Respecting land stewards of the past

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Dairy barn

About once a year, most often in early spring, a car would come to a stop in front of our home, pull just slightly off the road, as if that was a typical place to park, and two seemingly elderly people would begin walking to the door that no one else ever used.

“They’re here!” one of us would shout. Our road wasn’t so well-traveled in those years, and the arrival of a shiny car was still big news.

This would come after days of house cleaning, preparing for the arrival of the “landlord” our parents always referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Funk.

The respect was clear, both in language and demeanor, with maybe just the slightest tinge of something akin to nervous concern about making the very best impression.

The house in which I grew up had been the place Mrs. Funk had long called home. Her father, Mr. Ingmand, built it after the Civil War, while his brother constructed the home just south of us.

The two homes could not have been more different from one another.

Our home, rather plain and sturdy, paled in comparison to the brother’s home which had fancy written both inside and out, including a circular open stairway, lots of gingerbread detail and sharp roof lines.

I often wondered if the two brothers were as different in this way.

Letters

All of this came rushing back to me this past week as I ran across a letter in my Dad’s distinctive hand-writing, likely dated around 1959, based on the farm management book I found it in.

“Mrs. Funk, I have enclosed a check for $90 for the use of the 6-acre field over along Route 30. In answer to your questions: 1.) By now you should have received your A.S.C. wheat payment of $102.26.

1. By now you should have received your A.S.C. wheat payment of $102.26.

2. I purchased your wheat for hog feed as we discussed. Will send you a check as soon as I can get wagons weighed empty. It won’t be a very big check — wheat is cheapest it has ever been during my time.

3. Your A.S.C. corn check will be mailed to you same as always. They have until the end of year to pay this. I want to talk to you in person as soon as possible. When we can get away we will call to make sure you’re home.”

Though my parents had great respect for both Mr. and Mrs. Funk, my father addressed his questions and responses to Mrs. Funk, which I realize now was unusual for that era.

Visits

The couple no longer lived nearby but had moved from rural Ashland to Canton, Ohio. It was an hour drive away, though at that time it seemed a day-long trip.

It was hard for my parents to get away for any length of time, busy hand-milking a small herd of Holsteins, caring for sows, and crop farming.

When it was time to talk rental issues — with a keen hope of purchasing — my father wished to talk face to face. My parents were the renters who had moved into the old Ingmand home as newlyweds after a brief period of apartment living in 1951.

There was no running water and no indoor bathroom. They were “as poor as church mice,” our mother often said, but “so was everybody else,” and they began the slow, methodical work of making a rental house a home, hoping it would be theirs one day.

Gifts

I was born in 1959, so my memories of the landlord visits must have been in the mid-1960s. Mrs. Funk is remembered for bringing us brightly colored, incredibly detailed sugar eggs, works of art, really.

It seemed a gift a rich girl might enjoy. We would have likely been more thrilled with a ball to kick around outside while the adults talked.

We knew we were to be quiet and respectful, and I doubt a word ever passed between Mrs. Funk and ‘the children’, as she referred to us collectively.

Finally, Mrs. Funk agreed to sell, which I remember as a very happy, relieved, proud time for my parents.

They had earlier purchased the adjoining dairy farm from Mr. and Mrs. McClure, forced to move to Arizona due to health reasons, but that house was too small for our growing family.

Dad was forever grateful that the “landlords” had found them worthy, and my parents spoke with loyalty and respect for the families who had come before them.

Respect

Long after the ink was dry on the purchase of the home place, our drives to Canton continued.

It was the respectful thing to do. My mother would take pictures along to show Mrs. Funk, the adults would discuss crop returns, and we children sat quietly, wilting of boredom in our Sunday clothes but taught to be polite enough to keep it to ourselves.

Letters, with pictures tucked inside, were often hand-written to the McClures in Prescott, Arizona. Christmas cards came from Mrs. McClure until the end of her life.

There was the feeling of carrying the torch for the people who came before us, farming the land with a nod of respect to its history, while looking to its future with gratitude and joy.

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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, in college.

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