Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Musings of My Childhood Home
Iowa has gone major change in my lifetime and that is but a severely cropped portion of the whole picture. During my grandfather's generation, two and a half million people lived in the state of Iowa and almost one million of those lived on farms. Today, our population is now just shy of three million people while only 150,000 or so people remain on the farms. While the states overall population increased some twenty percent, the farm population dropped eighty-five percent. I find these statistics staggering.
The farm homestead where I grew up was situated in the south-central part of a block of land 960 acres big or exactly a mile deep by a mile and a half long. In my lifetime there were a dozen families that lived on that block of land and perhaps 50 or so people. The land itself was divided up among eight landowners. Before that there were even more families and even a school. Today, only three people remain, two of who are my parents and the land is divided up among three landowners with my parents owning the vast majority of it.
As the years went by, the buildings were hauled off or torn down for their lumber. Those that weren't torn down or were left behind moldered and decayed into the land. Now as I drive by these sites on occasion during a particular nice sunny weekend, all that remains of the farm families that once lived there are a cluster of trees that once provided shade on a warm summer afternoon. I try to imagine the proud farmhouse that no doubt stood among those trees or the well-kept lawns and large vegetable gardens. There would undoubtedly be a few chickens pecking in the dirt, perhaps a few flowerbeds for gathering blooms for those important occasions when somebody was ill. being married or buried and always a small orchard. Now if you poke around these sites, all that remains are perhaps a few wild looking once domesticated flowers, a snag of a tree that once used to bear fruit and perhaps a foundation or the remnant of a clothesline post or two. The scene always conveys a sense of sadness to me.
When we drove by the one in the picture above, I didn't get out to explore it because I knew exactly where the garden had been, the fruit trees, the flowerbeds and the old chicken coop foundation. I grew up there in a proud farmhouse that has long since rejoined the earth. In the picture below, you can see a white pine tree that seems out of place and one post of the old clothesline that is still standing though leaning far from vertical. The garden was close to the foreground of the picture above underneath a windmill that hasn't been there in twenty-five years. Back in the late 80's when my grandfather died, we made the decision to move to his farm on the same block of land but a mile north along the fenceline. Most of the buildings and storage needed to operate a farm were already over there so it just made sense. But for me, this place in the picture above will always be my home.
If I close my eyes and think back, I can still here that windmill creaking idly in the wind as I played in the dirt underneath the large silver maple tree now leafless and lifeless in the picture below. In the summer months, that tree was our air conditioner and where I spent many hours shucking peas, snapping beans or husking corn from the garden. All the produce from the garden was hauled up in an old red metal wedge-shaped wheelbarrow with two wheels along the gravel road. It seemed like such fun to pull that wheelbarrow at a full run to see how fast I could make the trip up to the house and back. Several years ago at an auction, I saw an identical wheelbarrow to the one of my youth and bought it for a whopping dollar. We still use it around our house and someday if I think of it, I will take a picture of it and post it here.
There used to be a lot of white pines in our yard because I helped plant them as a kid. Back then, they were mere twigs with a few fine white roots on one end. Most got eaten by deer and one got ran over by a certain kid pushing a lawnmower through some grass that had gotten too tall during planting season. I tried to hide that one from my mom by putting the top half over the stump. It fooled her for a few days but eventually it turned brown and was discovered. Not a well thought out plan on my part. But two survived and can both be seen in the picture above. I had my graduation picture from college taken in front of the white pine on the right near the gravel road. It was probably only a dozen feet tall back then. Now it is taller than the telephone wires. I remember when I planted my tree thinking that someday I would be able to climb it like the ones that I used to climb at my grandfather's farm. It didn't quite work out that way. The ones on my grandfather's farm, where my parents now live, have all died off and now that the one I planted is big enough to climb, I'm too "old" to climb it. Perhaps someday when my daughter is older and it is just the two of us, we will come back and climb that tree when no one is looking.