This is an essay I wrote for the paper of the town where my Geems grew up. It was inspired by my recent sort of obsession with memoir, the act of remembering, and the sacred lessons of our childhood. And also by my Geems, who taught us the importance creativity before we knew any differently.
For twenty years I didn’t know the actual address of my Grandma’s farm.
I don’t think any of the cousins really did. We knew you drove to Sully, Iowa and then turned at this mass of metal structures and then just when you thought you were there, turned right one more time. Its unknown coordinates felt appropriate because it’s always been more than just a farm to us.
On our first ever visit, we sat back on our heels, doubled-buckled, fingers and noses pressed against the shifting farmscapes reflected in the dusty van windows. With limited details, we’d been told we were finally meeting the illusive farm, the place where Grandma was when she was our size. All of it was new. All of it was exciting. All of us were in matching tie-dye t shirts.
We tousled out of the van, the six of us, varying sizes of small. The only sound was the wind pushing through the corn. Our only instructions were to be careful and have fun. Alone and in awe, we moved as a pack from building to building. Every structure felt cavernous and every stone begged to be turned. Like the tail of a kite, we moved in a line, running, laughing, drifting in zig zags across the bright grass and dull gravel.
In honesty, I'm not sure why we chose the loft as our space. Something about the unknown-the potential of crafting a fortress of play a whole level and several imaginary universes above Grandma had its appeal. Together, we were storytellers. We were young pioneers, seasoned spies, shape shifting demigods, and lost orphans. The loft seemed like the perfect place for our narratives to unfold.
The only issue was getting up there.
Derek, the eldest, the wisest, and for a brief window, the tallest, led our meeting to order as we each gathered around. Sarah, the youngest, blondest, and most prone to tattle sat near the window, sucking her thumb. Next to her were Jake (fastest, cutest, least amount of teeth) and Grant (kindest, most sensitive, least prone to lie) leaning against the door post, sun streaking through their silhouettes. That left Morgan (most caring, most orderly, and most amount of history facts memorized) who must have been next to Derek and me. As a child I was and continue to be the frankest, the most creative, and most prone to cry of the bunch.
After much discussion, some arguing, and a quick break for vanilla wafers, we settled on the simple solution of building a ladder. Scaling the twelve foot divide from barn floor to the loft was suddenly within reach. Each of us scattered in search of anything that could serve as rungs for our homemade invention. I returned with twigs that seemed ample in my mind but were put to shame next to the leftover scraps of rotted wood Jake found in the back corner of the barn. Someone snuck a hammer from the chicken coop. Rusty nails were pried out of their place to serve a higher purpose.
We had stories to tell and worlds to craft, so the whole process ended up taking less time than anticipated. When it comes to a construction project headed by a nine year old, this is hardly a good sign. Collectively, we stepped back to admire our work, each rung, like each of us, a bit different than the next, but important and part of something.
Our ascension began with the lightest of the bunch, moving to the heaviest, for safety reasons. After a paint stirrer was added between rungs four and five for safety, we had all hoisted ourselves into the loft. The afternoon light rushed in through breaks in the ceiling and sides of the barn. Hay bales stacked higher than we could jump covered half the space, leaving a corner by the window ours for the taking. Almost instantly, gone were our polyester basketball shorts and the anonymous rodents that lurked in the shadows. We were kings ruling with wisdom. We were journalists covering the war. We were the masters of our own stories, the stories the loft gave us.
And then it was time to go home. The sun had set, matching the faded yellow on our dyed shirts, and we were covered in dust, splinters, and sweat. We all quietly made our way down the ladder, careful of putting too much weight on rung four-and-a-half. The six of us trudged back to the van, buckled into our seats and drifted home. We left the loft, only to return a handful of times as children before we all grew into our own, real narratives. It was the loft where I first discovered my love for stories. And more than that, my love for those I was lucky enough to share them with.