by Gail Denham
after Farm in Red Hook, NY ~ by Sharmagne Leland-St. John
Wasn’t much of a farm. Two-story farmhouse,
built in the l890s, wood cook stove, the only
heat for the house. In my upstairs bedroom,
water froze in my cup, winter nights.
Didn’t matter. It was our farm–me, Uncle Olaf,
Aunt Peggy, and little sister, Mae. We worked hard
growing up. Uncle raised corn, potatoes, chickens,
geese and had six milk cows, plus fields of wheat.
Up at dawn for milking, quick breakfast, then back
to the fields. I welcomed evenings in the parlor, where
the radio held me captive. I lived through old-time dramas.
No TV, and only a crank phone. Three rings for us. Other
numbers I’d listen, quietly, unless Aunt Peggy caught me.
Then I was 18. Uncle Olaf, with his quiet voice, wanted
me to stay on. “I need you, boy,” he mumbled around
his much-chewed pipe stem. But I wanted more, chose college.
All over the country, young people left their family farms.
Often, like me, many were drafted, pulled into the big war,
which made me kiss the ground when I returned in 1944.
After that, college, marriage, a good job, family. Years
flew. Still, I felt empty. Uncle Olaf had left the farm to me.
I dreamt of the peace–chickens, cows lowing with
bloated bags. Why had I felt farm life wasn’t satisfying?
In 1962, I moved my family into the old house. We
modernized, installed an oil furnace, heat vents upstairs.
The old place embraced me. Our three boys loved
driving the second-hand John Deere from a farm sale.
They learned to milk, dig spuds, and harvest wheat. We
bought horses. They raised pigs and sheep for the fair.
Dolly, my patient wife, insisted on an electric stove.
And yes, we eventually had TV and a dial-up phone.
Life was good. Holidays were great celebrations,
with Mae and her family coming. But I wondered.
Would any of our sons stay when they were grown?
I could only hope and pray.