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Remembering The Family Farm

By Tom Poland
web posted April 10, 2015

LIFE DOWN SOUTH – From 1935 until today, the number of small farms in our country has dropped from six million to two million. A way of family life entire disappears as small family farms succumb to change. Regardless of the reasons, the result is denying many children today to store away a harvest of great memories. Gathering eggs, picking tomatoes, getting up the cows, fishing for bream with a cane pole. Those and more. Fortunately, I remember my family farm.

March 28, the day before my sisters and I laid Mom to rest, was busy. As things settled down, I felt the need to spend time alone and the best place to do that was on my Aunt Vivian’s farm. As a boy, I spent many a day there fishing in the ponds, exploring the pastures and woods, riding an old mule, and playing baseball with childhood friends.

Growing up, I always enjoyed the views along the road that leads to the farm. Beautiful farmland and old country stores were welcome sights. Things changed though. My memory is anchored to the past so when I drive past the newfangled golf course I still see ponds, pines, fences, and cattle standing about, what Granddad Poland called whiteface cattle. I don’t see men swinging at little white balls. As I drive past rustic Price’s Store, I see old men wearing felt hats and coveralls sitting on the benches flanking the door. That’s where I got the coldest Coca Cola ever bottled from a red cooler dense with a flotilla of chunks of ice.

Down the road from the store is Grandmother Poland’s home, the site of many a Christmas dinner. I haven’t been in that home in thirty years, maybe more. Someday I hope to go inside it one last time.

I parked at a gate near Aunt Vivian’s old barn and went to photograph the barn. I painted that barn fire engine red when I was 16 or 17. It took me two weeks and Aunt Vivian paid me with one of her cocker spaniel puppies, which I gave to my first girlfriend. Half a century of sunlight had bleached the paint out of the wood but you can still see red paint in places where sunlight can’t reach it and in the cement blocks, which soaked up paint like a sponge. That spaniel is long dead. The puppy love faded but the barn, though missing tin and boards, still stands. All that was a lifetime ago.
I walked the farm marveling at its beauty and came across an old schoolbus Uncle Joe stored hay in. Both Granddad Poland and Uncle Joe would consign abandoned vehicles to the pastures creating a sort of museum. When I got back to my truck, a man was waiting on me, assuming I was meddling. We talked and I told him I was a Poland.

“You look like a Poland,” he said, adding, “When I saw that car with South Carolina plates I thought someone was up to no good. But when I saw that UGA wheel cover, I thought, ‘Well, he can’t be all bad.’” We shared some memories and moved on.

I stopped near the pond where I caught my first bass. Grandmom Poland taught me to fish there and that pond holds a sacred place in my memories. On the dam she told me it was good luck to have a dragonfly land on your cork. Good luck, too, to spit on the hook. Later, I graduated from a cane pole to a Zebco reel and rod and caught many a bass there using black rubber worms that smelled like licorice.

I walked among ghosts. Of all the adults who gathered at Granddad’s farmhouse for holiday meals when I was a boy, only Aunt Vivian remains. That must be an intense loneliness, to be a sole survivor. Gone are Granddad and Grandmom Poland, Nona (Nanny) Hogan, Pola and Lang Steed, Uncle Joe, and dad and mom. Knowing all of them are gone dredges up a feeling akin to being lost at sea.

I hope to go back to the farmhouse my aunt rents out one day and study the doorframe to its bath. There, Grandmom Poland used a Phoenix Oil pencil to mark a line gauging my height as I grew. I have no doubt all those marks lie beneath layers of paint, but I want to stand there again straight as an arrow and draw a line. It will be the last line drawn. The end of an era, for after that I’ll never come back. Memories will suffice.

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