A very partial list of what the fire burned
A very partial list of what the fire burned: Childcraft encyclopedias, Mom’s notes from court reporting school, family portraits, at least 10 flip phones, a briefcase of knives my brother bought off a crackhead in Danville, grandpa’s Pioneer jackets, baby shoes with laces, a framed newspaper photo of my dad on a tractor in a parade, the Forest Fairy costume from Hansel and Gretel when I was nine, Dad’s high-school football jersey, so many floppy disks, notepads with drawings we’d made as kids, a dollhouse full of mouse poop, my parents’ high-school diplomas, tiny 2T coats, Mom’s wedding dress (still in its labeled storage box).
When my dad called me into the kitchen, it was with a voice I barely recognize now. He said Lindsey, come in here, please in a voice that did not mean please. A voice that implied I was about to be grounded.
I’m writing to you from the guest bed at my parents’ house, in the blue room that’s no longer my bedroom. Now it’s more of a storage unit — tubes of Christmas wrapping paper leaned in the corner, a clock radio I recognize from our old camper, my mom’s yoga mat and nail polishes, and boxes upon boxes of old family photos. One photo is of my dad, his head tilted with a broad smile. His curly hair is big and he’s wearing a brown shirt embroidered with a western design, the lapels open. Based on the sunset art on one paneled wall and the familiar clay figurine on the TV, I can assume the setting as my mom’s college apartment, sometime in the late 70s.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my dad cry and the number of times I’ve heard him yell — one hand for both of them, I mean. What’s striking about the photo is his smile. It is warm and full of love for the photographer.
When I was probably 14, I asked my mom how much our house cost. We moved into this tri-level farmhouse in 1989, but I’d never thought to ask before then. I was getting older, more aware of adults, curious about my parents as specimens.
She said they didn’t pay anything for it, really, and then backtracked a little: We lived in the house as part of the deal for my dad farming the land. The whole idea seemed so sweet to me then. Like our house had been a really good present.
We knew it was a possibility that the farm would be sold. The original owners have long passed away and now a new, unfamiliar generation owns the land and the house. My mom texted about it a couple months ago, early on a weekday: Your dad would have to find a new job. We’d have to find somewhere new to live. My husband responded asking about their plans. Mom complained about the new owners, how little they cared about loyalty. I’d just gotten out of the shower and stood in the bathroom naked, staring down at my phone through tears.
I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle on this farm. I had birthday bonfires on this farm. I snuck cinnamon schnapps from the cabinet on this farm. I slept in my brother’s bunk bed every Christmas on this farm. I made zines on this farm. I wrecked my bike. I sang myself to sleep. I sunbathed while listening to my Discman. I dry humped my first boyfriend. I mowed the lawn and sang Paperback Writer. I saw the Pleaides. I passed notes through the heating vent to my brother’s room. I pierced my nose with a sewing needle. I filled journals. I danced in my wedding dress. I walked to the shed and read A Midsummer Night’s Dream out loud.
Dad called me to the kitchen so the whole family would be together. I wanted everyone to hear this, he said in the you’re-grounded voice. He’d just gotten word that the farm is being sold at auction and they have to move out of the house by the end of February.
We had to start somewhere, so today we started cleaning out the basement.
Mom sorted through hundreds of boxes and plastic totes, then piled what should be thrown out. Dad carried what should be thrown out to the driveway. My brother and I drove a golf cart in a circuit that wore a path in the grass by sunset — picking up the throwaways and loading them on the back, then driving to the edge of the front yard where there was a fire. A fire huge enough to burn what we threw in. We stood at the edges, the heat pinking our cheeks, balancing the weights of trunks and dressers and old clothes and boxes of papers on our shoulders before heaving it all into the flames. Sometimes we yelled Bye, childhood! because that was funny and not funny. Then we stood silently and watched what melted, what curled, what popped and squealed and put up a fight as the piles disappeared into dust.
I helped my dad make his first resume a few weeks ago. Here is what it says.
Farm Operator, 1976 — current
- Operate 650-acre corn and soybean farm, 2008 — current
- Operated 1200-acre corn and soybean farm, 2000–2008
- Operated 1500-acre corn and soybean farm, 1995–2000
- Co-operated 2000-acre corn and soybean farm (with father), 1976–1995
Once he’d remembered all the dates and declining acreages, we added his long list of memberships in bureaus and boards. When I asked if there was anything else, he said Well, I want to talk about you guys. So we added a section called Personal.
- Fourth-generation farmer, grew up on small grain farm and livestock operation
- Been married to Joni for 34 years
- Have a daughter, Lindsey, and a son, Brandon
My dad is probably stoned in the photo, but still.