Over the weekend, the extended family of Max and Edna Swaim held a reunion of sorts. My dad, Richard, was the third-oldest of the five children they had. While he is no longer living, three of his siblings are, and all are quite active. Two of my aunts live on the land my grandparents originally farmed, and my uncle is active in overseeing the ground he owns.
I have written before that when my grandfather died, his farm was split among his five children. Because Dad was already deceased at that time, my two brothers and I got his proration of the farm, which we now cash-rent. We also get income from a hunting contract. My brothers live on parts of the land, too.
My Aunt Nancy is planting trees to leave as a legacy to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and to help enrich the environment on part of her farm. My Aunt Alice is working on a quail habitat program; sadly, so far the quails have not returned. Hopefully, though, the work she is doing will entice the birds to return to an area they used to inhabit.
But, for the rest of us, visiting the farm is about as close as we get to actually farming. As I looked around the group of aunts, uncle, my brothers, and various cousins and children of cousins, I thought Grandma and Grandpa Swaim would be happy so many of us still return to the farm, even if it is only for the occasional gathering.
The youngest of the group would be the children of my cousins and my great-niece. There were four or five children under the age of 8. These would be the future of our farm, and I wonder if any one of them will return to this spot as adults. I may not be there to see it, but I hope some of the Swaim descendents will still be walking this land in the next generations.
But, for them to be there, we need to make the land important to them. This year I asked all of my relatives to say something about what they do now so we can all connect more with each other. While I know my first cousins, I don’t know their children well – and many of them are now adults with children of their own, whom I know even less about.
The more we know about each other, the more likely we will be to connect. I worry what will happen after my dad’s remaining siblings are no more. Will their children care as much as they do? I don’t have children, so my portion of our farm would be in the hands of the children and grandchildren of my two brothers.
After our lunch I went creek hiking with one of my brothers and his two children. As we hiked, I started to tell the kids about the things my dad taught me about various plants we saw. I also talked about how I used to play with the clay deposits in the creek and make clay pots, and how we looked for interesting rocks to take home.
The things I told Max and Emma have been passed down, as I’m sure what Dad taught me was something he learned from his parents. It made me realize this is what I need to do to keep the kids interested in the farm. They need to see it as more than just a place they visit a few times a year.
They need to see the plants that live there and the animals, and how they connect. I found great blue heron tracks along the creek and showed them to the kids. I talked about how the herons were once gone from the creek, after they died out through the use of DDT, but now they are back because people like our grandfather realized things like DDT could impact the environment.
I still dream of someday moving back to the farm, but as I approach 60 years of age I wonder if that dream will ever be realized. While theoretically I could produce this paper from any location with an internet connection, Parke County is a long way from our main offices.
And, talk about the need for rural broadband – as soon as I hit the Parke County line, my Verizon phone is practically useless! I also don’t think my dog-training business would thrive, as the county is too rural to have enough of a customer base for me.
If you get a moment, try to connect with the younger generations of your extended family. Show them why your land is important to you and try and help them form that connection, as well.