I stand with my dad on a patch of turnip sprouts. My aunt’s dilapidated old house is directly ahead, where just two years ago they found her dead under her old truck after roughly a month (this according to the Luzerne County Coroner) and I tell him again that he should just burn it down.
After a horrible summer that had nothing to do with the weather, I doubt he’ll answer me. We’ve had this conversation before and my dad is not one to repeat himself. But he looks up at me from spreading turnip seeds and tells me that it’s God’s land, not his, and if God wants that old house still standing then so be it. I don’t say anything else because I’m tired of arguing with God and my dad and neither of their minds ever change anyway.
I think back to the day a few weeks before when they dug a grave plot for my brother a mile down the road from the farm. Two empty plots to the right of it stick out like a sore thumb, and the one to the left is all too familiar to me. I’m jet-lagged from a six-hour time change and still haven’t cried. Matt’s girlfriend and I stand side by side in colorful sundresses, surrounded by a sea of black and gray. We know that it’s what he would’ve wanted, maybe along with a country song or two and a pack of beer. Val and I promise we’ll always be like sisters, holding hands there in the graveyard while a procession of diesel Fords and Chevys park at the church, but these days we’re more like strangers.
I realize then that I was standing on top of my own plot, one my dad purchased for us all after my mom died. He wanted to make sure we’d all be together. Nothing really makes you realize your own mortality like standing on your bought-and-paid-for burial plot. But that’s my dad, always looking toward the future.
Dad finishes spreading the bag of turnip seeds, his labor of love and distraction. He hasn’t said anything in a while, or maybe I was too stuck in my own head to hear him. We go for a walk into the acreage, the forests where he grew up, and he tells me about climbing this tree and hunting in that one. There among the trees, he looks at me and says “I thought this would all be Matt’s one day, but I guess now it’ll be yours. You can keep it or sell it, whatever you want. What do I care? What do I care?” I don’t realize until later that the farm and I are all he has left, all he’ll ever have again. But I know that he knows that, so I smile and nod and look towards the future with the past a mile down the road.
Annie Hilenski is a 22-year-old writer and student who splits her time between Mountain Top, PA and Pittsburgh, PA. She has been writing creatively since her youth with an emphasis on fiction. She has written several short stories and a few novels. Her focus tends to be on realist fiction and lyrical poetry. “St. Mary’s Road” is her second piece and first poem to be published. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, playing guitar, travelling, and running. Find her on Twitter: @annielhil