Mourning the death of a place is different from mourning the death of a person. When we lose loved ones, we keep them alive in our memories as best we can. We prepare their favorite recipes, look at old photos, hold sacred items in our hands, and visit places that keep their spirits alive.
My maternal grandparents, Robert and Muriel Tupper, met in the 1940s at the Smithfield rink. They were hastily married on a Christmas visit before he was sent back to action in the South Pacific. When he returned two years later, he built a house with timber from their land. On this land, they raised three barns, six kids and a hundred Guernsey cows. They sold their milk to neighbors and to people in the town of Waterville. They worked constantly and played occasionally, most notably at La Grange, of which Grammie was a member for over 80 years.
Throughout my childhood, my mother yearned to return to the farm. Her hobbies included gardening and drawing up floor plans for the house she might one day build there. A large open kitchen. A room for each of his four children. Farm animals and a small tractor to her.
She dreamed of a better future, of a quiet life in the green, rolling pastures where she felt exactly like home. In the end, she paid too much for swampy, sandy land directly adjacent to one of these pastures. The house was finished just in time for her youngest to leave for college. Still, she tended the chickens and shaped the soil in a backhoe without brakes. Determined, she took up residence there in the company of the spirits of her parents.
Unexpected death. Closed-door negotiations. My mother learned about selling the farm after the fact. His mother’s garden. The stream where she rode her horse to cool off on hot days. The apartment where her father let her drive the tractor once or twice. The milking barn he built himself, the cement foundations of which never cracked. The remnants of a past that she believed would certainly shape the future of her children and grandchildren.
What is the market value of 80 acres of fertile farmland and five generations of memorabilia? The farm is now growing a crop of “Posted” panels, which will be followed by 70,000 solar panels. This new future “green” is a heartless metallic gray.
When I get home, I look forward to the smell of the air, the sight of colorful finches visiting the bird feeders my mother has accumulated over many Christmas and Mother’s Day, and the distant hum of chainsaws leveling old wood behind the back pasture. Those who walk there tread on sacred ground, the cemetery where my grandfather buried and mourned his animals (the only time he cried). It is a small and secret violence. I feel the vibrations in my chest as the past is separated from the future.