Seeking Out the Ache of Memory

Well-away and be it so,
To the stranger let them go.
Even cheerfully I yield
Pasture, orchard, mowing-field,
Yea and wish him all the gain
I required of them in vain.
Yea and I can yield him house,
Barn, and shed, with rat and mouse
To dispute possession of.
These I can unlearn to love.
Since I cannot help it? Good!
Only be it understood,

It shall be no trespassing
If I come again some spring
In the grey disguise of years,
Seeking ache of memory here.
~Robert Frost from “On the Sale of My Farm”

the farm where I grew up in east Stanwood
the Stanwood farm from the road

From the road, each of the two small farms where I grew up in western Washington state (Stanwood and Olympia) look nothing like they did in my childhood.  When I drive past now, whether on Google Earth virtual reality or for real , the outbuildings have changed and are unfamiliar, fences pulled down, the trees exponentially taller or gone altogether, the fields no longer well-tended. Instead the familiarity is in the road to get there, the lean into the curves, the acceleration in and out of dips, the landscape which triggers a simultaneous comfort and disquiet deep in my DNA.

Though my brother recently stopped and looked around our long-ago childhood home, and sent me pictures that looked barely recognizable, I myself have never stopped to knock; instead I have driven slowly past to sense if I feel what I used to feel in these places.  My memories are indeed triggered but feel a bit as if they must have happened to someone else.

I have the same feeling when driving past my parents’ childhood farms in Anacortes and in the Palouse wheat fields. Part of me belongs to these places even though they have never been truly “mine” – only part of sweet memories from my own childhood.

barn on Olympia farm
the driveway to my mother’s Palouse farm where she grew up

One clinic day a few years ago, I glanced at the home address of a young man I was about to see for a medical issue and I realized he now lived in my childhood home over 100 miles away.  When I greeted him I told him we had something in common: we had grown up under the same roof, inside the same walls, though children of two different generations.  He was curious but skeptical — how could this gray-haired middle aged woman know anything about his home?  He told me a bit about the house, the barn, the fields, the garden and how he experienced it felt altogether strange to me.  He and I had shared nothing but a patch of real estate — our recollections were so completely disparate.

The two daughters of the family who sold our current farm to us over thirty years ago have been back to visit a time or two, and have driven by whenever they are in the area. Many things remain familiar to them but also too much has changed – it is not quite the same farm they remember from their childhood. I know it aches to visit here but they do let me know when a photo I post has a particular sweet memory for them.

I worry for the fearsome ache if someday, due to age or finances, we must sell this farm we cherish ~ this beloved place our children were raised, animals bred and cared for, fruit picked from an ancient orchard, plants tended and soil turned over. It will remain on the map surely as the other two farms of my past, visible as we pass by slowly on the road, but primarily alive in the words and photos I harvest here.

There will always be that sweet ache of hoping something will still remain familiar on the map of my memory. After all, there is no such beauty as the place where I belonged – now and forever ago.


Tell me, where is the road
I can call my own
That I left, that I lost
So long ago?
All these years I have wandered
Oh, when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road
That will lead me home

After wind, after rain
When the dark is done
As I wake from a dream
In the gold of day
Through the air there’s a calling
From far away
There’s a voice I can hear
That will lead me home

Rise up, follow me
Come away, is the call
With the love in your heart
As the only song
There is no such beauty
As where you belong
Rise up, follow me
I will lead you home
~Michael Dennis Browne


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5 thoughts on “Seeking Out the Ache of Memory

  1. One of the truly sad realities that w alle may eventually have to accept – and live with – before we
    are in our ‘new’, forever HOME WITH HIM!
    I sincerely hope, dear Emily, that you and your husband will not have to face that sad reality for
    some time to come. You both have such loving memories and so much happiness shared there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Today (June 6) is my wife’s birthday. She died suddenly seven years ago of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. I always keep my eyes and ears open for little reminders of her, but especially on special days. You mentioned in today’s blog that you grew up in Stanwood. Linda’s father grew up in Stanwood, East Stanwood, exactly, I think. Her grandfather, Sievert Leirfallom, a Norwegian immigrant, was a Lutheran minister there. Reading about your growing up in Stanwood stirred my heart. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. my goodness, Jack! that is a connection! Our family attended the Lutheran church in Stanwood from 1950-1959 – I was too young to remember the name of the pastor but there could have been an overlap. Your wife’s sudden death is an event that you’ll never completely recover from yourself, so I’m so glad there was a happy memory here in my blog on her birthday! blessings, Emily


  4. Indeed, Emily.
    Your words speak my own heart’s thoughts and emotions.
    I have not yet knocked on the door of the now 5 years ago new owners
    of the farm I called home for 70 years of my life.
    Today, I will once again drive past The Farm,
    after my sister-in-law’s burial.

    Another connection for me from what you wrote today…
    The lady, Eileen Canning, who taught me how to marble paper in 1983,
    lived and I think still lives in Olympia.
    Several years ago, I Google searched and finally found Eileen.
    I called her and once again told her
    how blessed I was from taking that paper marbling class
    with her all those many years ago.


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