From the time she was a little girl, my mother dreamed of having a large family. When her friends back in the Roaring Twenties talked about not wanting children, or at most one or two, Mom would unapologetically announce her intention to have “at least a dozen.”
They thought she was kidding.
She was two-thirds of the way to meeting that goal when I arrived as her eighth and, it turned out, final child. She never said so, but I’ve always wondered if I killed her dream -- all 10 pounds, 14 ounces of me. After giving birth to a veritable toddler, I have a hunch she kind of went, “No, I’m good” whenever it crossed her mind that she might like to resume her maternal trek to 12.
Dad’s dreams were an offshoot of Mom’s. More than anything else, he wanted a place where his family could gather -- a homestead with enough land that each of his children could have a few acres upon which they could build a home or a cabin of their own. It wasn’t his intention that we all live there permanently but that we have a place that tethered us to one another even after he was gone.
Supporting his large family took all of the money Dad could make, and then some. He was never able to buy the dream property himself, but his two eldest sons-in-law facilitated the acquisition of nearly 100 beautiful acres that Dad always considered the fulfillment of his dream. Although he lived more than an hour away, he worked the property with passion and devotion. He ran cattle on it, mended fences, harvested alfalfa crops and took his irrigation turns when they came around -- even in the middle of the night.
He usually took me with him on those all-night watering turns, which frankly seemed more like a nightmare than a dream to me. It wasn’t just the hard work associated with keeping the water flowing in its appropriate channels that bugged me. Nor was it the general creepiness of being out in the middle of nowhere in the dead of the night. I just got tired of listening to Dad drone on about his dream for the family on this land that he loved and cherished.
Whether or not it was technically his.
By the time the government came calling to acquire the land for a dam project, Dad was deep enough into Alzheimer’s that he wasn’t aware of what was happening to his dream, and we needed the cash to help pay for his care expenses. In that way, the property was a blessing to Dad’s family -- the money from selling it lasted just about as long as Dad did. But I still feel kind of bad that Dad’s dream was never actually realized.
And as I watch as his posterity grows older and progressively more distant from each other, I begin to understand the purpose for his passion and the wisdom that guided his urge to homestead.
So, OK -- neither of my parents actually fulfilled their dream. At least, not completely. The way I see it, their lives still were enriched by the pursuit. And at the end of the day, I think they were both satisfied with how things turned out. Mom adored her eight children, and I never heard her complain about only having two-thirds of a dozen. And Dad truly savored the time he spent on the property that wasn’t really his. The last time I took him up there he seemed a little lost and uncertain of where we were. But there was peace and contentment in his eyes as we walked through the alfalfa fields and across the wooden bridge over the canal for the last time.
“Life is a journey,” Ralph Waldo Emerson is often credited with saying, “not a destination.” And it seems to me that it’s most joyful rewards have less to do with arriving at predetermined endpoints than they do with the journey itself.
Whether or not you actually own the property upon which you’re traveling.
(To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr)