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Handwriting on the “wall”

September 29, 2008

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rabbit from Sept. 20, Saturday 1905    Written in the dry pantry.

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Jan 16, 1921, Coyote    Written on a door.

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April 23, ’59  SNOW         Written on wallpaper in upstairs bedroom.

Everyday I have one foot in the past, and one in the present.  Living in a house that your grandfather built with his own hands, and farming land that grandparents from both sides of my family cleared and walked everyday, sometimes gets to me.  I want to hang onto the past, but I want to make my mark here too.  Hoping that someday someone will remember me, even if they never knew me.  I share the stories of family members I never knew, with my daughter.  Sometimes the only way to do that is to make our own daily lives important to her, and impart a sense of the past, by doing things that someone in my family has done for the last 100+ years.

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To mark our time here, DH puts coins of the year on every building project.  We had more money when these were installed.  1994 coins adding up to 94 cents.    Now we are more frugal, we just use one coin for the appropriate year.

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We are gradually replacing the roof on our house.  The current roof was a Western Red Cedar shingle roof installed in 1980.  All the roofs facing the south need replacing.  On an old house it is never a simple job, no matter what you are repairing/maintaining.  This shingle above shows the wear of 10′ of rain a year, alternating with our hot, dry Mediterranean like summers.  We will be replacing it with a composition roof this time.

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Sheathing boards we will replace during the roofing project.  This shows ghost marks of different paint schemes over the years.  This part of the house was put together with square nails.  It actually was a hired mans house that was moved and bred into the original Carpenter Gothic style farmhouse.   Like every old farm house, our’s grew with additions.  This makes for weird size doors and nooks and crannies. 

 I’ll pull these nails, and keep these boards, for a record.  I look at these nails, and try to imagine my grandfather driving them in.  I keep a jar of square nails I have found.  It looks like junk to some, but to me it looks like a jar of precious metal.

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More nails, and a different paint color.


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New rafter tail to replace some with dry rot.  DH made these today, out of old growth fir, the same wood our entire house is made out of.  We’ll be making a few changes with the composition roof, but trying to stay true to the style and original design.  When I look at the trim on our house, I can’t believe it was all made with hand tools, while my grandfather was clearing big timber for farmland.  I guess he didn’t have the internet to distract him.  I also think, while homesteaders worked harder maybe than we are working today, they generally had a good feeling about all the arduous tasks.  Everyone was working hard, for a common goal.  Predators could be dealt with, neighbors didn’t turn you in for building a building they didn’t want to look at, and insurance premiums were unheard of.  Harder maybe physically, but not near so mentally challenging.

Some of the everyday things we do will just be a part of the minutiae of rural living.  Cows will be milked, and butter made and consumed.  Dogs will guard and entertain us, like the farm collies before have done here.  The shingles we took off this weekend will get one more use as kindling for morning fires in the cookstove.  Just everyday, continuing the cycle of one family on a farm.

This quilt I made for my daughters birth may not survive, but maybe the bed my grandfather made will.
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And maybe this quilt top for my daughter, will never be quilted.  But she will have it, and it will show her what I was doing at the time, since I have dated this too.

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She won’t remember me tracing her hands for the embroidery, but I’m guessing when she looks at this when she is older, she will put her hand on that outline and be surprised at how much she has grown.
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So I show her pictures like this, and show her the crooks in these fruit trees, so she can indentify the trees now, and I point out her grandmother as a little girl.

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My mom is the little girl on the left, this a picnic in the orchard where she grew up.  Ca. 1920

And, after we look at the old pictures, we can walk over to the orchard, and while I pick the pears before the bears get there, she can chase the deer, and take photos.  She doesn’t have to help me pick, she just needs to be there feeling the importance of these trees, and the food and shelter they have provided for our family over the years.  She’ll be making her own memories of this place and she will be able to add her part when she tells her children.  She may remember the pear compote dish, that we have, and use at Christmas, because I have made sure I have kept the tradition. 

