SimpleIt didn’t seem like much to me then. I sulked in the back seat as Dad steered his green ’73 Pontiac down every back road in the county. With our windows rolled down as far as they could go, steamy August air blew across our faces and provided little relief. He showed me stark white farmhouses not so unlike our own, leaning red barns scoured by winds, and house trailers sagging on cinder blocks with yards full of broken things. In our own yard sat a Rambler that wouldn’t start, peeling yellow corncribs, and an ancient hay rake caked in rust. He told me the names of the homesteaders, long gone or last year; I didn’t know. He pointed out the old tree lines, places the lumber barons had flattened, and told me how things used to look. I only half listened. The days seemed infinite, the car rides long and tortuous, summers stretched on and on like the hums of cicadas.

Now, on every Christmas visit he takes me down the back roads lest I forget. He points out the local family farms, names and people that he has known for eighty years, the same ones now: Berens, Deuling, Folkema, Splitstone… “The people who stay,” Dad says, “These are simple people, not stupid, just simple.” The heater in the truck hasn’t warmed up, and his words come out in foggy puffs. They sink in. I realize he is talking about himself. About me. I am not so different as I once believed. I look at Dad in his grease-stained denim coat and yellow felt gloves; his neatly shaven jaw juts forward under his cap and the flaps hang over his big farmer ears. I nod and lean my head against the frost-stained window. We drive past our old farm, past the lake my great-grandfather named Kemperman, and home; the air so clean and crisp it hurts to breathe.

Kerrie Kemperman is a writer, book designer, and blueberry farmer. She earned her MFA from Emerson College, and teaches through The Memoir Project in Boston. Her essays have appeared in Agni Online and Swankwriting‘s 83 Words Project. 

Photo by Maria Romasco-Moore