Conner and I spent much of the day riding around the farm, taking picture of all of our favorite places and saying "goodbye". My heart broke so many times over and over today; we had to stop riding a few times for me to cry, as the tears were blinding me. We are selling much of the farm and no one in this world realizes the pain I am struggling with.
I feel sorrow...
like a failure...
When Mike and I first began he was living on a 182 acre farm. I loved that farm. We began there. We began our family there. We had our first date there.
I loved that farm. We chased cows on that farm, watched baby calves come into the world, talked about our future, and built our dreams. We laughed until we cried, survived a few health scares, made more love fill that small single-wide trailer than the walls could hold. We cried and fought and learned we would have our own baby while living on that farm. Tristan told me he loved me for the first time at that farm, and that was huge for me as a stepmom.
But Mike wanted more. He always wanted more. He complained to me that I was the one who had to "keep up with the Jones'" for wanting nice vehicles, nice clothes, vacations, etc... But he never saw it that way with his farm dream. So, after a few years together, he purchased this huge 1200 acre farm from his cousin. For a couple of years he drove about 40 minutes one-way twice a day to check cows, especially during the winter and flooding months. I wanted him to sell, to give up on this place. It was too big. He was never home. But, he wanted it and there was no telling my husband, the former Marine who still had the "I'm always right AND invincible" concept drilled into his brain, no. If I said no, he pushed harder.
So, he bought it and worked it for a few years.
Finally, we were able to move to the big farm. We moved in the cold winter month of February one year. He just decided it was a day to move, even with snow on the ground. So we did. Me, him, and Conner.
Mike worked so hard on this farm. When we took it over, it was grown up in many places. Fences were old and ragged; bush hogging had not been done regularly; lots of wooded areas needed cleared to create more pasture for the cattle; and more. So Mike worked. And he worked and worked and worked some more. I helped with what I could; the boys worked alongside their dad as often as they could. I made bologna sandwiches for the workers, cooked too many meals to count when the sun had set and the farm hands were still going strong beside Michael. I made so many jugs of sweet tea that I lost count. I drove a tractor when he asked me to and sometimes showed up just to surprise him with a kiss and an "I love you and am proud of you."
When Mike died, the debt left behind was too much for me to handle. I knew the big farm was still indebted but did not register that the payment was more than I was making at the time...like 2 times more than what I was making. It is a little more than what as a high school principal I now make in a year. A couple of weeks after he passed, and I learned that even more was indebted elsewhere, literally every inch of ground, every piece of equipment, cow...literally there was not one thing for which I didn't owe.
I knew then and I know now that I cannot handle it. Plus, it was not deeded properly for me and the boys to "be ok", so we have been in Probate Court for almost the full two years he has been gone. So knowing that I could not swing a payment of this size, I made a deal in court to sell it, or much of it.
So, today, with the sickening realization (really hit me like a ton of bricks at school the other day when my lawyer called saying we are close to finalizing and finishing up in court) that most of the farm will no longer be ours, Conner and I rode around to many of our favorite places to say goodbye. And let me tell you, it hurt. In every ounce of me the ache radiated. A finalization washed over me and I shook as I drove. My heart literally hurt.
Hot tears streamed down my face all day.
I cried so hard I couldn't catch my breath many times.
I took pictures and tried to pull in every last ounce of love that my husband left here for me.
I drove to all of our most favorite and memorable places and every turn brought a torrent of memories.
No one realizes the absolute desperation I had to get to in order to agree to sell.
I wanted to keep it.
I wanted to work it.
I wanted to maintain its beauty.
I did for a while. Had cattle, worked them myself, moved them myself, fed them and made sure they were good at least twice a day. I mowed fence rows, worked on everything I could myself. Asked for help when I had to have it, and didn't when I could swing it on my own.
And then a vet bill came. Another vet bill. A gas bill for fuel tanks, a bush hogging bill, the fence stopped working (it's electric), cows got out...and out again...and again...and again...and so on... So, with complete despair in my fingers, I typed an email to my lawyer and said I don't have a choice. I can't pay the payment and I can't manage it on my own. I am a solo mom, a full time principal, and haven't all the skills and time I need to do it.
If I did, I would have to work like my husband did...which meant I would go to school, work more than full-time (that's what principals do), and then come home, change clothes, and work until 10:00 p.m. just to make a dent. Then I would have to dedicate my weekends to the farm and would never get to spend time with my son. I would have to take on another job just to help pay a farm hand just to work a small amount of time to help when I was otherwise engaged for school.
I would never see my son.
I would never have a moment's rest.
I would never be able to stop...
Just like him.
He never saw us.
He never rested.
He never stopped.
Until it killed him.
So, with that email, I made a decision that was against every fiber of my being. My soul, my gut, my heart ached with the stroke of the keys.
So, yes, for those of you who are wondering, I have sold most of the farm. I was encountered by someone a month ago at a basketball game who said, "heard you sold the farm...that's good."
No it's not good.
Not one bit of it.
So, don't tell me it's good.
Don't tell me you're glad for me.
Don't tell me that things will be easier and better now.
No to all of it.
I didn't do this because I wanted to, or because it will make things better or easier.
I did it because I didn't have a choice.
Mike didn't leave me with one.
