The work begins

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe had our first work party at the farm over the Labor Day weekend. It took a little getting used to to even be on the place that had been out of the family so long. The “look around” on Memorial Day didn’t really count since the deal hadn’t been made yet. Just making that turn off the highway, the one I had avoided for so many years, was surreal. It felt like there should be stirring background music, like when Lewis and Clark see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Or maybe more appropriately, when townspeople come up out of their storm shelters just after a tornado.

My parents would not have recognized their farm. The farmhouse had not been painted since they moved out. A gutter was hanging forlornly off the front and volunteer hackberries, some as big around as my thigh, had grown up alongside the foundation. The north porch was missing a storm door and a piece of the soffit was drooping. It was beyond sad. Behind the house, the little building that Dad built in 1976 as a place for Mom to process garden produce and keep her geraniums in the winter, was gone. Only the foundation was left. The trees on the place contributed to the aura of disaster. A half-dozen large elm trees were dead or dying. There was a huge pit where another chicken house used to stand. There had been a fire in the pit, so that’s where some of the buildings had gone. Down at the hay barn one could see through it from almost any angle since so many boards and doors had been allowed to fall off.

During the weekend we made a small but noticeable dent in the mess. We managed to completely fill a demolition-sized dumpster. One of the huge ones. We filled it with plastic trash of all kinds, from toys to food containers, and with odd pieces of furniture, tires, and other debris. We mowed everything we could get to without fear of running into objects that would damage the mower. We cut out a bunch of the volunteer trees. We created a mound of scrap metal and a burn pile as high as a ranchhouse. By the time the weekend was done the place looked better. There is still a long way to go, but we’d made a huge improvement. Now we could start to see what we were dealing with.

As we cleaned up we discovered “poignancies” here and there. A forsythia that Mom loved was barely surviving in a thicket of brush. Ditto for her pink rosebush at the corner of the house. Oak and sycamore trees that were saplings when the farm was sold were now grown. Pecan trees that I had planted (and forgotten about) were now producing. In the kitchen of the farmhouse the cabinets made by a dear family friend still hung good as new. Mom’s bathroom still had the pink floral wallpaper and pink plastic tile that we remembered. Pink endures.

I need to rant for just a moment. I don’t want to speak ill of the former owners, but was it really necessary to destroy most of the buildings? I fully understand that none of them suited your cattle operation. They were more suited to raising chickens. And I concede that several of them were actually in the way of what you wanted to create and needed to be removed. But there were four good outbuildings that weren’t in your way and that were perfectly good for storage and that you just demolished. You had to go out of your way to do that as far as I can tell. I guess you didn’t know they were part of my childhood.

The building I miss the most is the ’76 building I mentioned. It was just outside the back door and it was handy to everything. I have pictures of Dad making ice cream in front of it. We hosted a family reunion out of it one year. Mom was in and out of it with garden produce and her plants. We ate a few meals out there in the summer. An elm tree stood between it and the house and it created a nice shady spot. I also miss the chicken house that Dad converted into a garage. True, you had to stoop just a little to avoid the rafters, but it was a good serviceable building that served until Dad had a metal garage put up.

I found that what I missed on this visit was not so much the buildings themselves. It was the disruption of the “sight lines” that depressed me. It was not having things in their place where they had been for decades. Some of the buildings weren’t that useful anymore, I agree. But they were valuable as a facade, like an Old West movie set. Just as there are comfort foods, there are comfort buildings, as well. They were the backdrop to my early life.

And to the former owners again, were you really raised to just throw things on the ground? We found machinery parts, plastic bottles, pieces of plywood, clothing, just dropped wherever. Did you even miss that rusted chainsaw I stumbled over in the tall grass outside the back door? I want to think that in the beginning you had pride in this new place you bought. All that work you put into steel fencing and concrete feed bunks. But somehow as time went on and cattle prices fluctuated it was too much work to keep up with everything. In the beginning you had a dream, as we all do. Your dream lasted a while and then it crumbled. Dreams do that. I hope you got some good memories out of your time on the farm.

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