Today is the all-class reunion of Oakland City/Wood Memorial High School, my Indiana alma mater. I won’t be there, but I’ll be thinking about my friends there, because that’s where my roots are.
The vegetation comes up close to the Jackson Creek trail I walked this morning. I could smell the honeysuckle. That smell always makes me think of our farm at Oakland City.
It wasn’t much of a farm. Five acres. But we had all the stuff that any farm had, only less of it. I called it a “one” farm—one horse, one cow, one pond, one barn, one garden, one pig, one chicken, one duck, one apple tree. The first five of those were literally only one, but the garden was big, very big when hoeing it on a hot summer day, and we had a wood shed, and a granary, and a chicken house, and an outhouse, too, and a grape arbor that flanked the path to the outhouse, under our one big pear tree. To the south was the field we called the orchard. It had half-a-dozen runty peach and apple trees, and Daddy built a brooder house for hatching chicks in it, close to the house but beyond the fence. That field had a “valley” down the middle, and was mostly pasture. That was where Uncle Johnny used to hit flies for me to chase down, up and down the slopes of the valley.
There were gooseberries in the hedge along the garden, but we relied on roadsides and Punch Knowles’ woods, just north of us, to provide wild raspberries and blackberries and boysenberries, which they did in abundance, along with an even greater abundance of ticks and chiggers.
Mother made peach jam from the meager peach trees in the orchard and even more grape jam from the rather enthusiastic bunches of grapes on the way to the outhouse. My job was to get as many seeds as possible out of the pulp before cooking and putting into glass jars with paraffin tops. It wasn’t quite as hard as it sounds, because the seeds were quite large and easy to see and we had a colander of the right size.
Daddy was usually able to rent or share-crop another five to fifteen acres, for corn or soybeans or hay. Sometimes he hired the two of us out to a neighbor to make fence or to put up hay.
As I thought about Oakland City, how much it meant and means to me, what a gift it was to me in so many ways, one gift I had not previously thought about was the gift of extended history. Not only did my parents grow up there, but their parents did, too. Gibson County was home to the McFarlands and Smiths since at least the 1880s, probably longer since John White McFarland was a fourteen-year-old bugler on a Federal Navy ship on the Ohio River in the Civil War. [Yes, he lied about his age.] I can’t remember how the Smiths got there, if I ever knew, but the McFarlands came from Posey County, down on the Ohio River, because Oakland City had a three-year high school, a big deal then, and John White McFarland and his wife wanted Ella Blaine McFarland, their daughter, the one we called Aunt Nellie, to have that high school education.
I have always known and enjoyed all the family stories from GC, but only today did I understand what a gift it is to have such deep roots, and to have experienced them for myself. When I left at 18, the family had been there in one way or another for 75 years. It’s still there, although in much diminished form, since David Pond, Uncle Johnny’s son, and his children are the only ones still there from either side of the family.
It is often said that the two things parents need to give children are roots and wings. My roots are in Gibson County, and that was also the source of my wings. Perhaps the greatest gift my family and friends there gave me was the courage and the encouragement to leave.
As I get closer and closer to the next life, I give thanks to those who give me the courage to leave this one.
I tweet as yooper1721.