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This pear tree was young at the time that picnic was held, now it is old.  But it still bears fruit, and tells it’s stories to me.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2008 12:41 am

    I’m up late and thought I’d check the internet once more before heading up. What a treat it was for me to see this post. It is my favorite of all your posts, and that is saying something because I value each one! I love getting glimpses of your past and present history; it speaks greater than anything about who you are. Your stories are a great gift for your daughter, and those wonderful photos she is taking now, future generations will look at and wonder over. Lovely post.

  2. September 29, 2008 3:00 am

    Great post as always…we love the sense of history here too. Alan is always finding things on the ground that were left a long, llong time ago and we always save them.

  3. September 29, 2008 3:51 am

    My great aunt lives in our family’s “home place” and tells stories of my great great grandfather and grandmother and their lives on the same plot of land. It is very comforting to me to hear the voices of past lives that were lived there. With her passing, the land has been willed to my father so the voices will continue to be heard.


  4. September 29, 2008 4:07 am

    What wonderful memories you are sharing and making. I think it’s fantastic the way you are carrying on the family traditions. Such beautiful gifts you are giving to your children. Just wonderful!

  5. Kristen permalink
    September 29, 2008 4:43 am

    How fortunate you are to have a place that has so much history. Since we are starting our farm from scratch I often wonder what will be said about us years down the line. Your place is beautiful.

  6. September 29, 2008 5:33 am

    Beautiful post. I have been thinking of my great uncle’s memoirs lately and his references to his childhood in Indiana and life on his farm in Minnesota. Though he had little formal education he left a handwritten memoir of his life experiences for those who came after. I find myself wondering about the way I mark my time here too. Fall just seems to ask questions like that.

  7. September 29, 2008 6:22 am

    Great post. It gives me all kinds of ideas to write about my house. I don’t have the family connection you do to your land, but I have learned some of the history of the family that built our house in 1893. And like your home, we find the marks that chronicled their lives. There are names on things like the bottoms of drawers in built in cabinets over the cellar stairs with dates. We surmize they were put there by the manufacturer to identify the piece when it was purchases as the dates coincide with the construction date of the house. There are even the marks of times before this house. When I excavate around the foundation or in the back yard I find bits of charred wood and melted glass. The railroad hotel the stood on our foundation burned in 1893 and I assume they buried the remains in the area around the house. There are are other marks that aren’t so pleasant, though. A set of dents in the horse hair plaster that look a lot like the impression of knuckles to me. You have to hit plaster pretty hard to do that and I am sure it hurt. There’s another cracked door jam that a previous owner explain was the result of his wife learning her son had enlisted in the army (around the time of the vietnam war).


  8. September 29, 2008 7:54 am

    Great post! It gave me goose bumps 🙂

  9. September 29, 2008 9:28 am

    I love the coin idea!

  10. September 29, 2008 9:53 am

    How I wish I could have moved into my grandparents’ farm! Their sons sold it to the highest bidder (being city-boys who couldn’t begin to see the value in owning a farm).

    This post brought tears to my eyes.


  11. Judi In PA permalink
    September 29, 2008 9:57 am

    I have been away from the computer all weekend and could not wait to get on it to read your posts. You did not disappoint me! This last one is absolutely beautiful! I love it! It, of course, made me appreciate all the family memories from our farm that I am surrounded by, when just yesterday, we were again thinking of moving away from our old homestead.(It just isn’t a rural area anymore, and if one more housing devevopment goes in next to the farm…) Anyway, truly beautiful and a well written, moving tribute to your time here on this earth. Maybe this internet blogging is just another way for you to leave your mark.
    The internet comment made me laugh, as I know that I would get more done if your blog did not call out to me like it does. It’s all your fault, Nita! Ha.
    And a comment about Della. My 73 year old farmer father has always told me that a good old milk cow usually throws bull calves. So, when I was pregnant with my first child and did not find out if I was having a boy or girl, my father told everyone that it was definitely a boy because of his cow theory. He compared me to a “good, old milk cow” and he meant it as a compliment! Well, the man was right as he was for the next two boys but I threw him for a loop with the last one. It was a girl! He could not explain his bull theory anymore, except to say maybe I wasn’t as good of a milker anymore! This is my heritage and what I have to work with! Ha.
    By the way, thought of you this morning when I brought “Milkcow” into the barn. She is due to freshen real soon so I thought I better bring her in to keep an better eye on her. I had marked on the calendar for her due date as August 28, and here it is September 29th. That’s the last time I trust my youngin’s to report in on the bull’s proficiency! Or else, my math just really sucks! Either way, I’m in the same situation as you, as I have been eyeing up our herefords and their teats, but they sure were not as accomidating as your cow! Good luck with that option, but it looks as though you are half way there!

