My long-time readers will notice some themes here that have surfaced in previous posts. I was once again brought to this subject after reading a chapter called “The Old Homeplace,” in the eleventh edition of the Foxfire Book.
It was like an electric shock to hear the words that Mr. O’Hara spoke to Scarlett concerning land in Gone With the Wind: “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for—because it's the only thing that lasts." (Or something close to that.)
I was fifteen years old and sitting in the last remaining art deco movie theater in town (later torn down to make a parking lot) when those words were burned into my memory. “Here’s someone who understands” I thought, knowing it probably would have been the author of the original book, Margaret Mitchell. I was at that age where the little thoughts of childhood were expanding into larger thoughts, beliefs and passions of adulthood, and I knew that my heart would always be drawn to the land. Some things are just meant to be.
I never gave such things a thought when I was younger. The family farm where I was raised was only a couple miles from town. Including the part that my absentee aunt owned, there were 135 acres there. Across the road lived Dad’s sister and her husband with probably another 60-80 acres. Walking across one neighbor’s place took me to a 15 acre strip of hillside that ended against my maternal grandfather’s place of 60-80 acres and across the road, the farm of Dad’s sister and her husband, again probably 60-80 acres. It was about a mile from our driveway to my grandfather’s driveway and I often walked it or rode it on my bike, usually with a fishing rod or gun in hand. A mile’s hike further through the hills would have put me on the 180 acres we had on Tick Ridge, though I never hiked it. I did ride it a few times on horseback, but usually I drove there (once I was 16). Waddington Creek, with its twists, turns, pools and riffles marked the center of my “stomping grounds.”
We had gentlemen’s agreements that we could hunt, fish, hike and ride horses on the properties of our relatives and a few neighbors, and they could do the same with us, so I never lacked for access to the outdoors. In my youth, I remember foolishly thinking that it would always be so, with the land passed down to me, my cousins and amicable neighbor’s kids. I also remember thinking how grand it would be if I were a millionaire and could buy them all out. Lust for “things” starts early, I guess.
When young, most of the vitamins, minerals and protein that made my body grow came from that land. We raised beef cattle and grew large gardens. My aunt, who lived on the other edge of the farm with my paternal grandparents still milked two cows, so we had all the fresh milk, cream and butter that we needed. My maternal grandparents, up the road, raised chickens and two hogs a year, so we had fresh eggs, chicken and pork. Everybody raised gardens, and everybody canned and shared their bounty with one another. My dad and I farmed, cut timber and sawed logs, like he and his father before him. Later, Dad and I grew Christmas trees. I felt that I was part of the land and that it was part of me. I was the fourth generation to work that land, for even my great-grandfather had spent his last few years helping Granddad on the farm.
Alas, things don’t always go the way they were “meant to be.” All but a few acres of my relatives’ land is now out of the family. I foolishly didn’t see that the girl that I dated at 15 was the one that I should marry. So, many girlfriends and two wives later, I live on the farthest 98 acres of property up on Tick Ridge.
A part of me died the day I left the woods and went to work at the factory. Bitterness took hold of me, due to it not being myself that caused most of the need to leave the woods. Chronic depression joined that bitterness and, for many years, I really didn’t care whether I lived or died. The Lord at last pulled me out of that, but it was a new battle when I saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that the factory where I worked was eventually going to close down, no matter what they said otherwise. I was in a worse financial situation than when I was making half as much, and selling my old homeplace was the only solution other than divorce. THAT nearly killed me. I felt like I’d disgraced both myself and the ancestors who’d worked the land before me. There are worse things than divorce.
Of course, it wasn’t like I had anyone to pass it onto that wouldn’t have seen it as just a financial asset, rather than as a sacred trust. These days, though, having spent so much of my time in the valley at large, I pretty much feel like I’m home as I leave the city limits and start driving out the Waddington Valley. Even after all these years, the feelings are still strong.
It’s ten years since the sale of the farm, and I’m about to lose the job I’ve held for the last four years. It didn’t pay enough to even cover the bills, but luckily, I had some outside income that made up the difference. That, too, is dwindling. At least I have no debt at this point in my life; maybe I can hold onto the property that I have left. If not, I’ll survive that, too. I put a lot more faith in the Lord than I used to. Besides, I don’t have that many more years on this old earth. Soon enough, I’ll REALLY be home, and with some of the friends and family of my youth. © 2011