So, today we went to say goodbye and I captured pictures of some of our favorite places that soon we will no longer be able to visit. There will literally be a fence cutting through the farm, through my husband's dream. And I can't do a damn thing about it.
Each picture I'm sharing has a story. A memory. A piece of my heart and soul.
This one is of a stack of rock I remember Conner, me and his dad climbing when Mike had bought me my very first digital camera. We climbed to the top and somewhere I have a picture of Mike and Conner on the edge, smiling form ear to ear.
Here is our boy about to climb through the narrow passageway to get to the rocks from where he and his daddy sat for pictures.
He made it to the top! :)
Many deer seasons have been spent atop this hillside.
I remember searching these woods for Mike's cousin's deer one year; it was windy and warm that day.
This is the spot I took some of my favorite senior pictures: those of my stepson, Tristan.
Mike and I sat here one day watching the boys ride the four wheeler down the hill. We loved watching Tristan and Conner together.
I remember when Conner was tiny and we were in the truck with Mike; Conner was scared to go down this hill. He would hang on to Mike's arm and say, "be careful Dad...I don't like thee rocks."
He sure does look like his daddy in that MRWA coat and sock cap...Mike's normal attire in winter.
Across the huge hay field sits a stack of tarp-covered hay bales. I remember watching Mike and his workers cover them with tarps and hang tires from them. I hated when he bought those tarps. They were so expensive!
We had to stop and smile a while. I'm wearing Mike's jacket and deer hunting sock cap; the boy is wearing daddy's coat and black sock cap.
Me and the boy sitting atop the same rocks he and his dad sat atop years ago for pictures.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with this creek bed. Some summer it has been deep enough for us to use as a river. Other times it is bone-dry. One summer we had such a terrible flood that I pulled up to it to find it raging like the Mississippi and Mike's truck was parked right at the edge of the flood. I remember being scared to death to find his truck and not him that time. I thought we had lost him then. I cried such tears of relief after he called and said he had swam across several times to try and save some calves and he was at his cousin's house. He was soaking wet when we got to him, tired from fighting flooded waters, and needed a beer and dry clothes.
One summer this was deep enough that Mike dug out a little more with the backhoe to allow Conner and some of his buddies to swim. We love the Spring Branch.
Here he is smiling at the memories.
Conner has always loved finding cool rocks in the dry bed.
Gosh he is handsome and we will miss these rocks. That may sound stupid, but we will.
A "stove" Conner and our old farmhand Matt built one day not too long after we lost Mike. Matt and our other farmhand Kevin were God sends for me and Conner those first few months. They stepped in to be big brothers when Conner needed them the most. They played cards with him, roamed the farm with him, slept in his bed while he slept with me, and more.
We call this spot the "Hole in the Rock" Field. It isn't quite a cave, but Conner and his daddy sure did like to pretend it was big when he was little. He stood in it today and could almost reach the top. He has grown so much.
Mike always loved this old rock wall. He admired the amount of work that had to have gone into it hundreds of years ago. This rock wall runs from one point of the creek to a barn we call the Kinnard Barn. It stands beside an old two story farm house filled with small stairs, beautiful old windows, and stories we will never know.
Ice formed at the base of the Spring Branch.
This cave is the last spot we had family pictures. My sister and her family came to the farm and we took turns taking each other's family photos. I have a picture of the four of us, back when we were whole, kneeling in front of the cave opening.
On this rock is where my husband sat, and wrapped his arms around me for a picture. The boys sat on either side of us. It was a beautiful fall day and I will cherish our photos forever. We didn't get many family ones taken, so it was nice to have a couple framed. They are still on our walls.
We ended our trip with a smile today. It was difficult to muster our smiles through our tears today but we did. Letting go is so hard to do and neither of us wants to. It is almost like letting go of much of the farm means letting go of Mike, letting go of our dreams we shared. And it kills me.
Today was a difficult day. The farm deal isn't final yet, as we haven't had a court date. But it will be soon. Mike's dream will be mostly out of my hands. We will have some acreage left, don't worry, but it will be so small in comparison and getting my son to realize he will no longer be able to wander wherever he wants has been difficult to do. He doesn't want to accept it. I don't want to accept it.
Many more memories exist on this farm, in pictures in our hearts, not the ones I can take with a camera. Not the ones I can post for the world to see. But the real memories are ones that you can't photograph.
They are the smiles, the wrinkles, the laughs, the stars, the stories shared in the seat of a pickup truck. They are the calloused hand that rested on the window sill and the warm summer air that blew through the cab of a truck.
They are the sun baked skin on the back of his neck from hours spent driving the tractor through the hay field.
They are squeals of delight from my niece as she touched the cold water of the creek the one summer we used it as our river.
They are the screams of my oldest niece and son as they jumped from the cliff above the Spring Branch, and the sounds of splashes made when they landed.
They are the winds that blew through my hair on a summer evening as my husband brushed it from my face long enough to tell me how beautiful he thought I was and to kiss me and thank me for being his wife and for loving him.
They are the grins and smiles that adorned our son's face whenever he was "mudding" in the field on the four wheeler.
They are in the sounds of family that spent every Fourth of July here.
They are the sounds of cows bawling to their babies and the babies bawling back.
They are the old country songs that played through the radio in the truck for the hours we rode around.
They are in the secret moments a husband and wife shared, in the dreams we shared, in the life we built, and in the love we made and grew.
My gosh I miss him.