“Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule . . .”
Those old forgotten lyrics came sneaking back into my head as I sat on the hill down below the old farmhouse where I grew up so may years ago. ‘Swinging on a Star’ by Bing Crosby was my mother’s favorite song. I remember how she would hum the melody or sometimes sing the lyrics when she thought no one was listening while she cooked, did laundry, gardened and did all the other chores around the house and farm to keep my father and the hired man fed and in clean clothes. But that was a long time ago.
Dusk was settling in after a normal hot sultry July day in northeast Iowa. No breeze to ruffle even the lightest of leaves, frogs were singing down in the valley by the spring fed farm pond. Mosquitos hadn’t yet come out or else hadn’t found me yet. A humid mist rose from the valley floor. It was an evening that brought back those childhood memories from what some might call the ‘good times’ but only remembering the good times means we had put the bad times away.
Now were sad times. I had just buried my mother that morning. Dad preceded her by six years. She was a tough one, eighty-nine years old, only just going down hill in the last few months. She had a good life. As an only child born late in her life, I now had to consider an eight hundred acre farm I had just inherited.
I was leaning against the old oak tree where my long ago rotted away swing rope once hung from a high branch. My dad made the swing for me, a single thirty foot piece of hay rope with a wooden two by four for a seat. I loved to come up here and swing. There was a flat spot on the hill by where the tree stood. I was able to walk up to where the hill again began to ascend towards our house, straddle the rope and, with my legs straight out so I wouldn’t hit the ground, I was able to sail out into space like I was flying. With only the one rope in the center, I was able to go backwards and sideways and spin in space. It made me feel alive and free, like I could do anything: have adventures like Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, Captain Ahab or Ishmael, or the western heroes of Zane Grey’s many books.
However, my life turned out to be less than adventurous, now an account executive with an advertising agency where I coddled and sold advertising to untrusting business men and women who never seemed to be satisfied with the outcome of any ad campaigns the agency ran for them, no matter how successful they were. I was good at what I did and made decent money, had a nice condo overlooking a park in Cedar Rapids which I bought after my divorce when I lost the house to my ex-wife. She and her new husband live there now with our two kids, both now in high school, who I get to see one awkward weekend a month. Ten years and I haven’t found anyone to be serious about. Mainly because I’m not really looking.
I brought my mind back to the present, settling back into the woodland sounds and smells. I heard a train whistle about a mile away going up along the Mississippi, the big engines working hard. I remembered how hearing those trains heard through my open bedroom windows during the summers, before we had air conditioning, ow they always made me feel lonely, like I needed to be, or be going, somewhere, maybe somewhere out west where there was the purple sage and wide open spaces of Zane Grey novels.
I used to love these summer days and nights of soft summer air, always wanting them to go on forever. No school and freedom. Free run of 800 acres, about a third in hilly woodlands with the remaining hill tops in crops. I would roam through the woods, climb the bluffs, sometimes finding arrow heads and other treasures, now all packed away in the attic of the farmhouse along with all my other old things my mother kept.
After supper some nights I would come down and play on the swing. One night I remember a particularly bright moon rise. I was on my swing going so high I thought if I let go at just the right time I might fly all the way through space and time and land on the moon like the astronauts did fifteen years ago in 1969. Maybe higher, maybe even to the stars.
A female voice jolted me back to the present, “Travis, your guests are getting ready to leave. You might want to go back up the house and say good-byes.”
I turned to the voice and saw Molly Ann Parker standing in the shadows. Molly Ann and I grew up together. Her parent’s farm was close by and we’d play together on Saturdays during the school year and roam the woods together during the summers. We were inseparable until freshman year in high school when she decided she didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. She found new friends and she began avoiding me. Lost and alone, I finally started hanging out with some guys from school. Then in junior year, my best friend Carl started dating her. After that, he wasn’t my best friend anymore. They ended up getting married right after high school because Molly Ann was pregnant.
To be continued . . .