Mile 219: North Dakota

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There is a driveway at Mile 219 on Highway 2 in North Dakota with special powers. It curves around a line of trees, expertly planted to block the modest farmhouse from North Dakota’s harsh weather. It leads to rows and rows of haystacks, perfectly placed for jumping from one to the other. It leads to mud pies, Slap Jack tournaments with Grandpa, and the smell of Grandma’s homemade bread wafting through the house. It led to the best place to visit as a child.

I hadn’t been back to Mile 219 since the year the farmhouse stopped smelling like them. Driving into the yard, it seemed somehow exactly as I remembered it and yet, so much smaller. I walked in from the mailbox out at the highway, which used to seem like it was miles and miles away. I remember screaming “not it” with my sisters and cousins when we had to go get the mail because it felt like you’d be gone all afternoon. Now, with my long-legged stride, it was nothing.

The trees were more overgrown than they’d been when I was here last. The giant evergreen blocked the picture window where Grandma used to stand, wringing her hands as we drove out of sight. Grandpa’s gas pump was no longer there. No need now without farm equipment to fill up. The basketball hoop on the garage was no longer there, but definitely left a mark for those who knew to look for it. And really, that’s how the whole place felt: if you knew where to look, the important pieces of the farm were still there.

It was really special getting to visit the farm with my mom and my son, Tommy. We drove along all the old gravel roads on the prairie that meant so much to her. Mom told me stories that I hadn’t heard before, as well as pointing out the locations to all the stories I had heard. I now can visualize my mom and her siblings crawling through lengthy ditches because they were terrified of the bulls in the pasture, or where she had to go fill up the water can while attending the one-room schoolhouse. Mom also demonstrated her amazing (and uncanny) ability to call cows in by mooing— and then how all it takes is a simple “yah” to have them scatter— much to my son’s delight.

I know my son is too young to remember this place, but I’m so glad he experienced it. This was the best place to visit as a kid, and even though he’s only one— that is already true for him too. He got to play on a tractor, he ate apples from his Great-Grandmother’s apple trees, he saw animals that Alaskan kids never get to see. We got to enjoy a slower and simpler life, even if only for a few days.

I will always remember the moment from this trip when Mom, Tommy, and I parked at the end of the driveway in the dark. I needed to nurse Tommy, and magically- the driveway was the next pullout after his meltdown began. Rain was slowly falling, but as Mom killed the engine, a torrential rain poured and we could hear thunder in the distance. In the span of 15 minutes, we watched as the most amazing thunderstorm built and passed right over us. We rolled down the windows, and I couldn’t help but feel like that was an amazing gift from my Grandma and Grandpa. They were telling me that even though they aren’t there anymore, that driveway at Mile 219 will always be special.