To My Children

Kids, The Survival Podcast has quoted something twice recently, both times it resonated with me.  Both times it is referenced as an old indian proverb but I’m not concerned with the source of the quote.  I’m concerned with the substance.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

As you know, I am the 7th or 8th generation on the farm. (I lose track because there were several men named William Chism and my eyes glaze over when my sister tries to explain the family history to me. If you want, you can read some family history here.) Unlike my grandfather, however, I didn’t inherit the farm. I bought it. But what I paid for wasn’t just land…I could pay less and get more elsewhere. Beyond living near my parents (which I think is important), I paid for the privilege of giving you, my children, the same memories I have. I played under grandpa tree. I have always wondered how long the chain has been growing into the limb of the big walnut and who put it there. I swam in the creek, played in the mud and looked at the animal tracks. When cleaning the yellow house we found drawings under the wall covering…drawings my sister made when we were small. You get the same memories and experiences but on a 25-30 year delay. We even make the same cookies Grandma used to make in her own kitchen. I know, roughly, who built what fence. What role my father, my cousin, Barney Gillespie (ask me about Barney sometime) and others played in laying out the current infrastructure of the farm. What sheds were built and by who (whom?)…and when. I know the last time there were pigs on the hog floor and who they belonged to (cause I was paid to keep the floor clean). Your great, great, great uncle Dick built our house. Your great-grandparents lived here and your grandmother was raised here…your grandma and grandpa had their wedding reception in the family room when it was nearly new. Great-Grandpa Tom’s cousin Chick Chism built the kitchen, bathroom and family room onto the house in the ’60s. Your grandpa built another addition in the last 10 years. The bottom is full of walnut trees. Those trees have regrown since your great-grandparents were married at Christmas in ’46 when great-grandpa Tom had them logged and sawn as a wedding present. There is walnut lumber in projects all over the farm, including furniture my grandma built. You with me here?  We have roots in this place! This is home.

Our family has been here for a while.  I see and honor the contributions our ancestors made and, though I have to deal with the consequences of their actions, I am not enslaved by their work nor by the memories of their contribution.  William Chism did not work for his father.  The first Chism off the boat didn’t leave Scotland for his father.  They did it for their children. As the current steward of this farm, my obligation is not to my grandfather.  He had his own ideas of how things should be done…his own dreams. When the time came, grandpa embraced change.  I’m going to suggest that the shape of the farm changed more under my grandpa’s stewardship than ever before that, largely because he had modern machinery.  He didn’t embrace or avoid change for the sake of his father or grandfather.  He sold the horses and did what he did seeking immediate and long-term impact on the land, in his wallet and for the sake of his children…as in my mom.  As in me.  As in you.  He was working for us.

A good man leaves an inheritance for their children’s children… Proverbs 13:22

So now it’s my turn. It’s my job. I don’t want to simply restore the farm to its former glory. The fences need to be replaced, the buildings need to be repaired, there are 3 rotten posts in the big barn, the timber needs to be managed, the pastures are weedy, thorny and brushy and the ponds have gotten shallow. I’ll do the work but the goal is not to restore the farm to 1965 condition (though that would be an improvement).  I feel that my real calling is to put the farm into 2050 condition. What is the farm of the future? Kit Pharo advertises solar bulls. I agree with that thinking. We need a solar-powered herd. We also need rich, living, drought-tolerant and erosion-proof soils growing a wide variety of native forages. I need perennial tree crops. I need to store large amounts of water in case there aren’t any rainy days. I need to assemble a war chest to get us through lean times. I need to do a lot of work…some of it building on my grandfather’s vision, some of it leaning on my father’s advice, some of it remembering what Barney would say, most of it going my own direction. It’s not that the choices grandpa made were wrong, it’s that many of those choices are not valid in the current economy. If I hand the next generation a farm worthy of 1965 I will have failed in my calling as steward. I have to anticipate what the farm of the future will look like and build it now. Not only do I have to do the work, I have to pay for it all.

