Every child grows up believing that one place is the center of the world. For me, it was my grandparents' little farmhouse on the plains of eastern South Dakota. The land's vastness mingled with the exuberance of family gatherings made it a home I never wanted to leave. The Petrik Family Farm became my fortress of solitude, and its atmosphere has since gifted me with millions of warm, irreplaceable memories.
Mornings were my rejuvenators. Around 6:00 a.m., I would rise from my sleeping bag on the living room floor and tiptoe delicately around my slumbering cousins. I would pull on my boots, encased in mud from the day before, fold myself into a winter coat, and sneak out the front door to watch the sun rise. Jesse the collie would perk up at the door's click and shadow me to the edge of the pasture, her white socks treading eagerly after killdeer over the frozen ground. Near the hay bales, we would stop. Slowly, the sun crawled into sight, a burning red cherry on the horizon. Streams of pink shot from it and kissed the indigo clouds. Only on the Farm could I view God's artistry so clearly, startlingly dramatic and mellow all at once. Minutes later, I was brimming with awe and numb in the ears, so we would return to the house where Jesse smiled her toothy dog grin at me as I vanished behind the storm door.
Later in the day, I would spend time observing my kin and involving myself in Grandma's culinary escapades. As my cousins screeched and giggled mischievously in the yard, my aunts would sag on the living room sofa around an episode of House Hunters, and the men, commanded by Grandpa, would be off to work in the hog yard or with the cattle. If Grandma and I expressed severe boredom, we would excavate ingredients out of her copious cupboards and make chocolate chip cookies! Messes spattered the forty-year-old table, but we did not mind, for the sweet scent of butter and brown sugar hovering in the air compensated for it. Grandma popped some dough in her mouth when she thought I was not looking. Then it hit me like a wall of water. I realized how content I felt. Here I was, with my dearly beloved grandma, and we were creating happiness together in a room dancing with sunlight. Satisfaction and tranquility began to swell in my chest as I washed dishes with her among the cheerful, blue walls and a plethora of chicken décor. So what if there was not a dishwasher? Who cared if the vent in the floor blew up my back as I stood next to it? I was happy. I only grew happier as we put the dishes in their homes and listened to her tiny chimes tinkle on the window sill.
As customary, any remaining hours of the day were spent meandering around outdoors. An imaginary trail, etched into my mind many years before, carried me over the crumbling, garage driveway, through the tractor ruts in the dirt road, and into the east entrance of the barn. Before I was born, the barn resembled a stereotype in a storybook. Since then, it has been replaced with a more unconventional, modern build. Upon entering, my ears would absorb the sound of Johnny Cash on Grandpa's radio, while musty hay and dust invaded my nostrils. Around the perimeter, bales of straw and alfalfa rose to the ceiling like castle walls, and the dragon inside was Grandpa's monstrous, green John Deer. Barn swallows chirped like heralds and retreated to their nests in the roof. The sight brought memories flooding in. I envisioned my cousins mounting the bales in delight, and recalled images of Dad horseback riding, provoked by four, dust-coated saddles hibernating against the wall. If I had acquired the chance, I would have utilized them myself. Just as overwhelmingly as before, that sensation of deep contentedness from the kitchen returned, and I was once more grateful of how God had placed me in this family, on this farm.
The Farm will always be my place of well-being. It never fails to dispense that powerful impression of love, appreciation, and contentedness every time I step onto the gravel driveway. Each memory will remain engraved in my mind forever, just like the echoing grate in the bedroom floor, the glass case holding Grandma's angel collection, and Grandpa's closet full of toy tractors. Without a doubt, this little farmhouse will always stand as my precious home away from home.