Farms have lexicon only natives know



Farm and Dairy Columnist

Every farm comes with a unique little map, complete with a language known only to those who live and walk upon those acres and climb in and out of the old barns.

As a kid, if my dad asked me to put something away in “the granary in the far barn” I knew exactly what he meant.

If he asked one of us to bring him lunch “at the neck of the round field” we not only knew where to carry the lunch pail, but we knew the best shortcut to take if it hadn’t been a rainy, wet spring.

On the other hand, if we’d had lots of rain leading up to spring work, there was no question we should skip the shortcut through what could quickly become swamp ground and stay on the higher, well-worn path.


Oddly, no one ever really sat down and taught any of us this stuff. It was part of our daily language, part of what we soaked up from the time we were old enough to toddle out to the barns.

I do remember asking, while helping on the farm farthest away from our home place, “Why do we call this the McKinley place?” I was glad I asked, because it was a great story.

Two little girls, now wealthy, sweet, little old ladies, had grown up on that farm. The McKinley family was known as solid, good as gold.

Just like everyone else in that place and time, they had little money, but the McKinley family had always been community-minded people who did much for others.

When the oldest of the two McKinley sisters went away to college to learn secretarial skills, she met a wonderful man. When she brought Mr. Spencer home to meet her parents, he brought his brother along. Before long, both McKinley girls were dating, and later married, the Spencer brothers.


For many years, the McKinley sisters trusted my father to farm their land, but every time he asked, they were not yet ready to sell the place to him.

They traveled the world with their highly successful husbands, executives in the U.S. tire industry.

One day, shortly after I was married, Dad got the call he had been waiting for. The McKinley sisters were finally ready to sell the farm, and papers had been drawn up.

A notary was needed to witness the signature of the elder Spencer brother, hospitalized in critical condition in the cardiac care unit of an Ohio hospital.

Doug and I made a trip to his office to get his notary stamp and we drove my parents to the hospital. The sale of the farm was finally complete.

Permanent name

No matter how many years have come and gone, that farm is still known as the McKinley place. To us, that is what it will forever be.

Years later, we would meet one of the Spencer granddaughters, married and living in Canada. She had named her son McKinley, and wanted him to see the land of his ancestors.

On our farm, there were names for certain tools: The sledgehammer was the fix-it-all, the ball-peen hammer was the grain bin slammer, the many various sizes of tarp straps were rubber bands.

We knew if a new hired hand came along, we had to teach him our farm language. Most of the time, instead of instructing him to take the slammer to the dairy bin, it was easier just to do it ourselves the first time or two. Eventually, the lingo was absorbed, sort of the same way we had learned it.


Those days are long gone, but the language is still a part of us. I realized it just the other day when my husband asked where we found the most Indian artifacts when I was a kid.

“Oh, most definitely the round field,” I answered without hesitation. It had been determined to have been an ancient Indian burial ground, and it had a hallowed feel to it.

The most amazing flint pieces were found along the creek that ran through the farm. And the best mushrooms were always found in the dampest part of the Springer woods.

That’s a whole ‘nother story!


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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