I have no idea who Susan A. Chism was. Only this bit of information I got from mom’s blog. Brace yourself.
Susan was the blind daughter of William and Sarrah W. Chism. The story is she was carrying scissors and fell.
Don’t run with scissors, kids. I guess I know a little more. Susan was the daughter of William and Sarrah. William and Sarrah were my grandpa’s great grandparents. And I guess they lived here..or near here. Uncle Jack said there was something of a rift torn between family members and between neighbors when Susan sold a portion of the farm. I’ll come back to that.
One reason I know so little about my great, great, great, great aunt is because there were no blogs. Ever wonder why I blog? Maybe part of the reason is because I don’t want to be forgotten.
What will my great, great, great, great nephew know about me in 100 years? Today I will write a letter to that generation…assuming the internet archive will still be available at that time. Who knows though. This may be the Betamax version of the internet, soon to be made obsolete. (I’ll include a link to explain what Betamax means. Kids today…) Back on point, what did I inherit from Susan A. Chism? What vision did she cast into my life? Heck, what vision did grandpa cast into my life? That’s hard to pin down. I live in my grandpa’s house but I lived 100 miles away from here until I was almost 17. Grandpa died when I was 21. How much did grandpa teach me about farming? Not much. How much vision did grandpa share with me? What legacy did he leave?
Grandpa was always pushing to recognize, learn and embrace new trends and opportunities in agriculture. He loved us unconditionally. I remember grandpa laughing and smiling. I remember the last conversation I had with him, across the room from where I sit as I type this. I asked him if I could name my first son after him. He said he hated the name Chester then laughed.
With that out of the way let’s begin casting vision into the generations to come. I have the chance to do something Susan A. Chism couldn’t.
I have so much to say to you I hardly know where to begin. I want to keep this letter focused on a main theme but I have to touch on one other thing. Never sell land. That was reinforced in a book I’m reading about the King ranch right now and also in the story uncle Jack told me about my great (x4) aunt Susan, (not his wife aunt Susan).
There are a good number of you children I have never met. Or if I have, I don’t remember it. Julie and I brought four children into the world. Our plan was to have six but…well, plans change. You, my children, are my treasure. The land, chickens, cattle, books? Worthless. They can all go. They don’t matter. You matter. You, children, are why we are here. Do I have land so I can have cattle or do I have cattle because I have land? I don’t know. I do know that the land and cattle are an enhancement to our lives together. I have them because I have you. However, I hope you make time to read the books. I know they are old-fashioned but they offer you a way to connect with your grandmother and me. I hope some of you own books that I owned, as I own books that aunt Marian owned. Julie and I along with our four children (currently aged 8-14) sat around the fire during a snowstorm reading on a Sunday at Thanksgiving. It was awesome but not unusual. We love books. But we love you more.
You may not believe it but I was once young and had a sense of humor. As we said then, “I know, right?” One favorite joke was writing under the pen name Head Farm Steward. As we said then, “LOL!” I’m not the head of anything…maybe the labor department. The farm doesn’t have a head. It has a team. That joke was originally sourced from a series of books about a cowdog named Hank, the head of ranch security. Within the next two years, my oldest son (your uncle, great-uncle, great-great-uncle, father, grandfather or great-grandfather) will have the opportunity to call himself by that joking title. Should he choose to accept I will relinquish the title and crown him the new Head Farm Steward and devote more of my time to composting animal manure or writing more on the blog…but I repeat myself. I hope one or more of you have continued that tradition. With luck, one of you has given the title meaning…you are actually the head of something. Maybe 20 of you have land of your own and work to coordinate your methods and marketing, expanding our vision into a vast family empire. We are counting on you or your spouses to do just that. To what extent have you succeeded? What is the next step? Somebody speak up. We are counting on you.
And why, you ask, do I want you to own land? Read Gone with the Wind. Let me spell it out. Land is worth owning. Land gives you a tie…a place to put down roots. A home. Sentimental attachment. There is a giant tree on the next hill over that my grandpa said was was big when he was a kid. That memory spans the years. Land spans the years. Land carries wealth through the years. Land gives you the option to produce something. You can plant. You can tend. You can harvest. You can eat. You can pay your taxes. But back to the theme, you can build memories with your children. You can shoot at targets, you can identify frogs and snakes and birds and spiders. You can learn and work together. If that’s not enough, there are any number of places we could put our money but land offers a measure of permanence. You can’t drink it. You can’t eat it. You can’t burn it. It remains. I hope you are all land owners, wherever you live. I hope you use your land to be productive, not simply for recreation. Not simply lawn space. I hope you are good stewards, working to multiply your blessings within your community.
Home schooling our children seemed, at the time, to be the best option. It gave each of our children the opportunity for self-directed learning and gave us time to enjoy having them around. We had our children because we wanted children. Turns out, we made the right choice. What choices have you made? I don’t care if you choose to teach your children yourselves, send them to grandma Julie’s house to learn or send them to public school. Don’t care. I care that we learn…all of us. I imagine a grandchild having a story like this to relate to the family:
I nearly lived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house as a child. Grandma Julie home schooled us all as much as she could. Sure, mom was involved but grandma was the driving force. Grandpa would stop in to see what we were learning. Sometimes he would argue with grandma and with us about what we were learning…even questioning the basis of arithmetic. He had these crazy ideas like “2+2 is a waste of everyone’s time. The assumption is that we are adding two groups of two identical units but what’s the fun in that? Try to add two cows and two horses. What do you get? Two cows and two horses. Turn them over. Try it again. No difference, just unhappy animals.” Or when we were studying the industrial revolution, “If employers were such jerks, why didn’t people leave the factories and just go back to the farms? Maybe because people always choose the best option available? Maybe farms were worse than factories at that time. What can we learn from that?”
