Wednesday when I delivered that bowl of strawberries to my neighbor, we got to talking about the Mennonite nursery out by the swimming lake. Half of our conversations revolve around the garden, so we quickly agreed to go together.
Thursday I hurried the kids through lunch and we piled in the van with our neighbor. Out toward the mountains we drove, out toward the swimming hole. The sign for the nursery was by the road, a crowd of pansies down below. We followed the drive, curving beside perfectly mowed fields. We passed the cattle trailers, perfectly perpendicular. The cattle chutes were gleaming. The greenhouses were small, but clean, perfectly built and maintained. The plants were nodding, happy, in the April sun. Later, I had to confess to Bryan some serious envy in my heart.
The car ride to the nursery, on the prim Mennonite farm, was all stories. Long ago her great-grandfather had fought with Sam Houston in Texas. When the fighting was done, he made his way back up into this river valley and chose a farm at the foot of the mountains. When the country was up at arms, readying for the Civil War, he declared he couldn't fight against his friends. He set his two slaves free, joined a regiment from Ohio and ended running a Union commissary, where the Methodist church now stands, a ten mile wagon ride from home. A niece had lost a husband, then a boyfriend in the fighting, so with two small children, she moved out to his farm and when the war was over they married and had a whole passel of kids. Aunt Em's house used to be right here, but it's fallen now. The wainscoting was waist high. When World War I ended, and they were the only house out there with a phone, someone called on the party-line at one in the morning with the news. Everyone got out of bed, and at two her mother set out across the fields with a lantern, to tell the next farm over. She worried all the way she'd step on a snake.
That is history.
Ambling between the petunias and begonias, I whispered in Sam's ear, "Wasn't it worth it, just to hear the stories?" When we finished, we hopped back in the storymobile and drove home. And Sam reported to Bryan, "She tells great stories."
In the Civil War there was a man who didn't want to fight. He hid up in the mountains, in a cave, just up there on the cliff. When the men from town came looking for him, he couldn't be found. After the danger had gone, his wife would put out the laundry, white sheets, visible on the valley floor from the cliffs up above, and he would make his way home.
And we rattled along in the storymobile. Cliffs to the right. Nursery ahead. Storyteller beside us in the car.