I was shocked when my 92-year-old eyes took in the desolate location of our old homestead. Could hardly believe I ever lived here. Had forgotten how lonely it was out here on the prairie. I was sixteen then, and without friends or neighbours.
Tears prickled at the back of my eyes as I sat in the truck with my grandson, Jed, and stared at the house where I gave birth to his mother and her brother. The log cabin was leaning impossibly, half sunk into the ground at the back corner. I remember the darkness inside the house, even on the brightest summer days. Jared said it wasn’t a good idea to put too many windows in the place because the winters were so severe. He was right about that. Thirty and forty below wasn’t unusual, and the windchill put the frosting on that cake.
Jared was handsome and ambitious. We were crazy in love. Why else would I follow him to a godforsaken place like this? Why else would he work his fingers raw to try to make a living for his family? But life was hard. Harder than either of us had ever imagined it could be.
The summer heat killed the rabbits and the winter cold killed my chickens. The cow stopped producing milk. The pigs got as skinny as the mangy coyotes that skulked around the edge of the windbreak trees. No eggs, no milk or cheese, no rabbit meat, and no bacon.
Jared rode the horse fifteen miles to town once in a while, to beg some credit at the bank and bring home some food for the babies. He loaded it all into the saddlebags. Couldn’t use the wagon since it broke down crossing the muck where the seepage made a slough out of the road in the spring.
One day he left and didn’t come back. The early spring fooled us at first, but the day he went into town a sudden blizzard blasted in from Canada and the flooded banks of the Missouri River froze. I hunkered down and waited, watching for him from the snow-covered window. Days went by. We chewed on a few remaining mildewed cobs of corn to stay alive.
After the children and I endured a month of near starvation, two farmers I knew from our church in town, came out to find me. They stood outside my door, caps in hand. “Lily,” they said,”we have some very bad news for you.”
My knees buckled and they helped me sit down on the bench outside the cabin door.
“They found Jared and the horse, floating way downriver.” I didn’t hear any more until I woke up in the back of their wagon, my two children bundled up beside me.
“Where has the time gone?” I mumbled to Jed. “I never thought I’d come back here, but before I leave this Earth, I had to see the place one more time. Where it all began.”