Once upon a time in Missouri, two brothers went into beef farming together, and the Durst Bros. farm was born. In 1977, 42 years later, I was born. And it was a match made in heaven.
Like Ferdinand here, who ruled the pastures back in the ’50s, I used to believe as a kid that every cow I saw belonged to my Grandpa. 132 miles away, in Marshfield, I would count the creatures alongside the roadways with pride. The Durst kingdom was wide indeed, at least in my young mind.
(As for poor Ferdinand, he was cut down in his prime by a local hunter, who mistook him for a deer.)
This is the farm as I knew it as a child. In the upper left, an echo of the past, stands the old hay barn. This structure was the center of grandchild activities back in the day, before it collapsed under its own weight in the late ’90s. We would spend hours climbing the towering bales, hiding in the deep wells between the stacks–not the safest of pastimes, perhaps, but what is safety to a 7-year-old at play?
Somewhere along the treeline directly behind the hay barn, in the spring of 1992, as we were preparing to return to Argentina for our second four-year stint, I buried a time capsule. Nothing fancy: an old Folger’s can full of bits and pieces of the junk that means nothing to anyone but the child who played with it. Sometime in the intervening years, the fence running along the treeline was moved and the capsule was lost. I have been searching for it ever since.
At the far right (or west) side of the picture, you can see the old pigpen. Digging deep into my memory, I can remember a time when it was well-stocked and patrolled by very large, very mean hogs. After a good rain, peepers (little frogs, for those not in the know) would appear as if by magic in the mud-ponds of the sty, here, there, and everywhere, beckoning the young hunter to come and test the bounty. After which mucky forays, the young hunter would flee hastily the wrath of the porcine security guards, risking life, limb, and the occasional hip pocket.
I came back to Missouri for college in 1996 and moved in with my Grandma on what was left of the farm. Durst Bros., in all but name, closed shop upon my grandfather’s death in 1994. His brother, Marvin, followed him in 1998. Renters continued to pasture cattle and raise crops on the land, but the farm itself was no more.
But to me, it never died. It never will. I love every inch of the gravel mile-roads that crisscross the surrounding countryside, and I know them like the back of my hand. My footprints are etched into the soil of every pasture within view of the farmhouse; if I had a penny for each memory of looking out across the front deck (not to mention of the yearly staining work on the deck itself), I’d be a rich, rich man.
Having grown up in a constant state of flux, from North to South America and back again, “home” is a difficult concept for me. I’m not sure where that is. Except here, on the family farm, where I played as a child and wandered as an adult. It is eternal, in my heart and in my soul. It is where I am from.
My Grandma, Fern, died in November 2010, a little over a week short of her 93rd birthday. Of the buildings featured in the old photo above, only the large white barn to the east and the farmhouse itself remain. The rest were either slowly dismantled or destroyed in a tornado just a few years ago. The land has been divided up between my mother and my uncle, and I have no legal connection to the majority of the place anymore. Everything has changed.
(As I write, everything is changing again: my uncle is preparing to sell the parcel on which the farmhouse sits.)
And yet, strangely, everything remains the same. Those pastures will always be mine; the roads will always belong to me; even if it is one day demolished, the ghost of the farmhouse will always resound with the sound of Thanksgiving revelry and all the voices of Dursts gone by. And in their midst, if you listen carefully, mine will whisper softly stories of who I was, who I am, and who I will ever be, in that place. My happy place.
Everyone needs a happy place. Go and find yours and fill it with ghosts of your own.
Be happy, my friends!!