  12. September 29, 2008 10:02 am

    Oh so special, to be surrounded by and creating history at the same time!

  13. Gina permalink
    September 29, 2008 5:41 pm

    I would love to have such an ancestral connection to my land. I just love your stories!

  14. September 29, 2008 5:47 pm

    Beautiful post as always Nita. I love how you compare old times to the present. Your daughter is a lucky girl to have such a great Mom. She will forever cherish her memories you share with her and the quilts you have made for her. They are gorgeous! I have always wished I knew how to quilt and or had the patience to run my sewing machine. Maybe someday…..

  15. September 29, 2008 8:39 pm

    I love how people wrote dates on things “back then”, such a contrast to today’s people who don’t care when it was bought and when it breaks, just buy another one. My in-laws write dates on everything, following their “old-school” upbringing and I have come to appreciate that, knowing when something was bought and how long it lasted, instead of wondering.

    Our old house, was built on land where soldiers from the civil war once trod, and a house that sat on a hill behind us, was once taken over and used as a hospital. It was a great old house, but badly in need of restoration. The man that lived there, it was family land, and we found out he died not long after we moved and it is up for sale now. I wish we could buy it, it comes with 50+ acres and he had cows, too. Across our driveway, to the left of our house, was an old, falling-down clapboard house, he told us it was where the slaves lived and that there was an unmarked slave graveyard near by. Now that he is gone, and the home and land is for sale, I wonder if anyone else knows about the graves.. We moved because of development coming closer and closer, so I am sure that one day, that land will be developed. What a surprise that will be for the bulldozers, if there is indeed, a graveyard there.

    I try and ask my mother about our family history, but my grandmother was tight-lipped about the past. We found out later that she did write down on paper the family’s history and geneaology, but even my aunt refused to share it with my mother– selfish thing. And now it is all gone, because while sick in the hospital, my aunt’s husband had his brother clean house (she was a pack rat) and he threw away anything and everything that was old or looked old. He had no appreciation for antiques and only saw worthless junk.

    You are lucky that you still live on family land full of history and dates written down here and there. If you haven’t already, please write what you know onto paper for your daughter and her children. Memory only takes us so far.

  16. September 29, 2008 9:43 pm

    I wish I had a home rather than just a house. When I was a little boy my father was in the Navy so we never had a real home until I was 11 and I left to find my own path jsut 6 years later. I would have loved to have grown up in a home that had so much history. I envy you and your family. Maybe someday my kids will see this place as you see yours, if they do I will be mighty proud. To me it’s just a house, we bought this place just 3 and half years ago. It’s getting to be home though. Great pics.


  17. September 29, 2008 11:09 pm

    You have such a way with words. What a beautiful post. Me, I just post pictures of wonky plum boobs. I would love to be able to express my life as you do.

  18. September 30, 2008 6:37 am

    You do have a wonderful history and what is so nice is that you treasure it on a day to day bases.

  19. September 30, 2008 9:13 am

    Lovely post. My children are the fifth generation to live on our homestead. Everything here was built by hand by my husbands grandfather or great-grandfather. We find the same “writing on wall” all over the place, many times it’s writing in the cement as well. It can have a haunting feeling sometimes…that tangible connection to the generations before you.

  20. September 30, 2008 5:01 pm

    What I wouldn’t give to have this kind of family history all around me. It amazes me how much of your home was hand-built — in the deepest sense of that word.

    Beautiful writing.

