Having roots in rural America is a blessing

Ohio barn

“No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.”
— John Steinbeck

Having grown up in rural, small-town, small-church America is one of the greatest character-builder blessings of a life.

Sometimes when old memories pop up, I have to sort through those who were family and those who felt as connected as family to us. I realize now, in my sixth decade of life, that I owe a great tribute to my parents for having connected us to many good people. All play a part in raising a child, helping to open minds and hearts.

Those who felt the most like family were the people from whom my parents had purchased the farms on which we worked and played. Ruth Ingmand had grown up in the house that became my childhood home, and when Ruth and her husband Hugh Funk came to visit all the way from Canton, we all pitched in and made everything look as nice and neat as possible. “We want her to see we are good caretakers,” we were told.

Roger and Rosemary McClure had sold their dairy farm to my young parents, next door to our home, when Roger became too ill for Ohio’s humidity, moving to Arizona. My parents would often sit down together to write a letter to the Funks and the McClures, sharing daily stories and triumphs.

A couple of times a year, we all would put on our Sunday best and drive to Canton to visit the Funks. It wasn’t until my older three sisters were grown that my parents were able to make the trip to Arizona to visit the McClures. I was in charge of the daily milking and chores while they were gone.

For many years, my parents rented land that Dad called the “McKinley farm” after two sisters who had grown up there. They had married the Spencer brothers, but it will forever be the McKinley farm to me. Eventually, the four old Spencers finally agreed to sell the farm to my parents and renovations that had been put off for decades began in earnest.

Those much older couples seemed nothing like us, but Dad and Mom treated them with respect, and great consideration was given to their perspective.

Church family and community family also remain a big part of my childhood memories, and I count my lucky stars that I was raised by parents who put great stock in building such connections.

Dad stressed Biblical philosophies in the way he lived his life. He was an honest man who believed in the good of others. Though we held in high regard those who had owned the farms before us, he often repeated his belief that no one ever really owns the land.

“We are lucky to be caretakers for a time,” he would say. He respected his neighbors, the wildlife, the little streams and creeks along that land and believed in doing the right thing in regard to all.

What a lucky time and place to have sunk our roots. I am forever grateful for that one simple, powerful gift.


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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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