At age 8 I really didn’t understand what grandpa was talking about. In fact, at age 90 I’m still not sure. But I remember his laughable efforts to say something profound each day.
Do you appreciate your children? Are children a burden or a blessing? What are you teaching them about themselves? It doesn’t matter who they go to for their three R’s, they learn more from you. Do you love them? Do you know them? Do you know how they want to be loved? Find the book The Five Love Languages on my bookshelf. My grandma left red lipstick on my face in trade for cookies. Grandma Chism was all about physical affection. My great aunt Marian was into giving gifts and found joy in making clothes and food every chance she got. My father was less into snuggling and more into helping. Acts of service define his caring. Julie is all about the quality time. But you know what means the most to me (today anyway)? Words of affirmation. I need to hear them. I don’t want to be left to assume I’m an idiot. I want to be told there is hope for me. That God has a plan for my life. That I was created for a purpose. Take a few minutes to learn how to love each other…to learn how to be understood.
Beyond that? I don’t know. The farm is home. Whatever else happens, wherever else we (you) go, this is home. We (you) are safe here. We (you) have purpose here. I am planting trees you will harvest from but that’s not the real harvest. You are the real harvest. I have cows for several reasons. First, I think I can get a better return on my investment in cattle than I can from a savings account. Second, it’s something to do with the kids. Third, I feel can make a small contribution to making the world a better place with cattle, both in terms of food quality and in terms of environmental quality. But look at #1 and #3 again. Those are about you kids. Why do I want money? To further our family’s intellectual and emotional development. Why do I want a better environment? Did you really just ask me that question? What kind of world do you live in 100 years from now? I live in a world of muddy rivers and dead zones in the gulf of Mexico. I live in a world that punishes people who save money…who accumulate wealth. We look down on intelligence. We scoff at people with more than two children and “support” our kids by watching them play soccer. Heavens! we certainly don’t play soccer with them. No. We stand around with the other parents while our kids stand with the kids. One must respect the class system. Kids go to school, adults go to work. That’s the way.
That may be the norm in the outer world but it is not the norm in our world. You are our world. You are with us. You want to play legos? I want to play legos. You want to finger paint? I want to finger paint. You want to build a go-kart? You want to build a robot? You want to build a robot that builds go-karts? I’m game. Let’s go now because in about an hour I have to move the herd. Want to come with me in the helicopter? We are a family. We are united but we are not the same. We are not all interested in the same things. But we share a common goal: family. We do different things but we share resources. Your kids want to go to college? Ask the family counsel for financial assistance. You need to take a few weeks off to heal up or to write that book you’ve been meaning to write? Let us invest in you. Turn to us for help…then help when it is your turn.
I’m not really planting trees. I’m planting you. I’m cultivating your lives. The cows just keep the wheels turning as we explore the world together. As we find out who we are. As we struggle against division.
And I hope that is what I have left you. Unity. Family. Vision. Maybe some measure of finance but you are the real wealth. Julie and I treasure you. Each of you. All of you. We love you.
Since I have the floor I’m going to say it all again. If I had nothing else I would have family. If I had my family and could have one more thing it would be a book. If I could add to that it would be a warm place to read a book. Growing from there I want a garden. But the garden isn’t big enough. I need an acre. Or two. Or twenty. But only if I can share it with you kids.
One more thing.
I don’t know anything about my great, great, great, great aunt Susan but I will. Just as I am fully known. We are eternal beings and I hope to see you all soon.
Susan Chism may have been blind, but she knitted her whole life. Aunt Marion used to tell me that in awe that she could accomplish it at all.
“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” –Ancient Indian Proverb
You are very fortunate in the close-knit, purpose driven life your family has created on your farm. There is so much wrong about the way the “average” family is now-a-days. Even many farm families are fractured by the business of their own disjointed lives and the electronic age. There is an epidemic around my parts of family farms that will end with the gen currently farming it, then be sold to a neighbor to add to their farm or a City person often just wanting to rip around on their quads and snowmobiles, mow a large lawn on their fancy mower, let the rest go to weed and hope that the school in a smaller town will “straighten” out/(parent) their kids for them. It is so refreshing to hear your family is so not that and I believe stand a real chance to still be farming in 100 yrs.
How long has your land been in your family? In my Province we have Century Family Farm Awards that pay tribute to the farms that have stayed in a family for 100 yrs. Do you have those in Illinois?
It would be great to read a blog post book review of the King Ranch book you are reading. I have not read that book but would be interested in hearing your take home msgs back to a small farm from one of the largest ranches in the world.
There are a number of take home messages from that book. I am filling the book with notes and highlights as I go. I’ll see about putting up a review post.
I have recently been corrected when I said we have been here since 1843. I was told it was 1834. So, yes. And we have a sign.
Wow, wow and wow – 180 yrs that is really something!! No wonder Aunt Marion was so happy you took over – it would be a shame to see it sell outside your family. You likely will still be at the farm along side at least 1 child for your 200th –that’s only 20 yrs away! I wonder what the farm will look like then – still 60 acres or perhaps you have taken over the whole county by then and converted it to recovery in to grass fed – I’ll stay tuned 😉
Don’t hold your breath…lol
“Dear 20 years from now. Word has reached me that you haven’t succeeded in buying Macoupin county in its entirety. You probably think this is my fault. Well, I’ll have you know that I’m doing the very best I can. Things take time. And land is expensive. And Macoupin county is one of the largest counties in the entire state. So..there is only so much I can do. I can’t just hand you the future. You’re going to have to pull your weight.
While you are at it, I’m getting older. It might be nice if I could live someplace warm.
Now, get to it.”