Farmer Jacobs and Wife
Parents – You love them deeply and pray at the same time that you never become anything like them. I should assure Kate (Dina’s mom and Plough & Stars soap fairy) that this sentiment doesn’t come to mind because she’s currently visiting us. Rather, it’s spurred by the following quote from Clarence Beck, the son of a Dust Bowl farmer, who was interviewed in Ken Burns’ most recent documentary:
“God, what do I have to do to have money and not be a farmer? I don’t care whether it is being a pimp, I don’t care whether it is stealing – whatever it takes so that I’m not going to farm and I’m not going to be broke.”
Ultimately, Clarence’s prayers were answered. He didn’t become a farmer – or a pimp for that matter. But genetics are hard to escape. It turns out that in our march back to the land, Dina and I are walking a well-trodden path traveled most recently by our own grandparents.
My dad recently unearthed a dusty and forgotten guest book that tells of a decade of summers spent on Minesota’s Lake Mille Lacs (French for ‘thousand lakes’ but pronounced colloquially as ‘mul-ax’). Toward the end of WWII, my grandparents, Mabel and Joseph Jacobs, bought forty acres and a clapboard cabin that they crammed with visitors from frost to frost. Their war-weary friends would beat a path to their door seeking some uncomplicated peace and a game of croquet. At the end of their stay, they scribbled their names, addresses and commentaries in the small brick-orange book, which reads like a seven-year inventory of potatoes planted, peas canned and fish caught.
The first page opens like this:
“Grand day – wonderful meal. New radish – young onions, odorless?? – Fresh Ham!!! – Blueberry Pie – All produced by our host, “Farmer Jacobs and Wife” – W. Hayward June 18th, 1944.
Sixty-three years later, an urbanite going to Farm School is enough to warrant a four-page spread in the newspaper – as if we’re inventing something. But these old pictures make one thing clear – we’re not pioneers of any sort. Sure, it’s a departure from today’s norm, but look only as far back as Eli Whittney and the cotton gin, and nearly 90 percent of our forebears worked with dirt and plough.
So as I head back to the farm after Christmas break, I wanted to give life to faces and voices that are both distant and increasingly familiar – the black and white remnants of all of our recessive genes. And if my ancestor’s gardening successes are my legacy, perhaps I should start a CSA’s for freakishly huge squash.
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