Monday, January 22, 2007

crossing the fence



In the dark, when I close my eyes and try to sleep, here's where I go: the green pasture and knotted woods past this rusty gate, held by a fence where tufts of cow and deer hair used to get caught on the barbed stars, where the sycamore stands. When I'm back in Davie County and I can, I go here. I park the car next to the road, unwrap this rusty chain and the lock that doesn't work, push the fence across the grass. Every time it's different. The cedars, once just babies, are too tall to be our Christmas trees anymore. Brambles mess the sycamore's trunk. The grass is high and sharp. The old bathtub holds rainwater where the little herd of cows (mostly just pets with wholly uncreative pet names like Blackie and Brownie and Firecracker, who we got on the Fourth of July) drank. It's where Dad let me stand on the red tractor and steer as he worked the pedals. It's where my sister ran away and used poison ivy for toilet paper when she was about six years old. It's where Ed's yellow Mustang stopped for some sloppy teenage kissing. And it's where rows of chairs held my family when Pat and I married. This swatch of empty land that almost brushes against the Yadkin River is home.

At a little more than 266 square miles, Davie is the smallest county in North Carolina. Though the county boasts one of the highest speed limits on the interstate splitting the state lengthwise, ask anyone who drives Interstate 40 through that part of the rural Piedmont with any regularity. You'll likely hear a story of a dedicated Highway Patrol officer pulling someone over for speeding there. Farmington is just a blip in the county's northern part. Crossroads divide it, the Methodist church on one site, the Baptist on the other. The farm sits a mile from the community's only blinking caution light. The house where I grew up is just a stone's throw from that light, a half-mile from the farm itself. With the sound of engines bouncing off the hills, the Farmington Dragway is Farmington's only real modern claim to fame. And it is, in my estimation, the only reason it shows up on North Carolina maps, though more and more packs of brightly dressed bicyclists spin north down the relative flatness of Farmington Road toward Yadkin County.

Still, just like my ties there, the unincorporated community struggles to keep together. The woman who last owned the community's only working gas station and store died several years ago, and they closed. In high school, my one goal in life was to leave behind those crossroads, and, by default, the community that helped raise me. I, in clich├ęd teenage fashion, couldn't wait to leave that two-story, century-old house that's showing its age mercilessly today. There's little reason to stop there anymore, so it's not without irony (to me anyway) that the Chamber of Commerce now writes that "once people are here, they don't want to leave," even though lots of people feel passionately about the place -- my sister, who still lives in the house where we grew up and who works tirelessly to build some sort of community there, included.

This year, I'm traveling. Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, Budapest. Much of this blog will be about those travels. But walking the streets of a city where you know no one and don't speak the language or know where you are or know what to do next, that uncertainty is easy, temporary, fun, exciting. And even with its pastoral imagery, my home is messy, complicated, difficult, hard.

But I find more and more leading me back to Farmington and those green pastures. Maybe it's because a half mile from the house, my mother and father are buried on a hill under an oak tree, next to a different set of barbed wire holding in another pasture full of cattle. It's where the sycamore stands. It's where my little niece sings Christmas songs and plays with Play-dough, and where my sister and brother-in-law cook awe-inspiring meals.

For years, I've ignored exploring it, so this blog will be about that, too, because walking the roads and fields of my own home pushes against being a tourist, exposes the strings of memory that hold me in place, whether or not I know it or want it or believe it.

And that is exploring, really.

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