You Can Go Home Again: Returning to the Family Farm after My Father’s Death

September 2, 2016

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

As long as it stands, the old red barn will be the anchor on our Minnesota family farm.  My recent visit was the first time I had returned since my father died more than two years ago.  Now the land has been split into two parts, owned by my youngest and oldest brothers.  The old square farmhouse with peeling white paint has been torn down and in its place is a beautiful new home with lots of windows looking out on the land, spiffy modern appliances, and even air conditioning.

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I am not a sentimental person, so I had no qualms about seeing the new house, and I looked forward with eager anticipation to the changes and improvements that my brother and his wife made to my old childhood stomping grounds. I was not disappointed.  At first I was just a tiny bit disoriented because the new house — while sited in the same spot as our old one — has a larger footprint and extends farther to the west.  It took me a minute to figure out where the old smokehouse had stood, to identify the stump of what had been the tree with the tire swing,  and to recognize the trees still standing next to the garage.  (The old garage has also been replaced by a new, larger one.)  Other trees have grown even taller than my memory of them.  But once I was reoriented, everything felt familiar and comfortable and welcoming.  I realized that, for me, the farm was not the physical buildings, but rather the land, the landscape and its seasonal changes, family ties and memories, and the rhythm of daily farm life.  Those things endure and I love them just as much now.  My visit was a homecoming.

Old barn and new garage

Old barn and new garage

“The eye for beauty is the eye for love.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Once again I was struck by the beauty of my childhood home ground.

Fields and woods

Fields and woods

“The landscape seemed increasingly to be a succession of lines — the line of hills, the line of trees, the line of reeds, the line of cattails, the line of water  . . .”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

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One view to the east

 

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

“Our language does not distinguish green from green.  It is one of the ways in which we have declared ourselves to be apart from nature.  In nature, there is nothing so impoverished of distinction as simply the color green.  There are greens as there are grains of sand, an infinitude of shades and gradations of shades, of intensities and brilliancies.  Even one green is not the same green.  There is the green of dawn, of high noon, of dusk.  There is the green of young life, of maturity, of old age.  There is the green of new rain and of long drought.  There is the green of vigor, the green of sickness, the green of death.  One could devote one’s life to a study of the distinctions in the color green and not yet have learned all there is to know.  There is a language in it, a poetry, a music.  We have not stopped long enough to hear it.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

My brother and his wife are bringing new life to the farm with animals — chickens, dogs, barn cats, pigs, and they rent the pasture to another farmer for grazing cows.  While the scale is more of a hobby farm, the animal husbandry and stewardship of the land is as hands on as the farming of years past.  Butchering six chickens brought back old memories.  I learned that a farm skill like butchering chickens is like riding a bike — you never forget how to do it!  Farm-to-table meals are not the rare thing they are in the city!

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My brother raises buff orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

My brother raises Buff Orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

 

Watercolor sketch of chickens

Watercolor sketch of chickens

 

Butchering chickens using a chicken plusher to remove the larger feathers.

Butchering chickens using a chicken plucker to remove the larger feathers.

 

Chicken on the spit

Chicken on the spit

 

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

 

Pigs raised for pork

Pigs raised for pork

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My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch "Bacon 2017"

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch “Bacon 2017”

In my Dad’s final years, as he grew frailer, he resisted change.  Many things were falling into decrepitude, but changes were deferred for as long as possible so that my father could be in familiar surroundings.  Now that he is gone, it is rejuvenating to see my brother’s and his wife’s efforts to remake the farm into a dream home for their own lives.  It seems only right to me that they move the farm into modern times.  Time to create new memories in this deeply rooted place!

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

 

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the from garden bed

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the front garden bed

 

 

 

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6 Responses to “You Can Go Home Again: Returning to the Family Farm after My Father’s Death”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I so envy you — not just the farm, but the land, and the family. With no land and no family, I sometimes feel as though I’ve already disappeared. And, with no up-coming generation, my end will be, in a very real sense, the end of the line. Ah, well. Best to make what difference I can, while I can!

  2. pack3538 Says:

    Love “Bacon 2017”

  3. selah Says:

    A wonderful combination of old and new.. thanks for sharing.

  4. Lynne Auld Says:

    What a wonderful life-affirming post! Your paintings are dazzling, especially those chickens – among my favorite animals. Beautiful!

  5. Adrienne Says:

    Living here in the Midwest, my heart aches as I see beautiful old farms turned into housing complexes. Owners of these homes seem obsessed with lawn. Your visit home made me feel so good about a family willing and wanting to farm.

  6. Georgia-Rose Greer Says:

    Hi Rosemary, I discovered you today when I was looking for a quote. I could not stop reading your blog. Then I came across a picture about plucking chickens. It wasn’t a beautiful picture, but I do remember my grandmother wringing chicken necks and us kids plucking feathers, what I thought was beautiful was the hands of the person doing the job. I saved the picture so I could draw those hands. Love, Georgia-Rose Greer
    I


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