Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Farewell to the Farm

Farewell to the Farm
By Robert Louis Stevenson
The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
Before I was two years old, I could recite these first two stanzas. One of the first books Mama read aloud to me was A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Every few months when I was a kid, we visited my paternal grandparents, Sally and Joe Smith ("Granny Sally" and "Granny Joe"—see above picture), at their farm in Union Hall—a two-hour drive from Roanoke in the 1940s. Parts of Route 220 didn’t exist then, so we came over Grassy Hill, through downtown Rocky Mount, and then left at the furniture factory to take Route 40 east for nearly 20 miles. Once at the farm, I couldn’t wait to see their old mare Kate and to go to the creek.

Franklin County was a poor county in those days. Everyone farmed—tobacco was the cash crop—and most folks were either involved in the moonshine business or else knew somebody that was. Young men either planted a crop, ran moonshine, or left to seek their fortunes. My daddy did the latter—he worked in the mines in West Virginia for a short time—and ended up running a gas station in Roanoke.

My grandparents had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing in their cabin. They’d had a phone years earlier when their daughters were courting—and the blue insulator was still attached near the doorway when I was a kid, but the phone was way before my time. To get water, they’d walk 300 feet down the hill and cross a wooden bridge over Standiford Creek to get to the spring. A fence around the spring kept the cow out. A spring box kept things cold. A huge oak sheltered the spring.

They grew almost everything they needed, except for sugar and coffee. For a while Joe Smith had a steam engine that he used to saw wood or thresh wheat. A lot of barns in the Union Hall area were built from wood he sawed.

A smokehouse, wheat house, chicken house, and other out-buildings were near the cabin. The barn was further away—you passed it as you drove up the narrow red clay road that connected to the main road—also red clay—called the old racetrack. The racetrack, which eventually crossed Houseman’s Ford before coming to Bethel Church, was where long ago young men raced their horses and buggies. In dry weather it was hard-packed and easy to travel; in wet weather it was thick red soup.

Now the road is paved and dead-ends in Smith Mountain Lake. Now the land in Union Hall costs a fortune, and the farms are disappearing to development. The Smith farm still exists, though, and still no electric lines cross it. My father bought his parents’ farm at auction in 1960 after his father died in October 1959. I inherited the farm in 1969 when my father died.

The village of Union Hall—less than two miles from my farm—is changing fast. What’s left of the old depot will soon be razed. (The F&P Railroad tracks ceased to exist in the 1930s.) The Holland Dudley house behind where the tracks used to be—one of the largest and finest brick houses in its day—is already gutted. The barn—probably built with wood sawed by my grandfather—is being dismantled. Up on Route 40, the building that used to be a general store/gas station—and was an antique store in its last incarnation—will soon go. The loggers are supposed to begin denuding the woods tomorrow.


In another year, there’ll be no trace that this farm ever existed. A shopping center, Southlake Towne Center, will occupy the space where the farm once was.
And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing;
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
Farewell to the farm. For evermore.

2 Comments:

Blogger Leslie Shelor said...

Sad story that is becoming more and more common.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous colleen said...

This really chokes me up. I think we are leaving ourselves so vulnerable when we lose self-sufficient lifestyles.

9:54 AM  

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