Even though it up and sleeted April 7, a sight so odd that even Junior looked up from his phone for a second, this time of year gets The Observer thinking about the old home place out Congo way, that big white house with the red roof that dear Pa and Ma rebuilt from a leaning cracker box with their own hands.
That house and the 20 acres it sat on is gone on to other owners now, the great oak at the back corner of the house rent by a lightning strike some 20 years back, the woods where Pa taught us the difference between hickory and white oak mostly logged off these days, if the Googlebird's satellite view is any judge. Still, that old place still calls to us, with its 1,000-bale hay barn and saddleback trees, its woodland junkyard of beloved jalopies rusting in peace. Like the man said: You can't go home again. But still, we find it in our dreams from time to time. May you have a place like that to dream of from time to time, Dear Reader.
We think of the old home place around April because it is coming time to start putting plants in the ground: casting the seed or dropping a handful at a time in the top of a careful mound; poking a hole in the turned dirt with a good-sized stick, then plopping in a fledgling 'mater plant no bigger than a finger that will be putting out cathead-sized Better Boys by high summer, like the world's slowest magic trick. Pa always planted a big garden down at the bottom of the hill below the house, in a football-field-sized rectangle gone black and fertile from a million years of Boot Creek floods. The ground at one end was shaded by another huge oak where he'd hung a porch swing on 50 feet of chain so he could sit and survey.
Around this time of year, he would turn the dirt with a disk pulled behind Baby, his 1952 8N Ford tractor, liveried in dove gray and red. The Observer painted that tractor as a Father's Day gift to the Old Man when Yours Truly was but 15 years old. Blew it apart one weekend while he was gone fishing, scrubbed out the grime with a toothbrush and a can of thinner, and then soaked her down with implement paint. Baby never made more than 3 miles an hour in her life, so as a joke we stenciled licks of hot-rod flames in orange and red onto her hood, pouring back from the finned radiator cap to the steering wheel. Pa dearly loved that tractor, even after the incident one winter in which he tossed a tube of super glue into the steel seat pan after fixing a cracked distributor cap and then promptly sat on the tube, only discovering during the dismount that he had managed to glue his coveralls, jeans, tighty-whities and a sizable chunk of his left asscheek to the seat. Never have we seen our dear Ma laugh as hard as she did while attempting the careful scissor work necessary to separate man from machine. Other than, of course, how hard she laughed during that last, mighty, teeth-gritted jerk he gave to finish the job.
Oh, how The Observer would love to be there on the old home place again, with summer coming on. We often hated it there, ready to be elsewhere. Now that we've been everywhere, we miss it like you wouldn't believe. Soon, July will be here, adorned in velvet green and wheat yellow. Soon, the blackberry vines will be heavy with jewels. Soon, the crookneck squash will be creeping across the ground, laden with gold, and the watermelons will be hiding their scarlet hearts among the leaves. Then, the farmer will lean on the fender of his cooling tractor. He will sip a little water from the Army canteen he keeps in the toolbox, and survey that little Eden he has made while the crickets in the tall grass sing the oldest hymns. And then he will think to himself: Ain't this heaven? Ain't this a kind of heaven, right here on Earth?