When Mom and Dad sold the family farm in 1991 and moved to town I was okay with that. The farm, with its eleven old buildings, including two houses and a large old hay barn, represented a load of maintenance that I had grown up with and that I was happy to now pass on to someone else. I continued to be okay with the move right up to the point when Dad died several years later. Then everything changed. That’s when I realized the farm held all of the memories of not only Mom and Dad, but my childhood as well. There was a memory in every square foot. I began to have regrets. I suppose this is a good time to also mention that the older I get, the more emotional I get.
Over the next two decades those of us in the family watched as the people who bought the farm proceeded to trash the place, destroying many of the buildings and making a feedlot out of the property. It didn’t feel good. My father had always kept a neat and tidy place. Now there were thickets of three-foot-tall weeds, broken machinery and trash everywhere, and even dead cows now and then. The irony is that my father was motivated to sell because, at age 90, he could no longer maintain the place. And then the people who bought it pretty much didn’t bother with maintenance.
Jumping to the present, the feedlot folks ran out of money this year and had to sell. They offered the farm to my sister, who lived nearby, knowing she’d pay them more than anyone else, because she also felt a strong attachment to the place. And she did pay them more. Too much maybe, but who knows for sure? At any rate, the farm came back into the family in July and now my sisters and I are wrestling with what to do with it. All we know for the moment is that we have an opportunity for a second chance. It feels like rectifying a mistake.
The farm first came into the family in 1909 when my great-great uncle T.C. moved down from Iowa and bought it. His father had just died and he had an inheritance to spend. So it’s been in the family for more than 100 years, except for that 22-year period when it wasn’t. Even then it was still in the family, sort of. Mostly at 3 a.m. when I would wake up thinking about it. I should add that I believe places have spirits. The spirit of this place sometimes reached out to me.
When he bought it, Uncle T.C. named it “Plainview Farm.” That name shows up on a 1921 plat map. I presume that “plain” refers not to “featureless,” but to “plains,” as in Great Plains. The farm sits on a high spot of land on the edge of a prime grassland region. You can see several miles in every direction. I think Uncle T.C. was attracted by the view. I know he was very proud of the place. People don’t name places they’re not proud of. I should add that we don’t plan to name it this time around.
Lest it sound like my life has been incomplete without this farm, let me say that I do have a suburban life that I’m quite happy with. My wife and I did give serious consideration to buying the farm and moving onto it when it came up for sale, but we decided against it. We like our life. And now the farm is just one more part––like a new hobby.
A hobby that comes with a lot of hard work. There is much to be done. For most of the two decades that the farm was out of the family I’d avoided driving past it when we went down to that area to see family. It was just too painful to watch it decline. Once in a while I’d call up Google Maps and look at it on Streetview, but even that was too much.
Our first good look at it came on Memorial Day when my sisters and I toured the place as prospective buyers. I was sort of prepared for what I’d see, but not really. Of the eleven buildings on the place when Mom and Dad moved out, six remained standing, using that term loosely. A couple others were there, but beyond resurrection. A few paths had been cut through the weeds. There were dead and dying trees. There was machinery everywhere, much of it in disrepair. And there was paper and plastic trash everywhere, plus old tires. Stuff had just been dropped where it was last used or where it had been blown by the wind.
The two houses remained––the farmhouse we grew up in and our grandfather’s house which sat across the garden from us. He and our father farmed together and he was a constant part of our childhood. The haybarn, with its big hayloft, remained, but it had a lot of gaping holes. Some of the doors had blown off over the years and the elements were having their way with the building. Boards had come off and weren’t replaced. But the roofline was still straight. It could be brought back.
The whole place was a war zone––as disorderly as anything I could imagine––and far from the neat and tidy place where I grew up. But the two houses and the hay barn––the buildings we cared most about––were standing. So the deal was made.
What I hope to do with this blog is share a little about the process of bringing this place back to life over the next couple of years––not only the actual physical work of barn-restoration and house-mending, but the emotional insights that are sure to come up as well. If this interests you I invite you along for the ride.
I am not going to identify where this farm is except that it’s in the Midwest. If any of you are interested in the location email me privately. Most of you know anyway, I think. I’m also not interested in a huge audience. If you happen to know someone you think might be interested, please do share however. There also will not be a quiz on this. I won’t be asking anyone if they’ve read my latest entry. You are free to leave comments on posts if you wish. I would ask that you don’t mention it on your Facebook or other social media accounts
The first few posts have the same date, since I made a couple trips to the farm before starting this.