July 20, 2012

Dry Land

 My great grandparents Anna and Henry (next to the buggy) with their two oldest daughters Zoe and Mae and unindentified friends.  About 1904.
All of my people were farmers.  My parents grew up on a farm, their respective parents grew up on a farm, and their respective parents grew up on a farm. In my mother's family, eight generations owned the same acreage from 1830 until 2010.
My generation did not want to farm the land adjacent to Sugar Creek.
Things get complicated in a nomadic society, but the die was  cast a generation ago when none of the six grandchildren expressed any interest in the farm in Indiana or another one in Ohio.  
For me, I always regretted the family business hadn't been the county's daily newspaper where I worked as a  young adult and still write a column.
To paraphrase an old saying, if wishes were horses, I would ride. 
 I had no interest in farming, though I was intrigued by the relics of that life which were left to me by my grandmother.  She also left me a great, unending curiosity about those who came before me. Much of my first book reflects the pride I feel about these people and places, and I carry with me what I have learned. 
Managing a farm from a distance is a Herculean task that my father did well, as the final person to run the farm. Though the farm came to his generation through my mother, his wife, he was responsible for the business decisions after my grandmother's death. He knew that farm like he knew his own hands, every acre, every ditch, every tile, every tree. It was personal to Dad, like an old friend.
I appreciate much about my farm lineage, and the Drought of 2012 which has dried up good Midwestern farm land like the plot my family owned, has me reflecting about what the legacy means to me.
Farmers are survivors.
That's what they do.
When my great-great-great-grandfather Reuben Long (and grandfather to the young mother in the photo above)  drove in an oxen cart with his brother David from Pennsylvania to Tunker, Indiana, in the 1830s he found rocky pastures and dense woods. Most of the native American population had moved south or west in the decades before, but it was still a wild land.
Somehow the two brothers managed to survive with what they brought with them and what they could create. Each subsequent generation of my family experienced the challenges of wind and weather, devastatingly dry summers and long, cold winters that never seemed to end.  In 1934 in a summer much like this one, my mother's family nearly lost their farm, and my father's family did lose their farm.
Today family farming on this smaller scale is no longer as it once was; agriculture is far less a part of our economy than it was a hundred years ago when Anna and Henry took the buggy out for a Sunday drive.  Farming has gone the way of many businesses, an "outsourcing" to the big corporate farms who can pay for combines that cost six figures.
For millions others like myself who came from the legacy of small farmers, what remains is a healthy fear of nature and a respect for the stewardship of those who build communities and villages throughout our country, one plow at a time.
Originally  published at www.opensalon.com