|I always knew this day would come. 17 years ago, my parents divorced, as part of the divorce decree, they were to sell the family farm and split the proceeds. Myself, my mother and 2 younger brothers had tried to set up a trust to hold the family farm in perpetuity, but we outgunned by the remaining family members.|
In late June, the call finally came, a real estate broker had offered 10,000 more then the asking price. The farm would be sold, the closing set for late July.
It was a great place to grow up; I was the fourth generation to farm the land. The place lay nestled at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, bounded by the Catskill Creek to the south and west, road frontage on 3 roads to the north and east. It had compromised a “100 acres more or less”. My mother’s grandfather had originally purchased the land, shortly after arriving here during the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840’s. He had originally cleared most of the land with horses and oxen. Their daughter, my maternal grandmother, and her husband (my grandfather) would purchase a second farm about ¼ mile away. They had 14 children (my mother was #7) and the bulk of the family would settle within a 20-mile radius.
The farm was willed to my mother’s aunt. Her husband, mother’s uncle would till the land with horses, eventually moving to tractors by the early 1950’s. My parents purchased the farm when mother’s aunt had to go a nursing home in the mid 1960s. As young kids we would occasionally visit her. She would tell us stories of the farm, the house she and my grandmother were born in. She told us how, Uncle Howie and Uncle Arthur (her brothers) farmed the land with their father, of how, the eventually sold the Belgians they had loved so dearly, replacing them with a two cylinder John Deere. She told a story of how her father had escaped injury getting thrown off a horse mower, mowing hay.
We had held the tradition our forefather’s had started. We milked cows in the old timber frame barn, till the early-1970’s. Uncle Bruce would make his rounds in the morning, picking up the milk cans, delivering them to the Windham Creamery on Windham Mountain. After we sold the cows, we concentrated on sheep and goats. By 1976, we had one of the largest flocks in Eastern New York.
My grandfather did most of the farm machine work. He would cut and bale the hay. As a teenager, I would ride the wagon, stacking the hay, as the old baler pushed the bales up onto the wagon. We would bring the hay back to the barn, either his or ours. He would load the elevator as I stacked the hay in the haymow. We would put up 2 to 3,000 bales of hay every summer this way. He would also put in 8 to 10 acres of sweet corn, most of which he gave away to us grandkids.
I would leave the farm in 1977, driven by some unknown source to sell off my personal livestock and join the Army. After the Army, it would be college and more college, eventually after graduate school, I would land a job out of state. One of the hardest things in my life was accepting that once you leave, you really can’t go back. You can only look forward.
By the mid-1980’s, the kids would be gone, my father would retire and my parents marriage would unravel. Father stayed on the farm (free rent). Mother would pack up the youngest brother and move to New Orleans. I would return on the rare occasion. The house and barn were rapidly deteriorating.
Grandpa’s farm was the first to go that was in 1975. My uncles could only seem to see , and the fields rapidly filled with single family homes, with decks and swimming pools. Someone would remodel his old house, “modernizing” it, with new doors and windows. The roof on the old barn would eventually cave in, from a lack of maintenance.
I knew my father could only hold off the sale for so long, eventually, the farm would have to be sold. A real estate developer had bought it and it wasn’t hard to see what his intentions were. My two younger brothers and I had made the final trip down a few weeks before the closing. A sort of last chance “pilgrimage”. We walked the now overgrown fields, climbed the rafters in the barn and swam in the creek. We talked of how it once was, of how we wanted to remember the place. As we drove away, out past what was once our grandfather’s farm, my brother comments about how it was now all houses, but all I could see was an old man driving a tractor, and a teenage boy stacking hay on a wagon.
Paul, from Me, entered 2003-06-15