Around 1972, my mother’s parents, Anthony & Mary Rudis, purchased several hundred acres and a couple farmhouses south of Chicago, in-between the Crete, IL and Monee, IL townships. They farmed corn & soybean, and transformed the main farmhouse plot into a haven of Lithuanian cultural icons, and beautiful gardens. The old farmhouse was destroyed, and the rubble used to create The Hill, which all us grandkids played on.
There is a pond on this farmhouse grounds, stocked with bluegill, bass, and catfish. Waterfowl make their homes on this pond during migration & mating seasons. Several years brought white swans, while now it’s mostly Canadian geese. The small pier that we used to fish, dive, and swim off of blew down in a storm, and was never replaced. The sandy beach area that we used to play in is overgrown with weeds now.
The Hill no longer gets mowed all the way, and tall prairie grasses cover most of it. No one is log rolling off the sides anymore. The back 20 acres have all become natural prairie. Summertime is a kaleidoscope display of wildflowers & bees. The pine forest is nearly ready to be harvested. The trees were planted close to the time my grandparents purchased the land, as part of a conservation program through the state & federal governments.
Several large parcels have been donated to various schools’ agricultural programs. Most of the remaining land is under conservation now. So little grain is produced, the silos were torn down many years ago.
But, I remember.
I remember the days when The Farm bustled with farmhands on tractors, when my grandpa would till and plant the fields.
I remember running through the corn fields being so tiny I could barely peek over the first corn ear.
I remember my grandparents’ anniversary, where Archbishop So-and-so presided over their re-union. This was one of many lavish parties thrown for Rotarians, dignitaries, and other notable Lithuanians both American & Lithuanian-born.
I remember my brothers teaching me how to throw small pebbles into the spiderwebs that hung on every barn corner, to watch the spiders rush over to wrap and sting the fake prey.
I remember learning how to ride a motorcycle, the thrill of finally figuring out the clutch on the long farm driveway.
I remember my grandma’s lush garden on the side of the house. How she made anything grow on that north-facing mud hole is a mystery to me. She had a gift.
I remember my cousin getting her nice Sunday dress hem caught on the barbed-wire fence after we hopped off the hayride early and climbed back into the yard. She got into a heap of trouble!
I remember playing in the harvested corn in the green barn when the crop was too big to fit into the silos one year. It was like playing in the red ball room at the carnival, but dustier & with cooler discoveries like dead crickets.
I remember walking as far in to the pond as we could without dunking our heads to see if snapping turtles and other saber-toothed mysteries of the murk would nibble at our swimsuits, then screaming bloody murder at perceived attacks (which were really nothing but our eyes playing tricks on us in the water), and slip-sliding as fast as possible up the banks of the pond, huddled & shivering in the Summer sun.
Everything has a cycle & a season under heaven. Even with the silos down, the dying willow trees, the overgrown hill, and the lack of invitations for parties that no longer happen, The Farm shimmers with delight to me. I remember.
The Farm made this otherwise city-slicker Chicago suburbanite the outdoorswoman she is today. Many lazy Summer days exploring, or just lounging on The Hill staring at the sky for hours on end, connected me, indelibly, to nature. Looking back now, I see what a gift it was to have that free, totally free, and safe time outdoors. Eating goose-egg omelets taught me to be an adventurous eater. Walking the fields taught me where our food comes from, and why clean soil, water, and sun are precious to making it grow right.
No matter where you live, if you have children, right now, take them out to the park, or a nearby forest preserve. Take them at least once a week, even in Winter. Let them pick up stones & sticks. Let them get dirty. Yes! Let them, it will help build their immune system. If there are any farms near you, make the trek at least once a year to show your children how food is grown, why it’s important to care for the land, so we may all eat. Show them how cows & goats get milked, and how chickens lay eggs. Make the time, do it right now. They will be in your debt, even if they don’t know it til their own deathbed and you have long transformed into another spirit place, your body’s remains merely wind-strewn dust. Make the effort to expose them to nature. Make it your New Year’s resolution. Don’t think about yourself, the hassle. Don’t remember to bring your handi-wipes. Just go, get dirty, and have fun. Go, now. Nature is waiting with open, welcoming arms…
Thank you, Mom, for letting your parents teach me, guide me, and experience country living with me. Thank you, Grandma & Grandpa, for exposing me to a beautiful world, our natural living world.