Roots + Wings with Rory Feek
Each spring for the last couple of years, I’ve hosted a father/child campout for the dads and kiddos from the schoolhouse to spend an evening together, getting to know each other better, and making memories that will hopefully last a lifetime. But this year’s campout, held this past Saturday night, came with a memory I’d rather not have made.
We have an ‘outdoor learning area’ behind the schoolhouse nestled beneath some trees, where there is a big fire pit and tiered wood seating. We all met there at 5 pm and began setting up our tents. The kids were so excited. Most of them had been talking about it for weeks, my eight-year-old daughter Indiana included. There were six or seven dads this year and about twice as many children, as siblings joined in as well as an extra friend or two. Eventually, we had a good number of tents all neatly arranged on top of the little hill. And soon a fire was roaring and camp chairs, large and small, were lined all around.
Ms. Rebecca, who runs the school, had purchased most of the food and snacks for the event. Once we got a table or two set up near the camping area, we grilled hotdogs on the fire, and the grownups visited while the children ate their fill and ran endless circles around the area. It was exciting to just be with their friends and their fathers—outside of school. We decided to all take a hayride around the farm before we broke out the s’mores. So, all the children and the dads loaded onto a make-shift hay wagon (without hay), and I climbed into the side-by-side, put it in gear, and we were off.
We drove around the cemetery where Indy’s Mama’s wooden cross stands, passed the pond, and by the cows grazing in the high grass. Then we crossed over to our neighbor Ted’s farm (who was sitting beside me—his little girl MacKenzie goes to our school too). We made our way through his big field and down a long winding lane he’d recently cut through the woods. The kids were all so happy and screaming every time we hit a big bump. Though it sometimes felt like chaos, I think the dads were having a good time, seeing the pure joy their kids were experiencing, spending an evening outdoors with their friends.
When we got to the end of his property, we found no option to loop back, and had to turn around on the big road in front of Ted’s and my houses. After making sure no cars were coming, we pulled out onto the road and, in less than a minute, turned back into our driveway to finish the long loop and hayride.
At first, I thought they were all just playing a game, but their yelling for Indy got louder…
As we pulled back into the camping area and the kids all streamed out of the trailer, we dads made our way back to the chairs around the campfire to break out the marshmallows and chocolate bars. I heard some of the children calling for Indy. At first, I thought they were all just playing a game, but their yelling for Indy got louder, and I could see that the kids were spreading out, searching the playground and barnyard. I called over ten-year-old Magnolia and asked what they were doing.
“We’re looking for Indy, Papa,” she said. “She didn’t come with us on the hayride.” My heart sank.
“What do you mean she didn’t come with us?” I asked.
“She didn’t want to come, so she stayed here,” she answered. “But we don’t see her anywhere.”
She hadn’t even finished talking, and I was running toward the farmhouse calling Indy’s name. Inside there was nothing but quiet and the clock ticking. I checked the concert hall. Nothing. I called into the backfield and towards my sister Marcy’s house. Nothing.
“Where would she have gone?” I kept asking myself. “It’s not like her to go off on her own anywhere.” We had been gone about 30 minutes or so, and she may have gotten bored or scared and tried to find us.
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Rory Feek is a world-class storyteller, songwriter, filmmaker, and New York Times best-selling author. As a musical artist, Rory is one-half of the Grammy-award-winning duo, Joey+Rory. He and his wife, Joey, toured the world and sold nearly a million records, before her untimely passing in March 2016.