Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Along with our own home, we also have a little house that we bought on a sheriff's sale (for $3,500, if you can imagine that.)   We immediately put a new roof on the old place, and Jeff and the boys have gutted it down to the studs and are getting ready to install new plumbing.

Along with that house and the one we live in (which we are also remodeling,) we are caretakers of my parents' two properties.  (That's four places, in case I lost you.)  My parents still live in a small town in the same home in which my father was born; in the house which my great-grandfather built with his own hands in 1914.  They also have a little cabin way out in the hills and hollers; twelve acres of rolling, stretching, wooded land.  My family has owned this particular piece of property since I was 11.  Dad saved up his pennies until he was 53 years of age, then plopped down $18,000 cash for this piece of property.  Dad never made more than $18,000 a year in his life.  Mom was a substitute school teacher making $30 a day when I was in highschool in the eighties.  Frugality bought them a beautiful piece of land that has given and given to our family over the decades.
(I hope I don't make anyone uncomfortable talking prices.  I tell it all for the sake of perspective.  You can buy houses and even land for less than the price of a car.  Also, it's good for the kids to see what hard work and fiscal conservation can do over time.)  :)

My Daddy was a pastor.  This place was our retreat.  No phones, no running water, no indoor bathroom, even.  Just wood heat.  The farm sits inside the rim of an extinct volcano; you can see the outline of the rim by aerial view.  It's a hardscrabble, beautiful place.  We came once a week, Fridays after school.  We mowed, we gardened, we remade the cabin.  We fenced the pasture and gravelled the driveway one bucket at a time.  We seined the pond and restocked it, built the dock and built a deck on the house too.   It was mostly just my Daddy and I doing the work, as my oldest siblings left for college very soon after.  I loved the farm, I hated the farm.  There was always so much work.  I named it NeverRest, and the name still stands.

I've grown up with this land.  I've watched it change and shift over 31 years; and it has shifted.  I notice new species of trees, different mushrooms and bugs, gullies and ravines worn through the hills by spring rains.

  It is an amazing thing to parent the same land over time, to be able to say, "I remember when Dad and I planted these pear trees.  I remember when we grafted in new branches, splicing in the buds and wrapping them with tape."  Now, my children harvest fruit from these trees and I spend late summer days canning pears for us to enjoy this winter.
God is so good to me to let me live this long and share such things with my children.  When I was eleven and twelve and working so hard to clear the land and help my Dad remodel an old cabin, I never knew that one day I'd have nine children who would come back to work with me, to swing on the same old tree that I enjoyed as a kid.  I'm grateful now for the hard work that I was made to do.  It made me very, very tough - and I sure need that with nine children.  I'm no quitter.  :)
I like that they are getting the opportunity to learn to work, too, to do the things they don't necessarily want to do but should.  They are gaining ties to the land, learning to caregive both the people that live there and the land itself. 

Shepherding land is hard work.  Mowing, pruning, mending,

Splicing, sharpening, harvesting, gathering, cutting wood for winter.  The work is never done.   Three seasons wear us thin, pull us into four different places that need maintained.  My parents' places have strong familial value.  We do the best that we can.  By September, we are looking ahead with longing towards the first snowfall, when we can sit with our backs to the fire and enjoy cocoa from the kettle of warm water that is always on the cookstove.  The kids pilfer cookies from Grandma's cookie jar, drive her a little nuts with the chaos, and play legos in the loft bedrooms (you get there by pulling down and unfolding a ladder.)

My parents love this place.  It hurts my heart so much to see them grow older and able to do less around their places, but as long as they can make it down to the country, to their farm, they are content.  Last year when they both had joint replacement surgeries (and my father's hip was broken,) they couldn't come for several months.  They came as soon as they possibly could - and it did them such good.  My Dad will be 87 next month.  I'm not sure what we will do when the day comes that he can't drive himself to his farm any longer.  I think I will have to take him, for sure.

Catfish, bluegill, and bass.  Yum.  :)
We don't fish nearly enough to suit the boys, but hopefully we'll find more time this fall and again in the spring.  I recently saw that Jeff had picked up a pink fishing pole from a garage sale for our little girl.  He must have plans.

My dad has always been a steward, a conservationist, even before it was cool. He devotes specific plots to wildlife, he works to eradicate invasive plant species that threaten the national forest, he loves this land the Lord has let him caretake for a time. He's taught me well in this regard. I love it too.  Although the days are very long and tiring and the work exhausting; I am thankful that our children have the opportunity to experience the land, the work, and the relationships regularly.

*These pictures were taken in the spring by my daughter Emily


  1. What a beautiful story, Holly! And great pictures, Emily. Thanks for sharing your gifts!

  2. That's it - I'm moving to Indiana.

  3. What a great story. Wonder if one of your children will follow in their grandpa's footsteps with conservationism or something of the sort?
    ~Heather Mason

  4. I love this post Holly! So many great life-lessons here.

    Your retreat is lovely with all that natural beauty around it. Great pictures too on Miss Emily's part! :)