The farm is gone (and other thoughts from the Midwest)

Well, the family farm is gone.

I’ve been on a trip w/ my four kids visiting friends & family, and I have to say that finding this out has surely been the most shocking and disturbing part of this trip, which has otherwise (for the most part) been a lovely one.

The farm to which I refer is on my mom’s side. My grandpa and Uncle Allyn (love that family spelling) had been running the farm for, oh, more than 50 years. My grandpa just retired 3 years ago, when he turned 80, turned the operations over to my uncle, and moved down to Pharr, Texas. In the meantime, my uncle had continuing health problems (not his fault — genetic kidney issues), and totally mismanaged the resources of the farm (which was his fault), and managed to compile a HUGE, HUGE debt — nearly $1 million — due to both. So, this past fall, my grandpa, w/o informing my uncle of his plans, sold the farm out from under him, and used some of the money to pay off the debt. He kept the house in which my uncle lives, but virtually all of the rest is gone. Now, my uncle is totally debt free and has a house which he owns outright… but of course, he’s not happy, because a) of the way my grandpa went about it, and b) my grandpa re-wrote his will to say that Allyn’s portion of the inheritance went to pay off the debt.

I still love my Grandpa Conover. I still love my Uncle Allyn. It pains me to know, now, that this is most likely an uncrossable rift in their relationship. I can understand both of their points of view, I think, and I can totally see how neither will care to understand the other’s.

From a personal standpoint, this whole thing was unsettling to me because knowing that there is a large farm in the Mississippi bluff country of western Illinois that belongs to my family has just always been a source of peace to me. I like being from farming stock. I LOVE the farm — as a kid, we went there every other year, and in my junior high & high school days, I stayed on with my Aunt Sue even when the rest of my family went back home to Phoenix. The land is simply beautiful, with rolling hills, timbered valleys, creeks crisscrossing… corn, soybeans, hogs & cattle… I love the whitish blacktop roads, paved with the local limestone, and how they always look like they’re going to end, as the road rises to the next hilltop. I love how the trees hang over the country lanes, forming a tunnel. I love the black, fertile soil, and the way how spring is a total revelation — the land waking with peach and redbud blooms and forsythia and grass and the faintest mist of green on the trees this time of year. And it saddens me to know that much, much less of that is “ours”, even though I hold no personal claim to any of it; it’s just “my family’s.”

I was also quite shocked to know that my grandparents’ land was worth that much. There are four children — my mother being one of them — and if nearly $1mil is my uncle’s portion… good gracious. I had no idea that my mom could be coming into any kind of money like that. I guess I just thought the farm would go on perpetually. I never thought of it in terms of money. And, my grandparents always lived like paupers. They still do, in fact. I always thought they just couldn’t afford a nicer place; it appears, instead, that they just never valued spending money on “stuff.”

As a consolation prize, my precious Aunt Sue, with whom we stayed from Sun-Fri of last week, bought 23 acres from her dad. Lovely acres they are, with a pond, and some timber, and some land that’s being farmed for hay by the neighbor. Aunt Sue and Uncle Glenn have built a garage/storehouse/outbuilding on the property, with hopes of maybe building a house there… but, even THAT is sad to me. Currently, Sue lives in a wonderful home on about 4 or 5 acres, and a creek flows through the back portion of the property. I have really good memories from childhood summers in that home, and it has been a WONDERFUL place to bring my kids to visit — they tromp around by the creek while Aunt Sue and I work on a jigsaw puzzle and sip coffee up in the house. However, she is correct in that it’s more home than she and Uncle Glenn need. But, she won’t move out of it until her parents die, because they turned most of the walk-out basement into an apartment for her parents, in which they stay for about 6 weeks every summer. She wants to keep that apartment available to her folks as long as they’re living, and hopes that they would move back in, full-time, if their health deteriorates much more. Sue has a great relationship with her parents, my grandparents, and doesn’t even really like to think about plans for those 23 acres, because the further development of them would mean that her parents were no longer living.

