Back to Iowa.
One. Last. Time. Home. With a capital “H.”
For years, the trip was an annual pilgrimage
To see her mother, to see her friends, to see the land, to return
To gravel roads. Flaxen hair, riding beside her father
As they cruised the prairies looking for jewels.
On gravel roads high-crowned, deep-ditched
So they blew clear when the blizzards came
Wild rose. Indian paintbrush. Dwarf lupines. Meadow Larks. Blue birds
To the grocery & mercantile Uncle Willie ran in town
Nestled beside the apple barrel
While she read of fantastic places
I Married Adventure. Fifty Years Below Zero. Kipling. Sandburg.
Her mother died 45 years ago
Friends dropped away one by one.
She is the last one standing.
The county said she couldn’t live alone.
She could have a live-in nurse or go to a “home.”
She wanted neither.
When I visit, she says with pleading in her papery voice
Please don’t take me back to that place.
Where’s Bob? Husband. And Robert? Where’s Em and Peg? Three of her 7 children.
She doesn’t ask about the twins. Two of her children.
I haven’t heard from Mother in a long time, it seems like
I need to take care of some things at the farms, she says.
Century farms, their fate unclear after she’s gone.
The kids never got bitten by the farming bug.
The grandkids were all born in the east
They see the beauty of the place in its physical presence
Its place in her soul is a mystery to them
Union Slough. Reedy grasses. Herons, green and blue.
Red-winged blackbirds scratch their chick-a-ree call.
The sky in all its moods
From cerulean peace to tornadic wrath
Gridwork roads. North-south. East-west.
Tall grass ruffled into waves by the prairie wind.
Corn and beans and beans and corn.
Trees confined to the creek-bottoms.
I wonder why they always grow on the south bank, she wondered one time.
Life was always, prairie was always, a place of wonder, awe, beauty.
When can we go, she asks.
I want to go to the farms
Poor health or not, independent as a hog on ice (as the saying goes)
She’ll make the pilgrimage, no longer annual
Back to Iowa
One. Last. Time
Note: Eleanor Melville passed away April 3, 2016 about 60 days short of her 97th birthday. Though she moved to the Washington, DC area in 1963, her heart always remained in Iowa. She will be buried in Burt, IA, her home town. She was an extraordinary woman who lived a complicated life with grace and strength.
While the sting of separation is strong, she is still with us if not in spirit, at least in the lives of those she touched: in caring and compassion, in our family’s love for words and history and those fantastic places. Peace, friends.