It was another warm summer, my family packed up the car and headed hours away for my favorite place, my Uncles farm.
This farm was magical and to this day I often think back on my visits there. It's where my fathers side of the family gathered every summer (lots of Aunts, Uncles, and fourteen cousins) not all visited at once but a mix each year.
It was always a glorious time for me, a week or sometimes more.... of unlimited outdoor fun... You see, the farm was an endless adventure from one moment to the next. It had a big old farmhouse built in 1881 (I could never forget that because the numbers were made of wrought iron that hung on the front of the house between the second-floor windows and the rooftop).
I always knew we were getting close when the tires hit the dirt road flinging rocks and dust up under the car making tings and pings leaving a trailing brown cloud. I would get excited and feel anticipation while looking out the back windows. Passing the pole barn on the right side of the road next the main barn on the left side then BAAMMM!... The long gravel driveway with pine tree lining each side like soldiers being called to attention.
As soon as the car stopped, I would race out to say "hello" to my Uncle and grandmother as they came out to greet my family. The adults would start their chatter about traffic, and time... etc.
I would jump up the blue slate steps to the old wooden porch, open the full sized screen door that forever creaked and always closed with a loud slam if not held. The house was alive, it's like it had feelings and its very own stories to tell. The smell was like going into an antique shop or an attic with beloved belongings (an invitingly worn and warm, slightly musty aroma)... I love that smell and if I am lucky enough to get a whiff of that wonderful scent today it brings me right back to the farmhouse.
I couldn't wait to know what room I was staying in, so I could be off doing my own thing. I say that because it was just that... I could explore the woods, play in the pond, venture into the big barn with the "hidden room" or feed the horses. I literally had almost 300 acres of land to explore, not that I ever came anywhere close to that but had fun trying!
At that time the deal was breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, and dinner about six... so be back because if you miss it, you miss it. To be truthful I would miss lunch sometimes and not even care. I was too busy playing with tiger the three-legged barn cat or wading in the little waterfalls collecting salamanders along the way ....it was so worth it!
My grandmother would usually ask me and my sister to bring our younger cousin to visit Elisabeth (the neighbor up the hill). I was always happy to see Elisabeth and whatever new animals would be there. The walk was easy, go right out the driveway, at the fork in the road go left, pass the pole barn until you get to the first right... that would be the beginning of her very, very long driveway (almost the same in length as the road between the farms). Elisabeth was a kind, gentle old woman that lived off her land. She would go without in order to give you something and was always over the moon to get any company.
Every year our visits went pretty much the same; as soon as she spotted us a squeal of joy would fill the air. She would rub our cheeks and kiss our foreheads... Next, would come the tour of her animals (sheep, baby chicks even the frozen rabbit in her freezer) then she'd sit us down at her kitchen table under several fully occupied fly tapes (they resembled shiny black polka dotted yellow ribbons that had been curled and hung from one end for a small celebration and long forgotten about).
Elisabeth always had full clotheslines running across each side of the room. She danced between the drying sheets and long johns as she chatted away pleasantries... Serving us delicious fresh orange juice (my little cousin hated orange juice, WHAT? I know ... crazy!). As she moved around the room, I would try and drink little cousin's juice without being noticed. I didn't want my cousin's juice rejection to offend her generosity... I would give her the stink eye to say "you better drink it or else!" that never really worked. Lastly, garden vegetables! Elisabeth would send us back with as much as we could carry (we would always snack on the crunchy carrots and crisp green beans along the way).
So what about the man and the horse? Here it is, this one particular time the three of us headed off for our visit to Elizabeth. As we walked, my sister and cousin a few feet ahead of me were talking away ... I was gazing beyond them at a man walking his horse moving slowly, methodically just round the bend (towards the fork in the road).
I was surprised they didn't point him out... (we were kids and that's what kids do) "I said look at the man and his horse" They laughed and said, "What are you talking about?" (I thought they were giving me a hard time, joking with me) we caught up to him pretty fast the girls were still talking and giggling as I watched them walk by the horse, next the man, they didn't even look, nothing, no acknowledgment!
I was still several feet behind as I walked past I thought how beautiful and massive the dark horse was with his head bobbing up and down to match his slow stride. My eyes met the pale man's face with sharp cheekbones and brown hair. He smiled slightly and tilted his head forward as to say hello without words... it was warm and gentle, I returned a genuine smile.
I jogged a few feet to catch up and instantly interrupted my sister and cousin's conversation to say "did you see that horse?" they paused and turned to me and said "What horse?" I turned around expecting the man and horse to be right there.... but nothing....nothing was there. They chuckled, turning around to continue the walk up the hill.
I was stunned, I didn't move, I was incredibly confused, I looked left off the side of the road, a forest of tiny trees that no man with a horse could easily maneuver. I looked off to the right side, the same tiny trees filled the area all the way up to the pole barn down the road. I heard nothing and I saw....... nothing....
At that time I didn't challenge my sister or cousin not seeing the man with his faithful companion. I didn't challenge the fact that I realized there were no sounds of clomping hooves that met the hard sun-dried clay road... (I was very young and I didn't know what to think, it was a bit too much for me to process).
I couldn't tell you any details about being at Elizabeth's that particular day but I do know that something happened that I would never, ever, forget. Seeing that lovely man and his majestic horse were one of my many unforgettable mysterious moments at the magical farm.