Life of a farmhouse

We packed up the old farmhouse in northern Illinois on a blustery day in April. It was one of those days that teases you with the promise of Spring...but in my case, mixed with heady sentiment for days gone by.

My father died last year and his wife, my stepmother, was moving out. This was the last day any of my family would spend in this house.

My father and our family had lived there, as did my grandfather's family, and Wilson families before, dating back to the late 1800s. They all raised kids and crops and watched the country grow through depressions and good times, wars and peace, good times and droughts. They scraped a living out of the soil with strong backs and sharp minds and a focus on education, thanks to so many women in my family who were schoolteachers. Even my dad spent a few years as an ag teacher before giving in to his hopeless addiction to farming.

The old farmhouse: surviving teenagers, tornadoes...and now, a new tenant.

Many firsts

That house survived tornadoes and teenagers, and bore witness to many firsts. My dad would delight in telling us all about the day electricity came to the country and grandma could retire her old lamp lanterns. Families got water from an outdoor well and windmill that sat in the front yard for so many years before indoor plumbing.

I grew up exploring a dank, musty basement with a monster-like coal furnace. I recall vividly how cool it was when the coal truck came around and those black bricks came tumbling down that chute in an avalanche of soot and dust. I'd come home from kindergarten on a cold December day and sit next to a living room register to feel the heat rise up from below. Then, one day electric heaters appeared in every room, and the furnace went cold.

We were nearly finished packing when my stepmother mentioned that the phone would be turned off at 4 p.m. My mind drifted back again. That phone number - our phone number - had been in this family since before I was able to walk. I remember being six or seven and listening in on the 'party line.' You could just pick up the phone and hear your neighbors talking about Aunt Kate's gout or the Church picnic or the new baby chicks that arrived the other day. Whatever happened to party lines, anyway? My 10-year-old daughter will see an 'old' movie and ask how those funny round dials made the phone work.

Like most farm kids, I wanted to get out and see the world when I grew up. And that's exactly what I did, coming back to the farm to see my dad when I could, but for the most part, making a life and family of my own in the city. And now, the older I get, the more I wish for those simple days back on the farm.

Growing up, you didn't realize you were learning something about values when you watered the cows, or plucked chickens with grandma, or went to the field to help with the harvest. You just did it. Now I wish my daughter had that chance.

We worked all day to pack up that house, sifting through the little bits of memory and history. I wish I had a good excuse to move back there. Maybe I will•someday.

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