And my Great-Grandpa Chase’s beautiful red brick home continues to deteriorate. We couldn’t get over to the property (which the family also still owns — it’s not the same house in which my Uncle Allyn lives). There is a family who are renting the truly dilapidated double-wide that’s in the front yard of the formerly grand home. Great-Grandpa died in 1988, and his home has been unoccupied, ever since. My grandparents used to live in that doublewide before they moved to Texas, since that was easier than sinking the $$ into the home to get it liveable. I understand that there would need to be $100K or more of work done to it to get it into good shape again, but, my… it just seems a travesty to let such a home rot.

I think growing up in a city with little history (Phoenix) has led me to value the antique. Here in the midwest, there’s just not much value for old homes. Everyone would rather sell their historic abode and move to a new build. That just seems… wrong to me. If it were mine to decide, and if I had the dough, I’d for CERTAIN rather restore a 100-year-old home than purchase a new one.

But, it’s not mine to decide. I’m little more than an observer to these events.

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on April 1, 2007, in Extended Family Drama/News, Travelling. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hey, Karen
    I really valued reading that post this morning, in the midst of some seriously unpleasant work stuff. It’s good to know that continuity, history and the land under are feet are stilled valued somewhere for the right reasons (i.e. not reasons of MINE MINE MINE)

  2. I feel your loss…my husband’s family “shares” a beautiful chunk of land in the Texas Hill Country. There is an old limestone house completely in ruins that sits on the top of a hill. I love that house. But no one will fix it up because there are too many hats in the ring, aunts/uncles,grandchildren, etc. I’m not criticizing…just observing. I fear this land will, too, pass away from our children’s use and delight because it is everybody’s, yet nobody’s. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that it will most likely pass from the family’s hands sooner than we would wish.

  3. “everybody’s, yet nobody’s” … that describes my late grandparents’ farm. Half of their children wanted to buy it from the other half but that didn’t work out, so it’s for sale. It’s a bummer. I was never much a farm worker; I always seemed to get sick headaches after working out in the raspberries and blueberries in the heat. I thought it was the heat and humidity but maybe it was allergies. I don’t know. I never enjoyed the work, though I think I’d like to try again with a medicine cabinet fully stocked with Allegra D. We spent a lot of time out there running around. I wish I had the money to buy it myself but it’s waaaaay over my head.

    Good post. It’s nice (and yet it isn’t!) to know there are others.

  4. rubber chicken girl

    KJ! I am ever amazed the dumb things we have in common…..DH even said to me something like, “You two have a crazy amount of gene pool in common….” Like we both choke on stuff waaaayyy too often. We both like trees hanging over roads like a tunnel. I love photos/prints like that,too. I am sorry about the farm. We had a family thing like this, too. My Grandpa and his brother’s wife fought for years through the legal system over the house in Pacific Grove CA. Finally got divided after gajillions was spent on law fees and the rift never healed. We have a sand dune that is nearly unsaleable (sp) and they have the family home with the view that is rife (sp) with termites. Blah. Missing you.

  5. (u)rd ~ Glad to be a breath of fresh air for you. 🙂

    Jill ~ I so LOVE stone houses, even more than brick ones. I think my family’s home is more in disrepair simply because no one wants to spend the $$ to fix it up. They’re content to let it rot and rent out the mobile home in the front yard. Ugh. I wonder, though, if anyone would “let” my family fix it up, if we ever were able to move back there. I wonder if there’d be an outcry, even though, right now, no one’s doing anything with the house. I might check into that.

    E* ~ Oh, that sounds like what’s going on on the OTHER side of my family. My paternal grandparents’ farm isn’t nearly so large, about 80 acres total, and there are 12 kids to divide it between. One uncle is now building a house on his 7ish acres, and there’s a lot of dispute about who is going to do what with their acreage, and if it will be sold (and at a reduced price?) to one sibling or another, or what. Some care deeply about the land, and some don’t care at all. It’s all a bummer. There’s not enough communication about the whole thing, either, which makes for more misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

    Shellie ~ I have thought about your family’s land in CA, too… I had forgotten that you got a sand dune 😉 out of it. I think our maybe-meetup-camping spot at Limekiln State Park isn’t too far from your family’s property. Maybe we could go visit it??

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