Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Life as a Farmer

I’m not really a farmer. Not yet. But I do have a farm. It is not just any farm, but it is the land my grandfather owned. He was not a farmer, either, but he probably knew far more about farming than I do. When I knew him, Irvin David Creech was a rural mail carrier who drove a blue Chevy pick up on back roads in Wilson County, delivering Sears catalogues and stacks of envelopes to people out of the post office in Falls City, Texas. When they built a new post office there a few years ago, they renamed the street “Irvin” in his honor.

But he had a tractor. It was an old Farmall grey and red, parked under the overhang of a barn that was on the property when he bought it in 1953. I suppose I saw him drive the tractor a time or two, but I honestly do not remember that. I do have a photograph of him on it, wearing a straw hat that now hangs on a hook in my home. I have better memories of climbing all over the parked tractor with my cousins, pretending to drive it, pressing in the clutch and shifting the gears. Mostly it just sat there. My grandmother, Lillie, sold it sometime after he died in 1971. She said the man who bought it hooked up a new battery and poured some gas in the tank and it started right up.

The farm I have is his farm. He purchased a hundred acres because he wanted a farm. My grandmother leased out that land after he was gone and it produced peanuts, hay, wheat, milo, and watermelons and helped her stash away a savings account to see her through life so that she could remain on the farm and not have to spend her last days in a nursing home.

In 1954 Irvin purchased a couple of hundred turkeys to raise for market. They developed some kind of disease and Lillie often told of how he left her to care for them, giving them daily doses of medication in the August heat, while he attended the birth of my sister in Houston.

I walked every inch of that hundred acres over the years of my childhood and adolescence. I hiked the red dirt road that leads to Floresville in one direction and Stockdale in the other. My cousins and I made that road our playground in the summers when our parents would leave us with Grandma Lil for a week or two at a time. I walked through the fields bearing my .22 and plinking at cactus fruit or tin cans, but really stalking rabbits that I never managed to shoot. I often spent a summer evening lying in the front yard, listening to the San Antonio Top 40 radio station and staring at the stars that did not shine over Houston. Melinda and I spent the first week of our marriage there, visiting San Antonio and New Braunfels, on all the honeymoon we could afford at the time.

My dad often talked about owning land, but he never really did for long. He purchased ten acres completely covered in pine trees outside of Conroe, Texas once. We drove up there several times to see it, but it was too much of a thicket to walk about. He eventually sold it. Now it is part of the Woodlands, I suspect, and worth more per square foot than he paid per acre.

Once when I was driving him back to Houston after his brother Earl’s funeral in Austin he told me that there were only two things he ever really wanted. One was a son. The other was a ranch. He admitted that having a daughter turned out to be far better than having a ranch, but he still would like to have had one. Often, when we made the trip to Floresville together to visit my grandparents, he would comment on the way home, as we topped a rise in the terrain outside of Schulenburg that provided a grand view of rolling Texas land, “I wish I owned all the land I can see from here.” But he never got his ranch.

Had he outlived my grandmother, the farm in Floresville would have been his. I’m not sure what he would have done with it. But she managed to outlive all six of her step-children and chose to leave the land to my sister and me, not because of any special worthiness on our part, but because we were Joe’s children. That’s another family story entirely. Meanwhile, she sold off five acres with the old house and built her a new one under an enormous live oak on the northeast end of the property. Later she gave about twelve acres covered in mesquite thicket to a friend who cared for her during the last years of her life.

What was left of the original hundred-acre farm passed last spring to my sister and me. She has no aspirations for it, so Melinda and I are working to purchase her interest in it, keeping the property intact, and learning something about caring for it and farming it. We expect to live our second life there after I retire from the work of the congregation.

We are working fervently to cure our ignorance and naiveté about the prospect of farming. The vision has become clearer as we have read and talked and worked. Right now it looks like a small market garden, producing organically grown fruit and vegetables and an orchard of a few peach and pecan trees. The remaining seventy-five acres could be native grasses leased out to provide range for a few head of cattle or leased to grow grain. Chicken are optional.

Meanwhile the task is to fill our empty heads and to clean up land and property that has been neglected for the past several years. The fields are currently overgrown with forbs I cannot identify. I have photographed them and turned to field guides and the Internet but have not successfully discovered their true names. Coastal Bermuda grass grows still at their feet, a remnant of a time when Lillie leased the land to a hay grower. Soon I’ll know enough to take the steps required to restore the land to pasture.

I was there alone last Thursday evening. I went outside and was surprised with how cool the night was following a hot and humid September day. I lay on the hood of my grandmother’s 2000 Ford Taurus and looked up at the same sky I’d gazed into as a child. The air smelled the same, the same aromas rising from the red Floresville dirt. Now this is mine to know and to care for. And I want to do it well.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I never knew Granddaddy wanted a ranch! Thanks for sharing this. I'm pretty sure he's got a huge ranch now that is perfect!