The Farm will be an ongoing and occasional series of stories, an attempt to journal the oral history of my wife’s rich family history. Since i’ve met and married into this family, stories have been told at every dinner, family gathering and vacation campfire and this is my small attempt and contribution to preserve these stories for next and future generations.
My wife, her brother and myself have been gifted this wonderful farm though the incredible generosity and committment of her parents. Of all the many siblings, only us three had very much interest in maintaining the farm or keeping it in the family, a family farming heritage that dates back almost a hundred years.
There is a quiet and humble history on this property, in the trees that were climbed by the children who grew up on this farm, in the still visible foundation outline of the once huge barn, in every dented and gouged pine door casing, the ancestry of my wife’s family is explained in these details and always further illuminated in our post dinner conversations. Country folk love telling stories and with very little fanfare and a matter of fact manner that belies the profound humanity, the empathy like a ribbon that runs through this family, tales were told tonight too.
My wife and her younger brother spent their summers on this farm, it was a working farm then with a huge pasture for the steer that Pap butchered, chickens and horses, the crops were soybeans, corn, hay and peony plants. The multistory post and beam constructed barn was enormous by all accounts, the heart of any farm and this barn served as the center of activity and endless hours of discovery for the kids too. The horses and ponies were a favorite, my wife spent her time learning to care, feed, walk and eventually ride these horses so much so that Gram ordered Pap to build her a racetrack behind the barn.
This was no small affair, the size of this track would take out a significant portion of the pasture and there were ‘conversations’ between Gram and Pap about the wisdom of this idea but as so many of the stories are indicative of the strength and conviction of the women in this family, Gram prevailed.
She always did.
Gram and Pap grew up during the Great Depression and talked often about being ‘dirt poor’, their families barely survived, scratching out a living however they could in this farming town in southern Indiana just outside Evansville and it’s doubtful that they would have described this same piece of land as a slice of the universe then, as we do now. She learned to cook at a very early age, her scribbled recipes, a shaky penciled script written on stained and wrinkled, blue lined loose leaf pages are coveted by the women in this family, every family had but a few until my wife compiled them into a book and each family then received their own copy one Christmas.
Gram set aside her Avon side business in 1970, took her cooking talents and became the head lunchroom cook at the local elementary school, always adding an extra helping of whatever was on the menu that day to the plates of the very poor among the students. There were four kids in particular, 2 brothers and 2 sisters whose family was considered ‘dirt poor’ even then, lunch was their only nutritious meal of the day. Gram invited these children to the farm every day on the pretense of playing in the barn with my wife and her brother and play they did. The boys built an enclosed fort from the hay bales behind the barn and when they all felt very adventurous and were sure no adults were looking, climbed to the second story rafters of the barn and jumped, one by one into the huge 12’ high pile of shelled feed corn below.
Actually, this story was just revealed to my wife’s parents tonight, to their rolled eyes and ‘Oh, no you didn’ts!’, and we all had a great big laugh at the secrets kids can keep.
But the real reason Gram brought those 4 hungry kids to their farm after school was to feed them, they all shared dinner together and whenever she could, unbeknownst to Pap or anyone else, she would slip them each a silver quarter and send them back home.
Decades later when Gram died, the 4 grown adults who all still lived in the area, all successful now, came to Gram’s funeral and told the whole family this story, the story the they were all learning about as they listened, the tale of a woman quietly sharing what she had with those less fortunate. The 2 sisters and 2 brothers then asked if they could place a small suede pouch they had brought with them into Grams’ casket to honor her memory.
The small, hand stitched suede pouch cinched tight with thin leather roping the family learned, was filled with silver quarters.