The Dream Inside: Daily Post–Containers

Windows of Dreams
Windows of Dreams

While these windows don’t look like anything much, in reality they contain a dream. And not only a dream, but a dream of nearly forty years. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, that two windows and a red stepladder might hold so much.

Years ago, when I returned to college to complete an undergraduate degree, my life was in chaos; grief followed me; and I knew I was in trouble. While I have, as most will attest, a less than stellar memory, I clearly see myself walking across campus on a sidewalk bordered on the right by green, fresh grass and noticing a sign outside the low brick building on my left–Counseling Center. Abruptly turning in, I made an appointment. My counselor, Tim Lowenstein, taught me bio-feedback and self-guided visual meditation.

When I needed to go to a quiet and safe place, I’d visualize going to the farm, walking down the lane toward the road (Mom and Dad still lived on the farm so I couldn’t go to the house), turn left on the road towards the bridge over Mission Creek, climb over the fence to a wide grassy patch of pasture on the south side of the creek, and go to the cabin I’d built in my mind. I’d sit on the porch in a rocking chair to breathe and be at peace.

That went on for several years. I also talked to Dad from time to time about the farm’s future. When I worked on a BFA in metals, I’d talk about an artists’ retreat. How I’d build cabins at the perimeter, how his old heavy anvil would be useful again. I had to let go of that dream plan when I decided I’d never be more than an adequate visual artist and went back to acting. But I hadn’t forgotten the farm.

Mom and Dad moved to town; I moved everywhere else, including New York and Mexico, but the farm remained a place of peace and safety. After all, how loud can it be on a place six miles from the nearest paved road? By that time, I’d become a writer, but that made being on the farm even more attractive. I continued dreaming of a writer’s retreat.

My bookcase filled with Annie Dillard and William Least Heat Moon, Edward Abbey and Diane Glancy. Jane Brox wrote Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm and I underlined and underlined passages: “The heart of the New World had its own name: prairie. The long open center of the word conjures an endless, calm, undefined expanse…”

Dad died. Mother followed ten years later.

By then, I’d moved back to Kansas, my brother moved to Hawaii, and I took over managing the family farm, planted to tallgrass prairie, and with some of the outbuildings still intact although not the house. I’d helped Dad tear down to make way for a new double wide mobile home. But Dad saved the timbers of the old house and built a room onto the double wide, which we called The Little House, to accommodate kids when they came home. They’d sold the double wide when they moved into town, but the Little House still stood. Dead birds in the screens; pack rat nests in the basement; old jars of canned vegetables in the corner “cellar”; mold on the walls. I cleaned and tossed.

My husband and I bought an old camper and put it on the land. We’d go up when the weather permitted. Too hot and the air conditioner didn’t operate; too cold and the furnace couldn’t keep up, but we went. The folding panel of the camper shower cracked and leaked water onto the floor, but we went. We painted the inside walls of the Little House and turned it into a writing room. The antenna outside for television reception finally broke; we resorted to videos. The ceiling began to leak; we resorted to duct tape inside and vinyl coating on the aluminum roof; the mice and bugs got in; we resorted to moth balls, rat poison, and stinky air “freshener” when we left each time and swept up dead bugs and tossed dead mice when we returned. It was a process as they say, but the camper continued to decay.

It wasn’t until we were mid-way into the reconstruction of the Little House, adding a kitchen and bathroom, a new roof, new insulation and siding that closed cracks to critters, new front deck, and driving the two and a half-hour drive up, again, to take light fixtures and paint and to once more clean out the basement, when, on the two and a half-hour drive back that evening, I woke from a doze and realized a dream was coming true.

An artist’s retreat was about to be born.

This is land my grandpa’s father homesteaded in the 1800’s, the man who’d walked the long journey to St. Joe to buy supplies like salt and sugar and lug it back. Grandpa told stories of the Jesse James’ gang coming by one time his father was on a trek to St. Joe and how they’d asked for dinner, politely, and slept the night. This is where Grandpa traded with the Otoe Indian tribe–cattle for firewood–whose reservation was north of our place. This was where his wife died and where Grandpa died. This is where Dad grew up. This is where I grew up and couldn’t wait to get away. And then, it’s where I returned.

Dream your dreams, boys and girls. Because you know what? The more you dream, even with editing, they may just come true.

And the windows? I’ll put a desk in front of those windows and sit there and look. Here is the prairie. This is what dreams are made of.

Night comes to the prairie.

 

 

Memorial Day – Kansas

The Law headstone, Vermillion, KS

When your family history is carved onto land, there’s not much left to tell the story. A waterway through a field, planted with tallgrass, sliding down to the gully at the bottom of the hill; rows of terraces crossing the hillside to guide and keep that same rainwater on dry-land farming land: some of the first terraces in Marshall County after the Dust Bowl days. Dust. Dust you can write your name in alongside “WASH ME.” A name that disappears in the next cloud burst. Sometimes the name stays until it’s covered in more dust.

And headstones, scattered across the northern edge of Kansas, one cemetery just across the state line into Nebraska, which bear family names: Law, Sunderland, Moore, Ellis, Brucker.

Law was Grandma Sunderland’s family name although I don’t know much about them except that there were big family gatherings at their last house in Vermillion. My older cousin Howard remembers the family gatherings, kids running all over the place, and Great-grandmother mostly sitting quietly in a back bedroom. By that time in life, somebody else gets to herd the kids.

On all sides my family tree grows from the land, farmers all except for my Grandpa Joe Ellis who left the rocky hillsides farming of Kentucky to come west and learn to be a telegrapher and a depot agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

Grandpa Joe read books and poetry. His wife, Grandma Margaret, wrote poetry, and was a Moore, the daughter of a Kansas pioneer who, the family stories go, was the first while child born west of the Missouri in Jewell County, Kansas.

Grandpa Joe read rather than wrote. His work as a telegrapher meant writing came from sound, the chattering dots that somehow magically converted into letters in his careful handwriting – other people’s words. Someone else at the other end of a telegraph wire collected his chattering dots and made them into words. I remember standing at the edge of his depot desk, rapt as only a five-year-old can me, and watching him receive and send messages.

Law and Ellis and Sunderland and Moore are all English names. They floated like cotton seeds across the land, restless, ranching, farming, searching, pulling up farming roots in one place to move to another farm. The Bruckers are the ones from Bohemia who immigrated together, farmed together, and stayed put. The farm in Kansas, where I often retreat to, belonged to my step-dad, the Brucker who raised us, and his dad. It’s been in family, the Brucker family, for over a hundred years – more like 130 yrs. or so. A Kansas homestead.

The generation above me was educated in that they had finished high school. My step-dad Ralph even had two years at a business college and kept rows of green ledger figures, written in a hand cramped by arthritis, all the years he farmed. My generation was the first to enter college. My sister Judy as first, going to a bible college in South Dakota before marrying, but my younger sister Jeanne not only finished college but went to graduate school at K-State before traveling all over the world in the years when that was what you did. My cousin Linn Sunderland followed her to K-State, but he was one to stay put and farmed with his dad while his dad lived.

I left hight school at seventeen to marry in a rebellious act of running away from home, and I saw the world as an Army wife, not beginning college until 1966 when I closed up the mobile home outside Ft. Carson, Colorado, and drove my two young sons and myself to Hollywood, California as a running-away defiance against war.

The Law headstone stands up tall and white. A big headstone for a farming family with a name written deep to survive years of cloud bursts. Maybe the point of a family that drifts is to plant the cottonseed, let it grow into a shading tree.

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