Kids, I love you. Each of you. I hope I can shape you as you each decide how best to steward the resources God blesses you with…how best to fulfill your own calling. Everything I have will be yours someday. Not only do I have to train you to be ready to accept it, I have to prepare it to accept you. The farm is just one of many things I am using that I hope will be yours someday. Please note the uncertainty in that sentence. I hold my blessings with an open hand and I am teaching you to do the same. The farm is ours to steward until it isn’t anymore. It is first for God then for you, not for my parents, not for my grandparents, not for great, great Uncle Dick that your mother and I are working. When you assume stewardship, continue moving forward with your own vision. Don’t be limited by my goals. You are not slave labor on the farm. Your mother and I are. We work for you. I love you.

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15 thoughts on “To My Children

  1. What a wonderful blessing to have such deep roots! I have often found myself saddened that I do not have deep roots anywhere–that my family never worked to leave me any place to call “home.” Your post brought tears to my eyes as I realized that just because they didn’t help me plant myself and dig my roots deep, doesn’t mean that I can’t work for my children to provide them with what I have always longed for–a home. By the time Rob and I buy land and move off the grid (probably in another 8 years), our children will have the opportunity to follow us or find their own place to blossom and grow. We will work to provide them and their children a safe, nurturing, loving place to go–a place where they can have a sense of belonging. But most importantly, it’s not where you live that matters. It’s a little cliche, but it’s true–home really is where the heart is.

    • Absolutely. We do the best we can with what we’ve got…focusing on our children.

      The house is just a place. The farm is just a place. We do our best to take care of it but it’s the people within that matter. If our kids lived in Chile we would probably leave the farm. Somebody named Chism left Scotland. Later they left Kentucky. It happens.

  2. Thank you for publicly sharing this open letter to your kids. We are suppose to have a servant’s heart. What a privileged it is to serve future generations, especially our children. What a different world it would be if we all had others best interest at the heart of all we did.

    • LOL
      No you wouldn’t.

      When I was a little guy I rode in grandpa’s blue truck with Barney over to the home place (the yellow house). Barney was carrying a beer bottle. I was pretty freaked out about it…you know, driving with a guy drinking a beer. My dad didn’t drink beer…let alone when driving.

      It wasn’t beer. He was using the bottle to medicate a calf. But you don’t think of that when you are 4.

    • Barney expanded my vocabulary. I say that to lead into the next one.

      Barney expressed displeasure at his belief that my grandpa never checked the oil in his equipment. In fact, he had a certain name for my grandpa when discussing the matter informally. lol

    • Dad says he helped Barney geld a stallion. Barney looped a rope around all four hooves and over the back of the horse then pulled the rope a little at a time until the stallion was on the ground with his hooves up around his belly. Then they cut him.

      The things Barney could do with livestock…

    • We didn’t live here until I was 16. Before that I saw Barney when he happened to be working for grandpa when we were visiting or when grandpa took me over there for something. At age 16, Barney had less to offer me than girls did. After high school I was in college then, later, working…mostly away. So the bulk of my interactions with Barney are from my childhood.

      That said, Barney was a fixture around the farm and was someone grandpa clearly trusted. And I thought he was hilarious.

      We had an exchange student from Germany about the same time Barney was caring for an injured horse he was keeping in the pasture at grandpa’s. Since the girl from Germany had experience with horses and was interested she somehow ended up in the saddle. Barney was trying to tell her something or other but she knew what she was doing…so much so that Barney just shut his mouth. In fact, he was at a total loss for words at her riding skill. I had never seen that before.

  3. As much as we learn from those that stay, we also should learn from those that leave. Half my family came from Deland, Piatt County and half from here in CA. I love hearing stories of generation after generation growing in one place. Thank you for those stories, but also a vision for the future.

    • It’s pretty cool to have so many memories in one place. But we could build new memories elsewhere. The land itself is the result of direct action. The family unit is more than just the sum of deferred consumption and biological (recreational) activity. The family…the unity…the love is the blessing that we seek to retain for generations. The farm is pretty cool too.

  4. I think the people make the difference. Think of some of the other older people you knew when you were growing up. Didn’t Mrs. Ruth and Elmer Andy Herman make that house a home? Just saying their names bring wonderful pictures to our minds. So, yes, the family is the blessing as well as the opportunity on the land, but so are the friends we have made by living in different areas. God has blessed us in many ways.

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