The melancholy of my family’s home farm

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(Part Six)

Every person has a story, a truth that has driven my curious desire to write. This drive has been with me since I was old enough to put letters together to create thought.

One story that is a part of my heritage all began with Samuel and Elizabeth, because they built the farmstead where my own father was born. Though the beautiful home is now gone, I remember exploring it as a child. Babies had been born there, and various ancestors had died there. It seemed to have a sense of story, if a house is capable of holding such a thing.

Not always happy

The story held within that large old house, I have often felt, was a sad one. When Samuel died at home in 1914, followed shortly by the suicide of son George in an upstairs bedroom, Elizabeth appealed to her only other son, Herbert, to run the enormous farm.

Herbert, still suffering from massive head and facial injuries, his left eye gone, and with his own farm to run, declined. Elizabeth, in every sense of the word, was in a devastating situation. A lifetime of dreams and the hard work of realizing them suddenly was like a ship adrift without a captain to anchor it all.

Read Part I: Love of land runs deep at family farms

Read Part II: For the settlers, nothing came easy

Read Part III: Treasured farm ripped from family

Read Part IV: Surviving the threat of catastrophe

Read Part V: Enduring one catastrophe after another

Different times

The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote had not get been ratified, and the world was indeed a very different place for women in Elizabeth’s time, something that I wonder if young women today can even begin to comprehend.

When History of Ashland County by Bauchman was written in 1909, Samuel and Elizabeth were described as “people of genuine personal worth, their many good qualities winning for them the esteem and confidence of all who know them.”

And while Elizabeth was highly respected and extremely capable, it would have been unheard of in that era for her to have taken over the daily management of the farm. Her brother, John F. Kelley, was placed in legal control of Elizabeth’s farm, an incredible 600-plus acres. Elizabeth was pushed aside, her opinion worth nothing.

Fences were built where none were needed, the big yellow barn was painted red, replacing the pale yellow that Samuel and Elizabeth had chosen, a change that wounded the Young family. Kelley seemed to grant jobs to cronies, often with nothing to show for incredible cost.

Wounded heart

Elizabeth, who had worked hard alongside Samuel to build one of the largest farms in the county, likely felt her once-happy world was spinning out of control. Elizabeth moved to town, and when she died in January 1920, she was 66. The cause of death was “an attack of heart trouble” but I have to wonder if she died of a broken heart.

Modern memories

The orchard Elizabeth created was where my father pretended to drive his first tractor as a very young boy, memorizing its serial number which he retained forever, and it is there my sisters and I played, the walkway where I once was hurt badly enough to be taken for stitches, my only scar from childhood. The lawn where Elizabeth called to her chickens each day is where I watched my own Aunt Marilyn feed a small flock of chicks, holding out the feed in her upturned apron.

The back lawn had a green Myers pump placed over a well, which my big sisters were happy to operate if there was a need to carry water to dogs, puppies, cattle or chickens. I remember anxiously awaiting the time when I would have enough strength and gumption to make that well pump water. It didn’t seem like work, but a fun accomplishment, to pump water in that way.

The barn, enormous and enchanting, is where we once gathered to meet newborn puppies, raised by my grandparents over a lifetime. My father chose one English Shepherd from this litter, and that male pup became woven in to our family stories over a large part of my childhood.

My dad’s mother, a happy and vibrant woman who had birthed her babies in that home, was brought back to the parlor of the home after her tragic death during a tonsillectomy at age 35. This loss may have been the turning point of it all, a happy home turned forever melancholy.

Even as a child, exploring the enormous rooms, sliding down the lovely banister, there was a darkness there unlike any other.

(Next week: finale of a family 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, in college.

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