Telling Stories: Remembering our roots, cherishing our agricultural past

[great-great] grandma and grandpa carlson

I grew up knowing that my maternal great-grandparents were farmers, and that my grandmother spent summers on the Carlson farm until it was sold in the 1940s, when grandma and grandpa (well, my grandma’s grandparents) retired and moved “to town.” Since the family farm was sold and the memories were from grandma’s childhood, the connection to the farm felt a few steps removed, the stories in the distant past.

When I started farming, it sort of renewed that spark in my grandma who remembered summers on that farm as the happiest time of her life (I guess no offense to any of us who weren’t around back then) and for my mom I think it inspired her to ask questions, draw out the stories, and bridge that gap.

In honor of my grandmother’s 92 birthday (yes indeed!) I’m posting this blog that my mom wrote last summer, when she took a rode trip down memory lane with her mother and brother and found the source of all of those memories.

The Family Farm: Where Home is, and always will be

by Jill Taylor

Last Monday my mom, brother and myself set off on a quest; to find the farm that my mom spent her summers on. It was her grandparents’ farm and she hadn’t been there for close to 75 years. We drove from Moline, Illinois (where we all live) to the small town of New Windsor Illinois (population 700). About 40 minutes. We drove down the main street-called Main Street-for a few blocks and quickly realized we were already driving out of town. We backtracked and my mom said the fairgrounds looked familiar and so we drove down a side street, but it was a dead end. So she said let’s turn right-it was a gravel road with corn stalks on both sides that were around 5 feet tall. So we kept driving and she would say “turn right here” or “left at the next bend in the road”.

Let me back up by saying it was my idea to try to find the farm. I always knew that being there in the summers (from the time she was 9 up through high school) were the happiest times of her life. But I didn’t really think we would find it. I mean we were driving way out in the boonies; the gravel road now was getting so narrow only one car could drive down it. The farm could have been torn down or the land subdivided and homes built with a cul-de-sac and everything.

Well my mom kept sounding surer of herself as we were taking these turns. She named people that owned the farms we were passing.

Eunice Schorpp in 2017 at the old Carlson family farm

And then it happened. We turned left and there it was. She had said the house was on a hill and sure enough it was. I was amazed and kept saying” that’s it?” It was incredible to me that after all those years she remembered. So we pulled into the driveway and the owner came out. He had farmed there since 1963. The years my mom spent summers out there was probably the mid 30’s through the mid 40’s. As he and my mom talked they realized they had some people in common. In fact, he knew some of her relatives. But there it all was. The house-same porch she used to sit on, the water pump, the wood shed, the barn, the brooder house. We walked up a little hill to get some corn still on the stalk that the farmer invited us to pick. We looked out over the rolling hills and fields bordered by lush green trees. She kept looking, taking it all in and saying “it’s wonderful!” I will never forget the joy on her face as she gazed all around.

She has told me many stories over the years of her summers there-she never did get used to the pig smell! Stories about her grandma and her huge vegetable garden. Of course Grandma canned. Corn, peas, beets, beans, even meat. And they also picked potatoes, onions, turnips, parsnips. They picked raspberries and blackberries (the blackberry bushes were out in wooded areas around the fields). Mom said it all tasted so good. And she helped with the chickens too; gathering the eggs.

But this day there were new stories. She looked in the barn and said she could visualize Grandpa at the whetstone sharpening his tools. And every Sunday family and friends came over to eat. They would bring food-just pot luck as my mom said. The men sat in the yard playing cards. Grandpa had mules too. Mom remembered holding the reins while she, her cousin Lucille and Grandpa stacked up corn they had picked. The mules’ names were Jack and Jenny; but Grandpa, being from Sweden and migrating to the United States when he was 20, still had a thick accent. So he called the mules Yack and Yenny.

When we were leaving I told the farmer that by letting us walk around and see everything, he had given my mom a huge gift. You see, my mom’s mother died of cancer when my mom was 7. These grandparents were her mom’s parents. My mom can’t remember her mom. No memories except the pictures of her. So this was a huge part of her life. Where she felt wanted and loved: by her grandparents, her uncles and aunts, all the cousins. She still had her mom in her life through this amazing family. As I grew older, I realized how wonderful this must have been for her grandparents to have their granddaughter with them. To watch her grow up. To love her. To still have a part of the daughter that died when she was just 33 years old.

Now I have to say that as my mom said, they were very busy on the farm. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit and talk. She said she wished she had asked her Grandpa about the “old country”. She says her grandma very seldom sat on the porch, for example. She was always busy doing something. In her garden, or the hen house, cooking, cleaning. That is part of my mom’s memories that she holds so dear.

A few years ago I told Gail she should sit with her grandma and ask her about the farm since that is a huge part of Gail’s life now. And she said “Why don’t you mom?” So I finally am. At first, I thought about writing about farming. The planting, the weeding, the harvesting. The heat and rain or no rain. All the work involved. And while that is part of farming, the immeasurable part that you can’t always see is what it does for your life. Your purpose. Your sense of achievement and fulfillment. And even your joy and peace of mind. For my mom, it was growing up seeing family with strong work ethics, family that all worked together as a team, family that in their humble way lived their lives to be contented with what they had. Family that was and always will be her family. For my mom, it was home.

For all of you that farm; whether it’s in planters on your balcony or acres of land. For all of you that give to your family or your community in some way. For all of you that have a desire to learn and share with others. Never underestimate the effect that you can have on people. Even when its 100 degrees and you are wondering if the weeding will ever end; know that what you do will be remembered and appreciated years later. And 75 years from now, a former volunteer or worker might remember how to get to your “farm”.