Saturday, May 31, 2008

Peggy Of The Flint Hills


I went back home and found the old house in which I was born filled with dull coppery oats piled against faded green wallpaper. The windows were boarded, the doors nailed shut. In one corner stands the old organ my mother saved turkey money to buy...a six octave Beckwith Grand from Sears & Roebuck. It is as intricately ornate as a cathedral and has as many pockets as a pair of overalls. I looked at my face in the mirror and smiled to think it had once reflected the same face, freckled and pigtailed.

One of the four big mullberry trees had been cut down. Others were dying at the top. Except for the sure knowledge that trees and house and well had not been moved, I could not have believed the vast rolling spaces I remembered could have shrunk so small.

The only things untouched were the stone doorsteps...the big limestone rocks worn smooth from years of footsteps, bare feet and shod feet, wind and weather and scrubbing. Men and women and children sitting on them summer evenings, babies climbing over them...all who passed the threshold smoothed and polished the hard stone...but a hundred generations could not wear it down.

I searched my mind for the truth. The little girl seemed someone I had known and loved. I would recall that she said this or that...a very dear little girl, truly, but she must be a grown woman by now. There was tenderness but not pain in remembering her. The old home place had been emotionalized. People travel back to see it and their hearts are heavy. They think they are grieving for a house trembling with years, for dying trees and old forgotten things....but their tears are for their lost youth, for the changes that have come to them.

That childhood should seem so lost and sad is a mark against adult living. Other periods of years should be as precious, but they are darkened by the clouds of failure and remorse. Perhaps we bungle our lives until the tormented mind takes refuge in the innocence of young years. Contentment sprang so easy from the rich early soil that we will not work to make it grow on the worn fields of later years. It is too easy giving up. We flee to the securuty of the past rather than try to learn a new kind of happiness.

Childhood is simple and free. The spirit can grow boundlessly, but in older years it is warped and scarred trying to fit into rules and measures. A man looks back to escape the future. The goodness of childhood is gone, but he knows that is the answer to his be simple and free again, to be as a child again.

So the place of childhood becomes a symbol. He sets his feet on the rich green ground of memory and his heart is broken when he finds decay. But it is the decay of his own spirit he unknowingly grieves, and that is the one thing that can be impervious to time.
Wood and tree and fence can decay....but man's spirit can outlast a stone doorstep.

Zula Bennington Greene
"Peggy of the Flint Hills"
September 15, 1945

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