April 7, 2021

        One of my favorite writers is a farmer and writer named Wendell Berry. He lives in the hills of Kentucky with his wife of sixty-four years, where they farm crops and sheep and a host of other animals. He was born along the Kentucky River on his family's farm and after getting his education, he moved to New York City where he taught writing at NYU. And then, suddenly, in 1965, just as his career was taking off, he decided to move back to Kentucky to farm and write, where he has lived ever since. After returning to his homeland, he wrote the following words (paraphrased): 

Much of the interest and excitement that I have in my life now has come from the deepening of my relationship to this countryside that is my native place. For in spite of all that has happened to me in other places, the great change and the great possibility of change in my life has been in my sense of this place. I have grown to be wholeheartedly present here. This is partly in being free of the suspicion that pursued me early in my life, no matter where I was, that there was perhaps another place I should be, or would be happier or better in. But it is only here that I am able to sit and be quiet at the foot of some tree in the woods and feel a deep peace. — Wendell Berry, A Native Hill

One of Berry’s most profound ideas is that of being a  placed person. Someone who doesn’t just have a home, but someone who has a long history of a home, a family record. Someone who doesn’t just live on the land, but deeply understands the land, the weather, the soil, the trees and flowers, how the animals respond to the winter and the way it smells in the spring. A placed person has a thousand stories of a particular geography, stories of humor and heartache, of potential and devastation, stories that bridge the past to the present and will eventually connect to the future. A placed person often has sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters that continue to exist in such a place, who have their own stories to write and their own homeland to understand and cherish. 

When I think of Grandma Grubb, what strikes me the most these days is that she was and lived her life as a placed person. She was present here. She was engaged with this land and the people who live here. For whatever hardship she endured or joy she experienced, she seemed content here. She raised four children in these hills and buried a child who didn’t quite make it. She was married to Grandpa for sixty-seven years before burying him too. She went to church here, worked at the local school here and ate at the local restaurant on Saturdays for dinner. She stubbornly hung her clothes on the line in December and mowed the lawn in the muggy August heat and could recall every time the creek ran high. If there ever was a placed person, it was Nita Marie Grubb. 

I spent my childhood summers watching her harvest vegetables in her garden on the edge of the cornfield. She showed me how to make a bacon and scrambled egg sandwich and that waking up at 7am every single day was absolutely required if I wanted breakfast. She is the one who took me to see New York City for the first time, even though we just drove to its edge and looked in. She loved and cared for me in the way she knew best: by being exceptionally present. Whether it was tending to my poison ivy or baking my favorite cake or taking a whole gang of us to Uncle Basil’s pool on a hot August day, she was always there. She somehow mastered the art of always moving without ever seeming hurried. And perhaps most importantly, she let me roam free and run wild and deeply experience this place as my own, even though it was no longer mine. My mother was raised here but left as a young woman, and even though I never lived here, half of me was from this place. And even though I didn’t know how important it was then, the fact that Grandma let me loose here, summer after summer, shaped me for the rest of my life. As the son of two wandering parents, and as a drifter myself, I would not yet call myself a placed person in the way Wendell Berry or my Grandma were placed. But as I get older and as my children get older, I find myself desiring more and more to become like them. And so it is now, as I say goodbye, I am grateful to her for showing me the way. 

January 13, 2018

Vivian punched me four times today. Sometimes she punches me with fire in her eyes and sometimes there is a twinkle and it feels like she just wants to wrestle. I don't know. It's confusing. She is a toddler.

She is our only child to experience regular child care. Sometimes we wonder if that has something to do with her temper and the way she can tear apart a playful afternoon or wreck a quiet evening by refusing to brush her teeth for the seventh night in a row. Two nights ago when she wouldn't let me brush her teeth, I took her four babies and threw them out the back door. Timeouts for her don't mean much but when you throw her babies into the backyard, shit gets real.

There's a hole in our ceiling thanks to the recent (but extremely rare) rains. The fireplace is literally shifting like pangea and one whole section has begun to move.

This old house has some stories to tell.

