The first seven years of my life were spent on a hog farm in rural Alabama. The farm was my dad's full-time job, and I was lucky enough to spend lots of time with him. There was nothing I loved more than going with Daddy. It didn't matter where we went or what we did; it was all the same to me as long as I was with him.
I have many wonderful memories from those first 7 years. Gathering eggs, mucking stalls, playing in the corn silo, riding on the tractor, going to livestock auctions...you get the idea. I do have a few dim memories involving my mom and my older sister, Monica, but the technicolor, 3-D memories all involve my dad.
One of my daughter's favorite stories is of the time I went along on a tractor ride with Daddy. It was a little green John Deere tractor, no cab for the driver, open-air all the way. My "seat" was the wheel cover, my handhold Daddy's overall straps. We bounced along the dirt road, around the bend past barn #1 (the "everything else" barn), down the hill past barn #2 (the main pig barn), and up the hill to barn #3 (the other pig barn).
Daddy instructed me to stay on the tractor for a little while, and I only half noticed that he was moving pigs around to different stalls. I was busy pretending to drive the tractor; playing with the stick shift, yanking the steering wheel left and right, making my best tractor engine noise. Of course, Daddy was none too pleased to look up and see the trenches I was digging with the wheels, so he called me to come over and get into one of the now-empty stalls with him.
I was just about to climb over the fence when he realized I'd ruin my shoes. So off those came, and over the fence and into the muck I went with my bare feet.
Have you ever played barefoot in the mud? It feels wonderful. It's slippery and slidey and it squishes just so between your toes.
My 6-year-old logic told me that since pigs love playing in the mud, mud was what was covering the stall floor. I had a blast squishing and sliding and falling down in it. I was really annoyed when Daddy finished cleaning it all away. But all fun must come to an end. Oblivious, I climbed back onto the tractor to head back to the house.
My dad called for my mother to come to the back door. Imagine my surprise when the first thing out of Daddy's mouth was, "You should've seen Marci playing in the pig poop". I was immediately stripped, hosed off, and rushed inside for a scrubbing in the bathtub.
When I was 7 (or 8?) years old, they sold the farm and we moved 30 minutes away. My dad stopped being a farmer and founded a (very successful!) concrete construction company. I never got over it.
After many years, he began acquiring as much of the land surrounding the "new" house as he possibly could, and, several more years later, began rebuilding his farm. Not just pigs this time. He got horses and cows and pigs and chickens and even donkeys and goats for a while. But still, most of his attention was on the construction company. He hired someone to take care of the animals.
Daddy retired last year. He sold his construction company. He takes care of the farm alone now.
I haven't been home for a casual visit in years. I've made quick trips for weddings and funerals, but no "just because" visit. I finally found my excuse this summer. I was laid off on June 30th, and had a job waiting for me on July 1st, but decided to take a 2-week break between jobs. It was the best thing I've done in a long time.
I got up at 4:30 or 5 every morning, had coffee on the deck with my parents and watched the sun rise. My days were full of work - household chores, garden chores, farm chores - and I loved every single moment. I spent a little time with Mother, but I was 7 years old again, trailing after Daddy, pretending to help on the farm. Daddy and I spent hours together picking blueberries, "working" cows, taking a daily 2-mile walk, riding around the farm feeding the animals or just sightseeing.
I have regrets. I wish I didn't live 13 hours away. I wish I'd been able to spend more time with my dad in the last 30 years. But this visit was cathartic. I remember what it is I love so much about Daddy. I released years of resentment, and replaced them with a new treasured memory.
This farm is now on the market. It went up while I was there visiting. If all goes as planned, I will never be able to visit them there again. I'll visit them at a great new farm / ranch in Montana. I'm sad to be saying goodbye to another beloved place, but Daddy will be in Montana, and that's where home will be.