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Returning to Red Hill

December 29, 2012

The following excerpts are from my journal Thursday night. I was at the Red Hill Farm Plantation house, a place where my neighbors, Bob and Bonnie Cerwin, generously let me enjoy many times throughout my life. It has been a very special place to me and I am so grateful to them for its use.

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I am stirred in a whirlwind of emotion. Even as I write I tear up because I am so stirred. Time moves like a glacier. Unnoticeably slow, often terribly slow, but she moves with such power.

It’s almost impossible to fathom that it’s been fifteen years since I’ve been here. How intimately familiar this old house is. The weathered floor, the antique beds, the many fireplaces, the artifacts which also curiously belong in another time and place.

This is exactly how I feel at this moment. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be seventeen and carefree. To be half-child and half-man working for $6 per hour in the summer moving hay, mowing fields, mending fences and working cattle… with a bright future ahead, loyal friends by my side and a sweet little girl waiting for me back home. Freedom, music, hunting, fishing and tobacco were all we desired in those days and the farm had all you could eat. I grew up a lot in these fields.

I learned the value of hard work. I learned to work together with others and how work can be fun. I learned the value of neighbors and community. When Jake didn’t have a tool for the job we would ride over to Dennis’ or the Newton boys’. You have to care for each other in the country.

I learned to be resourceful. One summer, we helped Jake build a shed half the size of a football field entirely with recycled lumber. The rafters came from a barn he took down the summer before, and the posts were old cedar trees he had spotted and marked on the edges of various timber plots. We pulled them out with a chain hooked to the back of a tractor and set them in the ground. A couple of weeks later we were laying tin on the top.

I learned the value of doing a job right. Jake was planning on being around this place for a long time, so he taught us to care for it in such a manner.

Martha was a fairly young bride, barely in her 30s, who loved horses and longed to be a mother. Soon enough Martha was pregnant and I saw little Branson as a toddler as I moved into my college years.

After Sydney and I were engaged, we had an engagement party at the farm. I remember that event as one of the strangest, most oddly emotional things I had ever experienced. It was like I was standing on the playground of my childhood, where in many respects I had become a man, and I was looking deep into the unknown world of marriage, adulthood, career, family and responsibility. I would not have admitted it then, but I will tell you now, I was scared. I was the first to be married of my friends and brothers, and I knew for sure it was a leap of faith.

And now, I’m back here, fifteen years later. Branson is seventeen, and my life is oh so very different. Sydney was diagnosed with a brain tumor December 27, exactly four years ago today. We were in and out of hospitals for three years and she passed away the summer before last leaving me with three children and so confused I didn’t know what to do.

But, I have not been alone in the sorrow that has befallen me. My two closest friends who also spent their teenage summers here, Matt and Todd, have experienced their share of loss in adulthood.

Matt’s dad died of Lou Gehrig’s disease roughly eight years ago. Matt’s father-in-law, who he worked for for some time, recently died in a plane crash, and his brother-in-law died shortly after. Todd and his wife have struggled mightily with infertility and his brother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly last summer. And on my way to the farm I learned that sweet Martha has been battling breast cancer for the past several years.

Oh how I long for the naïveté of youth. To be young and invincible with inexperience, a small world and small problems. Oh how I wish I could trade in my kid-hauling Honda Pilot for the Jeep I had in high school and spend the summer here. How I wish I could be happy with $6 per hour and rekindle my love for chewing tobacco. How I wish I could heal Martha’s cancer and pull those souls out of heaven and put them back into our lives for just one last summer. But time won’t turn back, it can’t. The glacier has moved down the mountain and it can no more go back than we can.

Time is a fascinating irony. Especially when I think of those years and how badly I wanted to move forward, and how badly I now want to go back. Time gives generously, but it takes away without apology. It is brutally inflexible, yet mercifully pushes us through difficulty.

“The tragedy pushed me toward God, even when I did not want him… God is able to guide us on this quest, to help us become persons whose worth is based on grace and not on performance, accomplishments, and power. We can learn simply to be, whether we are divorced, unemployed, widowed, abused, sick, or even dying. We can allow ourselves to be loved as creatures made in God’s image, though our bodies are broken, our thoughts confused, and our emotions troubled. And we can start to become hopeful that life can still be good, although never in the way it was before.” -Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

From → Stories

  1. Linda Fowler permalink

    Beautiful. We love you, Todd.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Molly Painter permalink

    What a beautiful journal entry. Oh how I wish I could go back to that innocent time as well. We’re in Colorado with the girls and i’m reminded of our fun trip when you were Ben’s guest. His laugh seems clearer here, speeding down the slopes looking for jumps and tree trails! I hope your time at the farm brings Sydney’s voice closer to you.

  3. Nancy Teague permalink

    I just read this today. You have such a gift with words . Life is full of suffering for those of us who love so deeply. We think of you and your family often and with love.

  4. Pinchy Mohanty permalink

    Raw and defined – appreciate your heart and putting it out there – my friend Cindy m. Passed away in 2010 leaving behind 3 children, a vivacious and warm hubby, 2 dynamic creative humorous sister, jokster brother in law and a sweet mother who shares many similaraties with her daughter.

    Thank you for sharing your life with Sydney –

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