20 Acres in the Ozarks

My grandpa and grandma retired to a  20-acre piece of land in the Ozarks, 17 miles outside of a town named Ava, Missouri. They parked a trailer on the property and spent the next year building their house. Before long they’d planted hundreds of pine trees and put in a 2-acre garden of vegetables. And there were flowers.

My first trip to their place was over Christmas break the winter my great grandpa Caskey died. I don’t remember the year, but I do remember the event and the predominantly orange-colored floral sleeping bag I slept in when we made the trip from Omaha (where we’d gone for the funeral) to Ava in our white Chevy sedan. I was seven or eight.

I was a high school teacher driving a 1987 Grand Am before they retired from retirement and moved back up north to be by the boys (that’s what my folks and grandparents always called my mom’s brothers — STILL call them, in fact) in Nebraska.

The years in between are filled with life. Some of the most important lessons I learned about living and dying, about relationships, about family were learned in those years and on those 20-acres. Not all the lessons were pleasant or easy. Some were closer to awful. But after all the dust of that land has settled, I know that I will always carry fond memories of Spring breaks and August vacations spent on State Highway N a few miles off of Missouri 5.

I learned to drive a tractor from my grandpa in 1972 at the age of not-quite-eleven. My first chore as a new driver was to pull the trailer out through the fields while g’ma and g’pa tossed dried cow pies in back. I had to start and stop frequently — good practice for using the clutch. Later I hauled more appetizing (though no more honorable) cargo, like melons and squash.

I never, never appreciated my g’ma’s flower gardens. She had the greenest thumb in the world. Truly, she could make anything grow – floral or vegetable. Often when I’m working in my own flower garden I think how much she’d enjoy some of the flowers I’ve gotten to thrive in my own space and wonder if I got a little of her green genes.

I’d like to think so.

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