We had spent many good years on this farm. The animals were taken care of, by far the best, compared to what it could have been. There was enough food for all of my family and abundance was enjoyed by every relative whether cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and step children. Even the piglets were happy at that time as they were regarded as family. They sat with us at the kid’s table for holidays, but as we grew older and they grew larger, we realized one of them became our family dinner for Christmas. That was the only year my younger sister cried during this holiday.
We would watch my father grab a pig by its legs, wrap the rope around its ankles, and string it up in the air by both feet. He would produce his sharp knife at the last second from behind his apron and slit the pig’s throat with such precision and depth. We were in awe of his ability to kill pigs at such a quick rate. He could corral any medium sized animal, string it up, and cut its throat. The animal would bleed out, which we would collect for my mother. She loved making those sausages during the summer time. They were so tasty and every time I eat one now, it reminds me how special my mother was in the kitchen. I have never tasted better sausage since her passing.
My brothers were involved in the skinning and butchering process. They were happiest when my father was showing them how to butcher the pig where the least amount of meat was wasted. Nothing was ever wasted in practice, thanks to my parents, as they used everything from all animals. The bones left over were boiled down for various soups or given to our wild, crazy dogs. Some of them scared us, but they protected the livestock when it counted the most, against the coyotes and wolves.
My oldest brother shot a wolf in the head when it came too close to the livestock, but regretted it soon after. The mother wolf was only trying to get food for her pups. He heard them crying for their mother on a walk the next day to clear his head. They all survived thanks to him. He became their provider by throwing them raw beef after he ate supper and did his chores. My father found out and wasn’t too happy about it, but there was nothing he could do about it. My brother was as stubborn as my father was, and this included his decision to leave the family business, and apply to college. His interest was in European history, given he was European himself, and became a well-respected professor among his colleagues and students.
The year we lost much of our fields to a fire, spreading quickly during the summer I was fifteen, was the worst for us. Some of our beloved livestock was killed. It sent my parents into a survival mode, and had a hard time recovering from this disaster. My father never walked the same way, he never whistled anymore, and in his free time all he did was stare into empty space. He did not view life as something to be enjoyed as he once had. He went through the motions for a few years and doubt he realized that he killed more animals in those two years than he had in the previous five years before that. The shack behind our house was filled with more bones than any of us knew what to do with, but we dared not throw any of them away. My father had a knack for knowing when something was missing.
Those two long, hard years was when we changed the name of our farm from Pritchard Farm to Turnaround Farm. We all survived because we asked our extended family to help us during the early morning hours and when they had to leave to tend to their own families and jobs midday, we asked for other members to carry our progress into the night. We all worked hard hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and when one year became the end of two years, we had made our money back. We were in a better position than when we started in some respects. My parents had more dollar bills in their pockets, and our family members wanted nothing in return when offered; but our bodies suffered in the process. Everyone hunched over a little more including myself.
It was many years later when I voiced to my father to sell his farm. I was the closest living kid to my parents along with my younger brother who was about an hour away. He was proud of his green pick-up truck. The rest of my siblings were much more adventurous and moved to other parts I won’t visit. He didn’t listen to me and said I was being a knot headed pig, which is what he said when any of his friends or family said something he disagreed with. It was after his stroke that he stopped being rational. When he could not talk, those were some of the most relaxing times for me as an adult. I had a hard time understanding him, and this frustrated both of us. He kicked me than once because of his inability to speak well. When he had his second stroke and could not talk at all, the frustration between us evaporated.
My father liked to compare us kids. My older brother was book smart. I was not. My older sister had the looks. I did not. My younger brother had both smarts and looks. I did not. My younger sister had the face of Shirley Temple and was bound to be a child star. She never became a child star, but she was in a many films as an extra with speaking parts and then made a name for herself in theater and independent films. They had things I would never possess. I never wanted to be in front of a camera or prance around on stage, which is what I imagined my little sister doing when she rehearsed.
My father told me I had things none of my other siblings possessed. He said I was the closest to him, but just happened to be female. He said it was neither here nor there. He didn’t blame me for my inability to be as tough as my brothers. He said I could do anything I wanted in life, and said he was the most proud of me because out all his kids, I was the one who never left his side. This was where the fork in the road between him and my siblings became wider. I took the left and all my other siblings went right. I felt a duty to stay by his side until the end.
My father told me on his deathbed a story when I was five. My mother had planted flowers with yellow petals and a black center. I took one look at them and hated the color. I wanted them to be purple. I made a sign that read, Purple Flowers, but they weren’t exactly purple after I was done. My collection of magic markers went from ten to nine. It didn’t take long to notice this was going to take forever. I replaced my original idea with a new one. I hid this puke yellow color as best I could on the petals with purple polka dots. He said I had imagination that was hard to harness.
When my mother came home, she was horrified. She took out the paddle my father only used on rare occasions and more so on the boys than the girls. She hit my behind several times, and each time I heard the whack, I gritted my teeth as my mother cursed at me. My father told me to apologize to her for what I did. I readily said, “I’m sorry” over and over, but deep down I hadn’t wanted to apologize. I felt she was mean to me, and I don’t remember crying although my father said I did. He stated it took quite some time for me to calm down. What I do remember was him picking me up and holding me as he walked among the cornstalks. He pointed toward the direction of his recently acquired land and spoke about his vision for his family’s future. Even though I was born right in the middle of it all in so many ways, he made me feel as if I was an only child.
This was what I wrapped my beating heart around as my father grabbed my hand and squeezed. He told me everything was okay back then and everything would be okay now. I told him how much his recognition of me carried me throughout the years. He never let my hand go until he died later that night. I had wanted other family with us, but he said I was the only one good enough to be with him during this time. The actual reason was he did not want others to see him as frail. He told me I could handle it. After placing his bony arm beside him, I left his bedroom where he had slept over fifty years.
I sat down at the table where all us kids sat and thought about the memories of this farm. We lived here, through the good and bad, and best of all we continued in our own ways. We did not agree upon many things as we grew older, but my siblings would eventually meet with me to discuss the best way to divvy up our parents’ land and house.
I took this time and sat alone collecting my thoughts before calling my younger brother first. I intended to honor my father’s wish and did. I buried his secured box in a thick plastic bag where no one would find it except me. We could see what was inside, but not a day sooner, and could not tell my siblings about it until five years had passed.
It was in short time I heard my younger brother’s truck barrel down the gravel driveway and come to a halt much too close to the house. This always bothered our father in his later years. Even though Conrad had lived close to us, I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He looked the same, but wore a different cowboy hat. Being the bigger sister, I held the door open for him and gave him a big hug. He picked me up much like my father did when he was still able to lift me up. It was so good to see him.
I took his hand and walked toward our father’s bedroom. He knew what had happened and stood taller. My chest tightened and wondered was I doing our father justice by keeping his box a secret. I stopped at the door and waited for Conrad to enter. I waited until he had said his goodbye, much like I would do with my other siblings when they arrived. I never told any of my siblings about the box and never thought otherwise when we buried our father. When the five year mark had passed by, it was apparent to me the box should stay hidden. We had spent many good years on this farm and wanted to keep it this way until our end.