When Everything is Gone
Last weekend we drove to Ohio for a few days and enjoyed seeing the old sights and remembering things. We saw some old friends, visited my folks, preached and did a family concert in their church. After the preaching and singing we ate some ice cream on the lawn and drove home with a happy settled feeling in our souls both for the fond memories of a place we served and loved and satisfaction about where the Lord has us now.
One thing we did on the way home was drove a few miles out of our way to visit the grave of my grandfather Kenneth Dale Pierpont and great-grandfather William Pierpont and great-great grandfather Jerome Pierpont. The graves are all within about fifty yards of each other near Chatham, Ohio. Facing east from my grandfather’s grave you can see the very first foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. He loved those hills so much. Sometimes I think I have a longing for those hills bred deep within me, too.
After a few quiet minutes of thankful prayer we drove north and turned off St. Route 13 and made our way back into those hills along a route I have driven a hundred times in my life and a thousand times in my mind. The trip was usually made on special days. Holidays, lazy summer days, family days.
The old place hasn’t said Pierpont on the mailbox for over twenty years. The current owners will have owned the place longer than my grandfather did in a few years. If you have read any of my writing you have read about the farm east of St. Louisville. You may have read of my grandfather’s storytelling habits which I inherited or of my learning to drive the old Massey-Furgeson tractor or of the tree that stands down by the spring run and has now for over 45 years. The tree came home in my father’s hands and was planted in Newark, then it was transplanted to the farm in the late 50s where it still stands.
When I rounded the last bend in the road and started down the hill toward the farm I could immediately see that things had changed almost beyond recognition. The pastures were returning to woods, the fences were gone. The pond was gone. The hog barn and corncrib where we played for hours pretending we were in a fort in cowboy and Indian days or in a pillbox in W.W.II days… it was gone. The old gas tank was gone. The cow barn and milkhouse were gone. This time I was shocked to see that even the old garage was gone. I looked for the tree and it still stood. I was glad. I had come a long way to get a picture of it.
The real shock came when I looked beyond and behind where the garage had stood. The huge oak where the swing hung for so long was gone without a trace and across the drive the old farm house was gone, too. Where the raspberry patch had been up behind the old house stood a new house. Behind the house further up the hill was a new garage.
I fought a feeling of sadness. It’s a parable of life. One by one all the things we worked for and labored to attain and maintain, all the things we lay awake at night worrying about or praying about. All the things we accumulate will be gone all together or slowly one-by-one, but they will not last. They cannot last. And some day each of us will be gone, too.
I looked on the mail box. The name of the new owner was there. I remembered eating watermelon in the yard after a day of bailing on a summer day just like this decades ago. I remembered the first time I hit the softball up over the road and over the mailbox into the garden. I remembered long summer afternoons with an old weed whip “golfing” Canadian Thistles from the roadside. I remembered sledding down the hill along the road and down the drive over the run into the driveway. I remembered Dolly and Skippy and Raggs a squat beagle mix. I remembered how they would bury groundhogs until they were “ripe” then dig them up and bring them to you and lay them at your feet like a trophy.
Then I started the car, drove down the road, turned and made one last pass. I wondered if I would ever return. The farm is almost a stranger now. I have no right to it but I will always have a right to the memories I cherish there. It will always be a reminder to me that the people and the memories are more to be cherished than the houses and the barns and the things we put in them. And life is short and bittersweet. I want to remember to ask myself this question when I covet things or worry about things; What will I have left when everything I have is gone?
(From Stonebridge Newsletter – Number 40)