English instructor James McCullough, at North Central Michigan College, in Petoskey, asked his students to write essays about Northern Michigan life. Then he asked MyNorth to share six of the essays on the World Wide Web. We said yes. We are posting one each weekday until the set is complete. Enjoy a piece, by Lillian Gregory, below.
My favorite childhood place, brimming with swamps filled with tadpoles, the old swing tree, barns stuffed with hay, and me tramping around in my big black boots, is my grandparents’ farm, a beautiful smudge on the Northern Michigan countryside. My great grandmother’s house is located up near the road, surrounded by maple and pine trees, and the big red barn. My grandparents live right next door to her, with a yard stocked with flower beds and lawn ornaments. Fences crisscross the fields surrounding the two houses, separating the hay fields and the hungry cows. Some fences, however, have fallen into disrepair since my great grandfather died and as his son, my grandfather, grows older. I sometimes see him riding around on his bright orange tractor cutting or baling hay, or feeding cows; same with my own father.
If I stand at the end of our driveway I can see the entire 200 or so acres, the fields close to the road, the rotting hay barn with the green roof, my own cedar-shingled house, and the “front of the farm” (aka: my grandparents’ house and surroundings), all within a mile of each other. Sometimes I can see cows picking their way through the woods toward the meadows. My house sits back at the edge of the woods, flanked by more hay barns and a horse pasture.
I remember, between the ages of 7 and 15, sloshing through the swamps that dot both properties, trying and failing to keep water out of my boots. My mom would become exasperated with me and my brother when we would come home, soaked to the knees. I could hike in the woods for hours, finding perfect places for forts and nearly jumping out of my skin when a scared rabbit exploded out of the brush. My older siblings had made a wigwam back in a drier part of the woods out of evergreen branches and pine needles. I loved to go tromping back there to pretend I was a hunter or an Indian.
One of my favorite places to go in the woods was a place dubbed, “the swing tree.” Located on the far left (or right if you’re looking from the road) of the farm, in one of the many meadows, someone had hung a simple swing from a high branch of a maple tree. It had been there throughout my mother’s growing up. We had some family picnics in the meadow, with the cousins running around, jumping from bump to bump, fighting for the next turn on the swing. With the hilliness of our property, there was always the possibility of rolling an ankle, but that never stopped us.
A lane, connecting my farm at the back of the woods to the “front of the farm”, and running parallel to the road, was made by my great grandfather, who was a pilot. He needed it to take off and land in his little homemade plane. As kids, my siblings and I would go on bike rides up the lane to visit my great grandmother for cookies or to play on the stacks of round bales that were always lined up ready for the cows. My great grandma had an amazing tire swing in her side yard that we would spin around and around on. I remember chasing barn cats into the small grain shed, which sat in the center of the “front of the farm”, and hunting the squeaks of mice hiding in the stacks of oats and corn. I miss the distinctly musty smell of the shed. It was dusty and drafty, but I loved it.
My farm has changed drastically since the carefree days of my childhood. My great grandmother has died and the barns are rotting and falling apart. The branch that held the tire swing snapped, the lane grown over, and the grain shed empty of corn and the squeaks of mice. It’s still my home, but it will be forever changing since I was a smiling towhead with my big black boots.