~Old Celtic saying.
Time leaves its mark. Grey hair, lines in the face, muscles that were once lithe and supple, begin to sag and atrophy. The same thing happens to a soul. Heartache, disappointments, anger, endless waiting; they all leave a wrinkle, a furrow, a scar.
Buildings too, bereft of proper care end up derelict and despondent in a material sort of way. Eaves sag, stone crumbles. A roof which once laughed at the rain, and sighed under heavy blankets of snow, now lies tattered, sagging, and full of holes. The whole structure no longer dares the elements, but sulks in shabby shame, apathetic, no longer seeking to shelter but to be sheltered. So it was that I first saw Forty Oaks Farm. A mostly overgrown, ramshackle place on the edge of a hardwood forest.
It belonged to my wife’s family for generations. She grew up there with her older brother and two sisters. When her father died, her mother stayed on bravely—or foolishly depending on who you ask—until she too, passed on. The property fell to my wife as the only heir who wanted anything to do with the place, her siblings wisely having no use for Forty Oaks and the money pit it had become.
I’ll never forget when she told me that the old farm was now ours. “Great,” I remember saying halfheartedly, mostly to humor her. I had never seen the place myself, apart from pictures, but in my mind, I envisioned endless lost weekends and bushels of money tossed away just to make the place habitable again. You know, sometimes a gift isn’t really much of a gift after all. But she was so damned excited about it! She’d go on and on about all the plans she had for it; how we would make it our own. For her sake I played along.
Then came her illness.
It came on so fast and so ferociously, that soon after she was diagnosed, she was bed-ridden. To weak to move, or eat, or even speak. Only one thing brought her solace in those interminably long, dismal days: Forty Oaks. She’d lie in her hospital bed, tubes running this way and that like the tentacles of some great sea creature trying to devour her. Her small, emaciated frame was barely perceptible beneath the heavy blankets that covered her. Nevertheless, with almost superhuman concentration, she would make an endless series of sketches of her plans for the old farm on any available piece of paper.
Eventually, I bought her a special notebook to keep all her doodlings—I’m writing in it now. They’re all here: wobbly, faint, broken lines, painfully traced with one of my blue editing pencils, and yet, for all their fragility, each blue mark concretely describes her vision of heaven on earth. These drawings, or rather, that vision, sustained her through all the excruciating, wasting treatments.
There are sketches of the garden. Each plot meticulously labeled with the crop she intended for them: Peas here, asparagus there. Tomatoes, zucchini, squash and so on. Then there are diagrams of the house. Floorplans with intricate notes about how this wall would be moved and that door closed off, and how all of our furniture would be arranged.
She would tap the paper with the tip of the pencil to get my attention. I’d look over and see a hopeful, questioning look in her eyes as if seeking my approval of what she’d drawn. I’d smile and nod vigorously. In return the ghost of a smile would flash across her face, she’d take a deep breath and draw some more.
The days went on like this, alternating between agonizing medical treatments and merciful moments of peace when she would draw while I looked on. It went on so long it seemed that this was to be our life forever…
Then she died.
It’s been six months since the funeral—I don’t know, I’ve lost all track of time. It doesn’t matter to me any more. Anyway, I finally got the nerve to come out here. No, that’s not true. I didn’t “get the nerve,” I was forced to come out here.
Oh, it’s not bad enough that I lost my wife, no. The county sent me a summons last week letting me know, politely, that the property would be seized for auction, and that I’d have to pay for its disposal. Apparently my mother-in-law never paid her tax bill. The old girl went a bit to seed after her husband died. Just like the farmhouse. My brother and sisters-in-law, God bless ’em, won’t have anything to do with it.
So here I am…standing in this weedy field, staring at a dilapidated hulk that has truly become my hell on earth.