December 9, 2017. 10:53pm. On the purple couch. We went out for pizza before setting up the Christmas tree and decorating it with ornaments and some lights that don’t quite make it around. We decided a slumber party made sense, even though it seemed kinda risky on account of the kids getting over hyped or under slept or some combination of both. But that seems to happen on any given night, so what the hell. After watching Christmas Vacation, the kids and Kari fell asleep neatly spaced out along some mattresses on the floor. Auld Lang Syne plays on repeat. Still now. Success. 

Before the evening started we sat in the car and put our hands in the middle and I said that the only thing that could sabotage the night was a bad attitude and whining and everyone managed to do pretty well. 

Seeing my kids sleep and watching their stillness and hearing their breath is both the happiest and saddest part of my day. On the one hand, I fall in love with each of them just a little more, remembering their sweetness and innocence and how vulnerable and intrinsically connected to me they are. They are so quietly human in this moment, which is sometimes hard to remember when they are punching each other or ignoring me in a way that suggests I’m a mouse in a far away field whispering from an underground lair. And this is why I feel so deeply sad in this moment for ever raising my voice or not engaging with their needs or for all those times I’ve walked outside to throw a spoon at the backyard fence. For in this moment, it’s just us. They are my children and I am their Father. 

A friend told me recently to start writing again, but the funny thing is I’m not sure he even knew I liked to write. He didn’t know me back then, when writing was what I thought about most. I don’t know. Probably seems like a good idea. 

August 26, 2017

Following up on my 2015 Annual Report, I was back at it again in 2016. Using the Reporter App, I asked myself a series of questions twice a day and then compiled all of the raw data to summarize my year in numbers. Typically my questions are centered around my goals for the year, which usually revolves around friendship, travel, books and staying active. Sometimes I'm interested in the little details, which this year included the sleeping habits of my children. All in all, after two years and thousands of data points, I enjoy the habit and the constant reminders of what is important to me.

March 28, 2016

Grandpa Grubb is dead. He was my grandfather, my mothers father, my grandmothers husband. I feel their loss more acutely, imagining what it must feel like to see your Father laid bare, to see your husband stripped of existence. How lonely that could feel, how vulnerable to be moving through the day without such a backbone. I imagine the profound absence to be unexplainable, the mysterious connection between a parent and child, a husband and wife. For even when you leave the home and set off into a new life, a new family, a new home, for those fortunate to have a Mother and Father, they are still somehow a force, a presence, for better or for worse, they carry us in some capacity. And then suddenly they are gone and the need and obligation and duty are cut off. 

I wasn't very close to him, both in proximity or in emotion. My memory of my summers under his roof do not serve me well. Did we converse over dinner? What was our interaction like on his farm? What we did we talk about on the numerous road trips around Pennsylvania and beyond? It is hard to remember all but a small handful of conversations we had or a single moment where we were alone together. 

I have found the beauty lies in the realization that he was simply there, around the table, on the farm, in the car, steady and unwavering, as present and purposeful as he was in his work and community. He was there in the airport when I arrived by myself as a six year old. After driving twelve hours  in his Dodge minivan, he was there to pick me up and take me back for an August at the farm. When my Father and I hitchhiked through Pennsylvania on our way to New York City, he was there to drop us off at a truck stop a few miles down the road. 

I cannot remember much about my Grandpa before Parkinson's and age crept up on him. One visit he was walking and talking and the next he was in a home and everything had changed and when visits from across the country are sporadic, it felt like it all happened in a single week. 

And now he is here, in a casket, looking young again in a suit. I move my hands over his hands, hold his face and rub his chest and I remember what a cold body feels like. 

The last time I saw him was almost three years ago. I told him that he was a good man, mostly because I felt it and also because that sounded like something I would want to be told in my last years with the living. 

You are a good man Grandpa. 

And you know what he said to me, through tears and eighty-five years of life showing on his face? 

I've tried to be. 

I've though about these words over and over again, dwelling on such a heartfelt response, letting them sink in, and I find them so incredibly beautiful and genuine and remarkable. For what else more can we ask of ourselves, at the end of our lives, that we tried to be good? 

Rest in peace, Leroy Benjamin Grubb.