If a man owns land, the land owns him. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
A winding dirt and rock road leads to the family homestead. Parallel to a creek which crosses it twice, the road runs between a fern bank edging pastures on the left and deep woods to the right. The two hundred and thirty plus acre farm was passed through the generations. (I am of the fifth generation.) I spent almost every Sunday of my childhood there, and at the age of ten moved onto a parcel of the family land.
The soil of the land is red clay. After a good rain, the sun dries it until it becomes caked and cracked, but the surface brushes with the scrape of your fingertips. You don’t even have to dust the dirt to see the shiny black squares of jack rocks or the sparkles of quartz. If you pay close attention to the shape of the quartz, you might find you are looking at arrowheads or other Indian artifacts from the people who roamed the land long before my ancestors took over. The water runs fresh and is piped down from a spring off the mountain. There is nothing quite as refreshing as a sip from the hose on a hot summer day.
The land has always provided my family with an abundance of food. My grandparents grew garden crops of beans, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and such. More enticing were the fruit trees. Not only did they provide pears, apples, peaches, cherries, and mulberries to sustain us, but the trees shaded us from the scorching sun and imparted a cool breeze across the hill. Most important to us grandchildren was the entertainment bestowed by the trees: climbing, hiding, swinging, and jumping.
The vast amount of land gave me a sense of freedom. I was allowed to scamper amok through the fields and explore creek beds. We built teepees, collected artifacts, and engaged in apple wars. The scenery of the fields changed with the seasons. We’d run through and hide in fields of buttercups, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, butterfly weed, wild mustard, and black-eyed Susans with the scent of wild honeysuckle calling us to the woods. The flowers drifted to hay and silver threads of rabbit tobacco, and the scent to ripening apples. Ticks and chiggers gave way to beggar’s lice. We ran nonstop throughout the property, but as we neared the house the large cacti at the edge of the yard warned us to slow down. At the end of each day I had collected treasures in the way of jack rocks, wild flowers, or bounty I’d picked myself. The greatest gem of all was respect for the land that provided for my family.
I watched the sun leather the older generation. I saw them sweat as they toiled the land. I also witnessed pride gleam in their eyes when they produced a good harvest. Everyone benefited from a good grape crop as well. While we children were happy to eat them straight off the vine or later in jelly on biscuits, the adults seemed delighted to be able to make some homemade wine.
Whether the family members worked or played, we were all brought together at the end of the day on Sunday for dinner. The food prepared was either raised or grown on the farm. My favorite meal was crispy fried chicken, a colorful and delectable succotash, and flakey homemade biscuits. I sometimes wonder if the comfort I find in food today stems from the great joy and security it provided for me in childhood. Even today with an array of fast food at my finger tips, I prefer the sustenance of a home cooked “country” meal and the company that goes along with it.
Country nights were much different than city nights. The stars and moon lit up our skies instead of traffic and street lights. We didn’t hear car motors or ambulance sirens…we heard bull frogs croak, cicadas buzz, owls screech, whippoorwills call, and bob cats wail. There didn’t seem to be a need for television or radio entertainment.
I learned here that if we took care of the land it would take care of us. It was a place where childish dreams and adult perseverance met, creating a land of possibility for all. I can understand how people hate to part with land that has been passed down through their families for generations… It becomes your oxygen; you live and breathe it. I might have moved away, but I never really left it. It is a piece of all I ever was and all I dare to be. Ties to my family land keep me honest, humble, and always searching for what is good in life.
The arms of the beech tree on the hill reaches it’s limbs out to welcome me each time I return. The Sunday dinner chatter still echoes through the hallway of the house now empty for more than thirty years. The pastures no longer corral animals but still beckon me to run wild. The trickle of the mountain spring always invites me to taste freedom once again.
Click here for a photo and poem about the old homestead.
“Allow your mind to be a memoir movie camera as you view the landscapes of your life. Write what you see, feel, smell, and know deep in your bones.” This prompt is from Joy at Memories and Memoirs.