  21. October 1, 2008 9:13 pm

    I just love the long history and ties you have to this place. I just read today this is called, topophilia. Love of place, but more than that, a long history with place. It seems to me you have both here. I envy that.

  22. October 3, 2008 6:37 am

    Paula, thank you – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my sisters (who I am not close to) hate the farm, the old house and anything to do with it that isn’t an antique you can sell. I see everything through different eyes, sadly my brother who passed away gave me this gift, he felt the same way as I do…

    TC, I bet you guys find things all the time, plus your history is being added everyday. I love your house, and all it’s beautiful woodwork and glass, our’s is a much simpler farm house.

    Beth, that is great that your father will get the land that has been in your family for so long. The voices are always there, we just have to listen.

    Pamela, thanks so much.

    Kristen, I often wonder too what it would be like to live here when the house was new and the land was just being cleared. Now it is all maintenance, and repairs and beating back the brush.

    I think your girls will have great memories, even though you and your hubby are working so hard, the kids will only see the good things when they look back, and have fond memories. It’s a great way to grow up.

    Lisa, thank you, and how wonderful your great-uncle had the foresight to write things down. I think formal education is over-rated. What a treasure!

  23. October 3, 2008 9:57 am

    Wonderful post! Enjoy the history!
    The historical note from “rabbit” seems even more intriguing since 20 September 1905 was a Wednesday (not a Saturday)–code?–message?

  24. October 3, 2008 10:04 pm

    MMP, it’s wonderful that you are appreciating your old house, and have been making an effort to learn it’s history. You and your family are making your own history now. Ouch on the hole in the plaster. We have a couple of bullet holes, one in the ceiling from my uncle and one in our furnace from my DH. Which is a funny story for another time. 😉

    Brittney, thanks.

    Loren, you should try the coin marking on your farm projects, it’s fun to look back and see how quickly time really has passed.

    Lacy, that is so sad about your grandparents farm, but you and Josh are making a new farm and memories. 🙂

    Judi, LOL that is funny about the “good old milk cow” moniker. It reminds me of our old draft horse friends, one day at a parade, I was just barely showing, and the old guy was riding shotgun with me, and we were waiting our turn to pull onto the street, and he winked at me and said, “you know, that got in there a lot easier than it going to get out!” We are good friends still and it wasn’t offensive, just funny.

    Anything out of Milkcow yet? That Hereford/Guernsey cross will be a dream to milk, if I decide to do that – she is as gentle as her mother, who was the gentlest cow I have ever been around.

    Kathie, thanks, it has been fun journaling too.

    Gina, thanks you will have memories too, and so will the boys, they are learning at such a young age about all the hard work you are doing – that will stick, and so will all the stories you tell of your father living in the South.

    Jenny, that is so interesting about the Civil War history of your area. That would be great if you could buy the 50 acres, you would be in heaven.

    That is so sad about your aunt not sharing the written history, and now it is lost. I’m taking your advice and writing things down as I know it. I have put a lot of things together, but it needs to been in chronological order. Thanks. 🙂

    Chris, you are making your place a home, Katie and Savannah will have memories of all the things you are doing as a family, and maybe because you did move around a lot you will make sure your girls don’t have to. It’s all attitude man, my sisters couldn’t give a rat’s ass about this place, or the history of it. they grew up the same as me, same cows, same hayfields, same garden – they hated it, and my brother and I loved every square inch, scent and chore. Go figure… He was the oldest, and I’m the youngest.

    Sarah, thanks and don’t sell yourself short, your blog is a good read, I love your photographers eye too! BTW, I was lying about the wrinkly prune boobs, they are more like wonky melons 😉

    Linda, thanks, but I don’t get to play cowboy like you, just cow ;(.

    Farm Mom, that is so cool about your kids being the 5th generation. My daughter is only the 4th, because of late marriages and late kids. I know what you mean about the haunting feelings, it almost gives me shivers sometimes…

    AMWD, thanks.

    Howling Duck Ranch, thanks I had just read about that too –

    Songwraith, thanks and that is interesting, hmmmm…

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