am simultaneously so happy to hear her and hating myself more than ever.
When I was young, I spent a lot of time on her 300 acre cattle ranch. She would wake up every morning around 3 to 4 a.m. I was often still asleep, and she would go out to start tending to the needs of a ranch. She’d check the cows, bottle feed the calves that needed it. Sometimes, I’d get up early and wait for her to come back in, and I’d hear the door to the back porch shut. She’d slide off her muck boots and come into the kitchen with the cold air still clinging to her. Other times, when I was older, I’d sleep on the spare bed in the “Piano Room”, and I’d wake to listen to Grandma, my uncle, and my Dad chatting in the kitchen. I couldn’t make out much of what was said, but I would hear a lot of laughter through the walls. Eventually, the smell of coffee and sausage would prompt me to head into the kitchen where Grandma would be hovering around the stove, scrambling eggs in her cast iron skillet. Everything tastes better there—toast smeared heavily with sorghum, whole milk, and nuts to pick at on the table in a glass bowl.
Suddenly this week, I miss everything about my Grandma’s. I miss the random ranch cats she used to throw scraps over the fence at, and I miss sitting outside under the big tree and hearing the thump of clumsy June Bugs that hit the side of the house. I miss her Victorian touches throughout the house, and I miss her talking about “putting her face on” every morning after working the ranch. I miss the excitement I’d feel when I’d see my cousins arriving down the long gravel road that lead to the house. I looked through these photos I took years ago at her house, and I could immediately imagine the sounds of the house, the smells, and my Grandmother who was always interested in anything I had to say.
I suddenly feel the strongest urge to go back, to return to this place that has such a strong imprint in my heart and in my past. I suddenly miss it so much that I feel a little lost. I need to ground myself, and I feel the strong need to return to my roots, to the person that existed here so many years ago and had dreams. I desperately miss the girl who had all the answers to where she was going and was brave. I miss the girl who never hesitated, never second guessed. If you’re not careful, old age will wear you down to a nub. People insist that I’m not that old, but I’m an old soul and some days, I feel ancient. The things that make aging easier at times make it harder. I’m not nearly as passionate about everything as I was in my 20s. That makes things a good deal less dramatic but can also feel like defeat.
When I was little, I slept under flannel sheets in Grandma’s bed. I begged her to tell me stories every night about her life as a rancher, and she scoffed. She is nothing if not practical and could never understand how I’d manage to find poetry in her tales of long days of hard labor. She correctly assumed that I naively focused on the glamour of it all, conjuring up pictures in my head of Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, hair whipping in the wind under a cowboy hat. While this is true, I imagine there is a freedom that comes from being your own boss. I imagine you don’t lose your soul every day when you aren’t trapped from 8 to 5 behind a computer. I think there must be something inherently rewarding that seeps down to your bones when you rely only on yourself for your livelihood. I imagine you never feel a deep undercurrent of being trapped that pulls at you every morning you wake up. I bet my Grandmother has no regrets.