Every week I have the opportunity to drive past a special childhood place and a silly pang of loss is always present as I scan the beautiful modern shopping center that once was home to the family farm supplying a good portion of Cleveland with its fruits and veggies each year. One 75-acre farm and a lifetime of hard work supported the 6 siblings and their families for over ninety years. In a recent journey down “memory lane” with my parents, thinking back to my own childhood days on this farm and becoming reacquainted with those of my Dad, I realized there are some great lessons we can all glean from this family of farmers in their approach to work, what we might all lose in the name of progress and how our expectations truly change as we strive to make life easier for the next generation than it was for the last. I hope the next few minutes of reading ends up being a worthwhile journey for you as well.
I have special memories of sitting on a metal glider going back and forth, back and forth, listening to the adults talk as the breeze came in through the windows on that farmhouse porch. My Gram liked the gliders too, and the best place was next to her so we could hold hands and glide the afternoon away as she jabbered with her sister she hadn’t seen in a while. There was a huge tree out front that would one day be gone when the developer took the land over to implement his plan, but I would surely never forget it because it had magic branches. It was a different time when children were content to daydream while grownups talked and a glass of ginger-ale was a treat because no one had it except Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Ed.
There was simply one rubber ball in the desk drawer that we were thrilled to be able to get out and play with, and for some reason it was a special privilege to turn the round yellow foot stool on its side and roll back and forth on my belly entertaining myself. My brother and sister and I would go up the steep farmhouse steps that creaked just enough and look at the old pictures of our dad on the wall and then sit for long periods of time giggling as we peered through the register vent that was straight over the dining room table and listened more to what the grownups had to say. Outside there was a stump quite good for balancing and the coolest gravel driveway with grass growing up the middle. I was always intrigued by what seemed to be a big grass sidewalk where you could actually walk between fields to get from Uncle Eddie’s house to the old homestead where his sisters and brothers lived and where they all had been born and raised.
As I look back, I wonder how intent a young mother today would be on making sure the children were entertained in a setting like this while hoping to engage in a little adult conversation. Would the children quietly find some magic of their own? As a little girl, no one had to apologize that there was “nothing to do” at this house because it was special every time we went to visit. The silly things mentioned above are as clear in my memory today as they might have been 45 years ago.
Hard Work, Not Hardship
For several years my dad would spend a week or two in the summer on his aunt and uncle’s farm. I asked what he remembered most or looked forward to most and his answer surprised me. “Well, it was just different.” He said, “I was a city kid and I had my buddies to play with all the time. On the farm it was just me and the adults and they were working most of the time. There were no other kids, and I pretty much ruled the place and learned to entertain myself outside. I figured out how to throw the apples to knock more apples out of the trees. Uncle Ed would take me out in the fields and ask if I wanted to hoe for a while, and I would for 20 minutes or so, then I’d be off finding something else to do. They had just transitioned from plowing the fields with draft horses and replaced them with an amazing big tractor. I could sit for hours and pretend to drive that tractor.”
Then he explained the typical day as he remembered it. Of course the men would be in the fields early in the morning until late afternoon when they came back to the barn with truck loads full of fresh vegetables and fruits. The ladies would then hand-wipe bushels of tomatoes and other vegetables and put them into the little baskets for sale at the market. After dinner they gathered again at the barn and loaded all of the produce ready to sell the next day. They sprayed everything with water on the trucks and the brothers that would be going to market caught a couple hours of sleep and then at midnight headed out to sell their goods.
The next morning when they returned from market the other brothers were already in the fields. “I’ll never forget watching them pull big wads of money from their overalls and counting it out to split the profits from the day before. They then settled right back into work without a break and carried on with another day. It was no big deal. It was just what they did. I don’t ever remember anyone being tired or complaining; they just worked.”
By the age of nine, my dad no longer got to have long visits on his aunt and uncle’s farm since his parents had moved to a farm as well. He had witnessed that work ethic and now he would get to practice it himself. With an ailing father, he got to learn to do all the farm chores, even caring for the animals himself. “I worked all the time,” he said, “and I didn’t mind a bit. I had no other expectations and I liked being outside.” As his parents didn’t have farm equipment and the neighbor didn’t have a son to help, somehow a trade came about and when my dad was done with his chores at home, every day he went to the neighbor’s and helped so they would have the use of the equipment.
Any progress tends to make life easier; that’s why we call it progress. The question we might all ask however is if progress always makes life better. Could we have possibly lost something through the years that was more valuable than its easier counterpart? Has progress itself made us and our children softer and less willing to spend long hours outdoors doing quite natural and healthy activities that have been replaced by easier entertainment indoors attached to technology? When did the generally accepted expectations change where children politely fit into an adult world and gladly found ways to entertain themselves in the process? Do children do less physical work because we simply expect less from them? Can we even communicate and spend time together without having some sort of technology in hand?
As I finished this very special journey down “memory lane” with my 75-year-old parents, it became clear that a few simple changes could take us back in the right direction anyway. Knowing that I am one of the great smartphone offenders, they shared the story of being in a restaurant last week and everyone at the table next to them had their heads down for the longest time. “We thought they were praying at first,” my mom said. “Then we realized they each had a smartphone and were all absorbed in their own worlds. They weren’t even talking to each other!”
“I know people today are expected to be connected and accessible, but do you have to be available 24/7? They don’t just have the ability to stay connected. It is in their hands all the time.” I only got a small chuckle when I said mine is in my pocket or purse most of the time anyway.
As every generation of parents strives to make life easier for the next generation and we strive to make life easier for ourselves, we might have lost some really important pieces to what seems to be the puzzle of healthy lifestyles and creative thinking today. If weekly chores are a thing of the past, then we could be losing a valuable learning tool that can be gained nowhere else. Possibly, you and I thinking on these things today will allow our children a few decades from now to identify this as a time of positive change that they can learn from if they care to take time to interview us one day! And progress … it’s a good thing if we keep who we are and what is most important in place for us and future generations along the way. As this newsletter came together and I really looked at the pictures of people enjoying Crocker Park that now sits on the site of the old Juergemeier farm, I realized that the fields and old barns are gone but little children are still learning to Come Alive Outside on that precious piece of land.