It’s the longest day of the year.
The sun is still hanging above the cornfields and the stalks are not tall enough yet to silhouette the sky
The earth and sky touch with no interference.
I stand on land that I knew as a child, my grandparent’s farm which is now my uncle’s and a thousand acres of family land stretches out around us. I stare at the feed bunks that line the landscape and I remember the time I fell hard here. How I struggled to heal from those scars.
My heart is tugged in many directions but my eyes return to the sunset and the silos.
My mom, uncle and cousin Nancy are with me. Mom and I have traveled a thousand miles to get back to this land. My mother and uncle grew up here. I spent much of my childhood on these acres. It’s home.
I am lost in my own memories. I breathe deeply the country air. I close my eyes and remember a dozen trips to this farm as a child.
I am startled back to the present moment when my cousin starts to cry. Nancy is nine years younger than me and has lived under these Iowa skies her whole life. Down’s Syndrome makes her acutely aware of nuances. She cries loud and often. No emotion is left stifled in her.
I admire Nancy and her unbridled emotion. But I have no time to ask or process what she is feeling. I’m too caught up in my own nostalgia.
We drive my uncle’s truck fast the ½ mile back to his house, a dog jetting the same mph beside us. Open windows and a soft bed feel perfect. I sleep better than I have in years.
I rise to a sunrise that takes my breath away. I pick a few flowers.
I pour coffee early and turn my rental car onto dirt roads to make the four hour round-trip to visit my grandmother. I’m still thinking about the previous night’s sunset and Nancy’s crying but my eyes look forward.
Folks can carry a thousand unknowns down dirt roads and end up at a place where it all makes sense.
Rain clouds surround the road that I travel and speckled gray skies are threatening. I have already traveled more than 1200 miles and just 60 remain. Up ahead a turquoise blue band glows over my destination and I stop to take a photo.
After hugs I get a glimpse at my grandma’s creativity. New paints are lined up there on her kitchen table.
I smile wide that she hasn’t forgotten the most important things.
She holds the words I’ve written (my first book) in her 94 year old hands and it’s more beautiful than the Iowa sunset I stood in awe of last night by the barn.
I have seven hours on her couch and if that couch could talk it would tell you stories that would frighten fish. It’s a sacred space, a confessional. Something between us knows that this might be the last goodbye. The final confessional. We hold nothing back. We don’t have time for small talk or editing of our sentences.
The truth is that we never did.
I stand up to leave and the hugs are too many to count. I keep saying goodbye and she does too but we come back to me kneeling and her brushing my hair and smiling at me. I get Kleenex.
She whispers “I’m so proud of you” and I whisper the same words back.
I add: “You’ve always been my favorite person, you know?”
I glance at all the pictures, 27 great-grandchildren in a line on her fridge. I point at all the pictures and say “I made you a grandmother, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did.” She smiles.
A good gig, huh? I reply. She laughs and her eyes twinkle blue just as they always have. Her dimples show and mine mirror hers as I get up to leave.
“The best.” She says, dimples showing.
As I leave her last words are “be a good girl”
Which is the exact phrase she’s said to me every time I’ve left that couch for all of my 49 years.
My reply is always the same: “I’ll do my best, grandma.”
I sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes because I don’t know how to leave. I don’t want the sun to set on this. But there is no staying. We have said all the words.
There is only Iowa sky and dirt roads in between me and the 100 miles I have to journey.
I drive the 106 miles of pavement and dirt roads back to the farm and arrive just in time for another dinner and sunset.
I ask my cousin Nancy when I return to the farm what I didn’t know how to ask her the night before.
“Nancy- when you were crying last night was it because the sun was going away?”
“Yeah” she said, looking up shyly above her glasses.
“Do you always cry when the sun goes down, or just sometimes”?
“Just sometimes” she says, our eyes meeting.
“Ah, me too,” I respond, holding back tears.
“Because when something is that beautiful you never want to say goodbye.”
We walk outside to watch the sky.