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Views and opinions: Family farm is not just where you work, but where you rest

Grandpa and Grandma Swaim had five children and four of them stayed in Parke County (well, a few moved to other states briefly, but came back quickly). But my Uncle Max left the farm after he graduated from Purdue.

He moved to Georgia and eventually to Florida, a long way from his Indiana roots. I rarely saw my cousins Mike and Tracy. They came up to the farm a few times, but one of the last times I saw them was in 1981 when Grandma Swaim died.

Despite leaving the farm, Uncle Max decided to return to his homeplace after his death. He asked that his ashes be buried at the cemetery on our family farm and to have a marker placed there.

Uncle Max died in November, but his family decided to wait until summer to bring the ashes back north. The Swaim clan gathered as many of us as we could for the event. Tracy was able to come with her husband and her adult daughter.

Neither the husband nor the daughter had ever been to Indiana before, and Tracy had last visited 22 years ago. Luckily, I had gotten to visit Uncle Max just a few days prior to his death, and I got to reconnect with Tracy and my Aunt Jan at that time. It was great to see them again.

Having a cemetery on your family farm is a neat thing. The cemetery is in the middle of the woods, only accessible via an old logging road. Any traces of civilization around the cemetery are long gone. Most of the graves date between 1820-90.

However, that all changed in 1981 when Grandma Swaim died. Then we found out it was perfectly legal to bury her in that cemetery. She was the first person buried there in the 20th century. My parents are both buried there, as is Grandpa Swaim.

We even made a small pet cemetery off to the side for the many beloved animals of the extended family.

So, Uncle Max came home and became the fifth Swaim buried on the hilltop in the woods. My brother Andy did some research work to try to locate as many old graves as possible, so we were fairly confident our new graves are in an unused portion of the cemetery.

Most of our burials have been more of the old-fashioned kind of affair. When Dad died, Andy built the coffin out of wood from the farm and Mom and my aunts lined the coffin with fabric. Dad was carried back to the cemetery in the back of an old farm wagon.

For Uncle Max, Andy dug the hole for the ashes to be interred. I would say I helped, but Andy would probably send a letter to the editor contesting that. I stood by and watched him dig, but I did continue his work when he took breaks to get a drink of water.

My cousin Jennifer picked up sunflowers from the local farmers’ market and then picked Queen Anne’s lace and daylilies, and made floral arrangements to go around the grave. We transported a few chairs back to the cemetery, but most of the seating was straw bales covered in old blankets.

It was in the high 90s with high humidity, so everyone was grateful for the shade in the woods. Everyone also sprayed themselves with insect repellent prior to sitting. The area is known as Tick Ridge and ticks are definitely prevalent in the woods.

Right as the service was to start, it rained. Luckily it was a fairly gentle rain and the tree canopy kept everyone from getting soaked. We did manage to scavenge enough umbrellas so my Aunt Jan did not get wet.

After that we all went to my Aunt Nancy’s house for a meal. We lamented that we only seemed to get together as a family for weddings and funerals, and there just weren’t that many weddings anymore.

The next day we took Tracy, Aunt Jan and Tracy’s family on a Parke County tour. Tracy wanted to see the original part of the farm where Grandma and Grandpa had lived, so we did that, took a ride by the old farm pond where we all played as children and then down to Rock Run, which saw many a creek hike in our younger days.

I wanted to show Tracy’s husband and daughter the famous Parke County covered bridges, so we spent five hours doing a mini tour of the county. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Turkey Run State Park and then drove to Annapolis, where four of Grandma and Grandpa Swaim’s five children were born.

The house is no longer standing, but we stopped in the road where it had once been, and Aunt Nancy brought it back to life for us with some nice stories about what it once looked like.

I am grateful that my extended family is still connected to the farm Grandpa Swaim built up. I hope it will continue to survive into the future as my cousins’ children and my nieces and nephews become the next stewards of the earth there.