A few years ago when I was still working I took my 90 year old mom for a drive in the country to visit her farm (not the homeplace which no longer exists.) She rents the old white farmhouse (old farmhouses only come in two types – white clapboard and yellow brick), to a lovely couple and the wife showed us around her very large vegetable garden, and gave us a couple of jars of pear jam she had just made and some big fat beefsteak tomatoes. We sat out on the veranda and listened to the birds twitter. It was quiet and peaceful. I remembered thinking what a lovely lifestyle. Although my roots are rural it had been a long time since I was out in the country. I grew up in on a hundred acre farm in the 60’s and 70’s and while I hope I am not romanticizing the past, I do seem to remember it as being a simpler more peaceful time. My dad had a dairy farm with Holsteins, (which needed milking twice a day so no family vacations for us), then later beef cattle, and he also cash cropped. It was a good thing to be self-sufficient and not always reliant on a grocery store, but it was also a lot of hard work, as was canning during the long hot summer, as my mother can attest, although she also often says looking back that we had the best of times.
It was a century farm, settled by my dad’s Irish ancestors in 1849, who had escaped the worst of the potato famine just in time. They arrived in Canada penniless in October of 1846 in a party of twenty or so, three having died on the coffin ship on the way over, and they lost one young 15 year old son in the bush after having jumped ship during the cholera quarantine in the St. Lawrence River. I have a record from the National Archives of Canada for the three brothers who had to borrow one pound for water transport from Port Toronto to where they settled. My great grandfather, who was fourteen, stayed behind in Ireland because he had a chance to go to school with the landlord’s son, and came a year later through New York. An uncle was sent to pick him up, which seems amazing as the land was all trees and wilderness. My great great grandmother walked thirty miles along Indian trails to the nearest post office to get the letter telling them when and where he was coming. It was October when they arrived here, and the Indians helped them build a hut, otherwise they would never have survived the first winter.
Several years later they bought the homeplace – for poor Irish tenant farmers to own land was a dream come true. The homeplace was sold and the house and barn torn down twenty years ago after my dad died and now all that survives is the silo. My mother painted it in 2005 from an aerial photograph, which is the picture above and on the home page.
While I am nostalgic for the country lifestyle, farmland today is way too expensive to live in the country, and farming is for the most part big business. One day I was driving down our old line and there were four big combines out in the field (trying to beat the rain), and I thought, well there’s a million dollars there. The small family farm is a vanishing business, to survive you have to go big. So much of life is about survival but it is a good thing to remember where you came from, and it is also a good thing to know how to make your own jam!
Song of the Day: Out in the Country – Three Dog Night