The Family Farm

A woman's visit to the old farmhouse that had belonged to her great-grandparents sparked childhood memories.

The old farmhouse that belonged to the author's great-grandparents, as it looked more than 40 years later, when she visited it.

Photo courtesy Darlene J. Gage

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 It had been 42 years since I'd last seen my great-grandparents' farm. It was where my mom's side of our family would gather from time to time during my childhood. It was a haven for my siblings and me. My father was a minister, and we moved often, so the farm provided us children with a sense of belonging, a sense of roots.

The farm was later owned by my mom's uncle, who was an old bachelor when he finally married. When he passed away many years ago, the farm went to his stepson.

Before visiting the farm a few years ago, I contacted my great-uncle's stepson to make sure he didn't care if we visited and took a look around the old place. He said it was fine and he would unlock the gate for us. He was a farmer, and harvest was in full swing, so he needed to be in the fields. I was actually happy about that, because I preferred it just be my husband and me, so we could take our time.

This was the first time my husband would see the place I'd talked about for years. The farm was nestled between two rugged hills, reached only by traveling on gravel roads. I couldn't believe it was still so secluded from the modern world.

First Glimpse

When we arrived, my husband got out of the car and opened the old rusted gate. You had to grab the end of the gate, lift up, and then swing it inward toward the old barn that sat nearby.

The driveway into the farmyard hadn't changed a bit. It was constructed of dirt, and was still full of potholes. Gone, however, was the little building that used to house the new chicks in spring. Most of the outbuildings were gone. The barn, or what was left of it, was still there, though.

The dilapidated house sat next to an old trailer where my great-uncle and his wife had lived in later years, when the farmhouse became too much work to keep up with. For some reason, though, the house was never torn down. It was just left to slowly crumple and fall quietly into the old dirt cellar, whose foundation was made from local rock.

Emotions bubbled up inside me. I was a little girl again, coming to visit my great-grandparents and my grandmother – my mom's mom, who lived with her parents after my grandfather died.

A Closer Look

We parked the car and got out to get a better look at the old, weathered farmhouse. It hadn't been painted in years, making it look sad and lonely.

The side porch, enclosed halfway up with rotting wood, still stood, but the screens and screen door were missing. Old screen doors back then had a coiled spring attached to them and the door frame, and when opened, they screeched, and the door slammed shut pretty quickly. I got the back of my skinny legs slapped many times by not moving fast enough. I also noticed that there were three crumbling chimneys still perched on top of the tin roof. Amazingly, the old roof looked pretty good compared to the rest of the house.

My husband knew how much I loved this old place from the many stories I'd told him over the years. The farm is where I learned to gather fresh eggs from the chicken coop. It's also where I learned to fish with just a pole, fishing line, and hook. I never could make myself put a worm on the hook. I left that up to my uncle, who was the one who took me fishing for the first time. We went to a pond a mile down the road, beyond the farmhouse, where I caught 13 little fish that Great-Grandmother cleaned and cooked for our supper that night.

I would watch my grandmother milk the only cow they had. She would always fill an old pie plate with fresh milk for the farm cats that kept the mice and rat populations down.

We walked around to the side yard, where the family gathered on summer afternoons and evenings. When the day had been hot with no air movement, we sat out under the big shade trees. As the sun set on the other side of the house, a light, cool breeze would gently blow, and we would sigh with relief while we waited for our grandmothers to bring out lemonade, iced tea, and homemade cookies and little cakes. Being city kids, my brothers, sister, and I looked forward to the ritual that only happened when we visited the farm.

The house had shifted on its foundation and now leaned inward. I climbed up on one of the rocks from the foundation and peered inside through the dirty window. My breath caught as my eyes took in the old, faded green plaster walls. They were cracked and peeling, but pictures still hung on them.

I smiled as I remembered Great-Grandmother walking into the front room wearing her typical pieced housedress, with her hose held in place with elastic garters. Tied around her waist was a starched white apron, which was worn from the beginning of her day until its end. It was used for many things. In its oversized pockets, you might find a needle and thread, a lace-trimmed handkerchief, safety pins, or other miscellaneous treasures. That same apron opened the hot oven door of the wood-burning stove to check on the biscuits for breakfast or supper, and she used it to brush crumbs off the table after we'd eaten her amazing homemade bread with real butter and jam. At the end of the day, she took the apron off and tossed it in the laundry, ready to be washed on wash day with her homemade lye soap.

Through the window I could see pieces of broken furniture. There was the old twin bed my grandmother moved into the living room and slept on after her parents died. There was Great-Grandpa's old rocking chair, where he used to sit and watch Western shows on and old black-and-white TV. Now it was missing one of the arms, and the other one was barely hanging on.

The old electrical cord still hung from the ceiling, a broken bulb in its socket. The light from that bulb never quite reached the corners of the room, where big spiders lurked.

In my mind, I pictured Great-Grandpa in his denim bib overalls, his shoulders hunched over from years of heavy lifting and working the land. His walk was slow, and his steps were careful, so as not to stumble. He was hard of hearing by the time I was 8 or 9 years old. My dad would talk loudly to him, trying to make sure he understood, and Great-Grandpa would just smile and nod his head. However, he always heard when Great-Grandmother called him to supper!

A wood-burning stove stood up against the wall, near the corner closet. It was rusted, and its vent pipe was disconnected from the chimney. When it was cold and snowy outside, I would sit cross-legged in front of that stove on one of Great-Grandmother's braided rugs, where the warmth and sizzling sound of the fire made it hard to stay awake.

Cherished Memories

I don't know how long I stood there before my husband gently touched my shoulder and said it was getting late and we needed to start home.

The day had faded, with only a few hours of daylight left before darkness would swallow up the image of the farmhouse from my childhood. My eyes filled with tears. I wished I could revisit my great-grandparents, my grandmother, and the lives they lived on the farm. It was such a simple time for my siblings and me, yet we never knew how precious those times were until we were grown.

One last look around, and then I climbed into the car, taking all my cherished memories with me.