Janie and I drove down to the cemetery where her parents are buried, about forty-five minutes south of Des Moines, but, at first glance, a different world.
Rows of crops on either side of the lonely paved highway. Gravel roads branching off to who knows where. And, as we entered the town where her grandparents once lived, a modest little sign: WELCOME TO MILO, then below that: Please Help Our Boy Scout Can Drive. For a moment I thought I'd been transported back in time, maybe to the very small towns I'd grown up in myself.
But of course, no. We passed by a park, where a small child played on the merry-go-round as her mother talked on a cell phone, oblivious to her. We drove past the farm once owned by Janie's uncle. Many of the buildings she remembered from her childhood had been torn down, and what remained had obviously been converted to other uses. A Lexus sat in the driveway, and two pickups, but no farm equipment was in sight, and a few horses represented the only visible livestock. The surrounding fields were obviously owned and maintained by somebody else, somebody who didn't live around here.
Sure, we all know change is the only constant in this world. It's a given, as certain as the ultimate destination of our trip: a cemetery. We laid flowers on the graves, the graves of people I'll never meet, then we moved on, past the same lush fields and through the same town, but somehow they didn't look as inviting as they did only a few minutes earlier.
"I don't get down here as often as I'd like," Janie said as we headed back home. "And every time I leave, I feel like I'm leaving something behind."
"You're not, though," I said. "It left you. All you can do now is live the rest of your life."
She took my hand, and we drove back in silence.