Part of our land borders woods that surround a dirt trail that is mostly washed into a gulley through the valley. It used to be a road called the Turkey Path.
My grandfather has told me over and over again about the old stagecoach that went down the Turkey Path; styled with trimmings and carrying people in elegant period dress, although it is hard to imagine it now after the locust trees and rainwater have overtaken the road.
My grandfather also told of a time when he worked the Turkey Path fields with horses at the age of 10.
He turned too sharp at the end of a furrow and tipped the drag over. The harness broke and the draft horses sprinted into the next town. He walked the mile home, crying – the distance overwhelming to an upset child.
The land we work comes with a past that predates me and, sometimes, my father
My father told me several times about a specific day, when he finished discing the Beehive Field while my grandfather started planting it. My grandfather stopped the tractor, descended the steps, and began to urinate next to the front tire. My father also pulled the parking brake in his tractor. Looking to surprise him, my father picked up a small, flat stone and threw it towards my grandfather’s feet. The stone made a looping arc, curved through the air, and hit my grandfather on the back of the head. He fell to his knees. As the story goes, my grandfather recollected himself, pulled up his pants, and later remarked: “I think I got some on my hands.”
The L-Shaped Field. The Corral Piece. The Lime Pile Field. The land we work comes with a past that predates me and, sometimes, my father. I have known the names since I was a child, because that is how we talk about the fields. The co-op used to store a large mound of lime at the end of one of the plots on the hill, and although the pile has been gone since the 60s, that is how the field has been acknowledged ever since.
Ultimately, there are fewer new stories being made, making the ones we already have all the more important
In 2013, with our herd of 100 Holsteins too small to make a living in the US, my parents quit milking cows. Most of the land is now rented, except for enough acres of hay for the 40 head of beef they keep. Ultimately, there are fewer new stories being made, making the ones we already have all the more important. In fact, in some ways, these memories are the most important things we still own.
After being crushed by a skidsteer, he had to fight lawyers, banks, and other institutions while learning to walk again
One day, my father reflected on the history of our farm: how his grandfather started it on the hill without electricity – one of many farms in the valley at that time, and how my grandfather built it up so it could remain profitable. Much of that land was sold when my grandfather retired. Since then, it has been my father’s legacy to hold on to what is left – for which he has gone through extraordinary measures. After being crushed by a skidsteer, he had to fight lawyers, banks, and other institutions while learning to walk again. It is an account of determination and fortitude that deserves an audience. In fact, it is the book I am currently writing.
My grandfather has since died. My father, too, will someday pass away, taking his recollections with him. When that happens it will matter less that I’ve never seen the lime pile, as long as I will be the next one to tell its story.
Ryan Dennis is the author of The Beasts They Turned Away, a novel set on an Irish dairy farm.