Buying the Farm


I was dreaming that I was back on the farm but it wasn’t farming anymore, it was more an assisted living or skilled nursing home, and my parents—who are deceased—were coming to visit.  Everything was so clean and fresh, and there was so much greenery—Chester County, Pennsylvania, has such short, mild winters that the foliage grows full and rich in the summers.

How many people have died on the farm?  Grandpa did, but—Sydney and C.B. (that’s what they called Clarence Buchanan) Hope lived there . . .  There were the four big bedrooms on the second floor and the smaller one in-between where the hired hand slept.  Yes, he slept right in there with the family, until they got indoor plumbing, then the hired man’s room was turned into the bathroom; that’s why it’s such a big bathroom.  It was after Sydney’s stroke that they put a toilet in the closet on the first floor under the stairwell.

Sydney had two sets of newlyweds under her roof that Christmas.  Tom had married Lena and they were going to go to housekeeping on the Lower Farm but it had a tenant farmer and his lease wasn’t up till January, so Tom and Lena were on the Upper Farm for Christmas.  And Mary had married Richard.  They were building a new house down the road in Westwood but the house wasn’t done yet, so Dick and Mary were on the Upper Farm for Christmas, too.  And Naomi, who wasn’t married yet, and Jane, who came late and was younger.

Why were C.B. and Sydney Hope on the Upper Farm?  The Lower Farm was the original farm, with the land grant deed signed by William Penn, so why was C.B. on the Upper Farm and a tenant farmer on the Lower Farm?  Did I forget to ever ask Grandma—that was Mary—or did she not know?  All my life Uncle Tom and Aunt Lena were on the Lower Farm, then one of their twin girls—Ruth, who married Bill—stayed on the farm and they had Frances Jean, Tommy and the twins, Ruthanne and Marianne.

It was the last quilting bee on the farm.  We were gathered around quilting frames in two rooms. One of the twins had a broken leg—or was it a sprained ankle?—anyway, she was on crutches so the little children were set down around her for her to watch over and keep entertained.  That’s the way it is:  mothers and older girls come to quilt and talk; younger children are brought along and cared for.  So we did two quilts for the girls to take off to college.  When they came home for Christmas, one of the girls took sick, went up to her bedroom.  When the hired girl, a Mennonite, went up to check on her, she was nearly dead.  A brain aneurism.  They buried her wrapped in her quilt.

But the question was how many people have actually died on the Upper Farm?  Great Uncle Dick.  Sydney and C.B. actually had five children—Thomas, Mary, Richard, Naomi and Jane.  Dick went swimming and rode home in a wet bathing suit in an open buggy at dusk.  Caught a cold that went into pneumonia and died in three days.  Hadn’t invented penicillin yet.

But who were C.B.’s parents?  My grandmother’s grandfather—he had three wives.  The first bore him two children, then died.  He remarried, the second bore him two more children, then she died.  He remarried, the third bore him two more children, then he died.  Grandma said that the old cemetery had to be moved and when they dug up one of the wives something happened and her casket was open.  There was nothing left of her but her hair then a puff of wind came along and there was nothing left of her at all.  They reburied the whole lot of them—what was left, anyway—under a single tall, narrow stone that said

Thomas (if that was his name—most Hopes were either Thomas or John) HOPE

His wife (whosits)

His wife (whatsis)

His wife (whomever)

And what were the wives’ names?  Rebecca?  Mary?  Anna?  Well, long gone; dead, buried and gone.

Now what was the story about the grandparents?  Was that my mother’s story or my grandmother’s?   Must have been my mother’s story.  They lived in Westwood and every morning she would hear her grandmother—the grandparents lived across the street—sneeze three times.  That’s how the day started.  Grandma would sneeze three times and then the day would begin.  But which grandmother?

My mother’s parents were Mary and Dick—they bought the Upper Farm after C.B. died.  Since Tom already had the Lower Farm and what was left was the girls, C.B. ordered the farm to be sold at public auction, which was Melvin Seltzer, the auctioneer.  It was a big sale and people came from all around.  The farm was auctioned first and after while it came down to just two bidders:  my grandpa, and an Amish fellow from Lancaster County.

At that point, Mel stopped the auction and took the brother and sisters into the kitchen.  Sat them down around the old round wooden kitchen table.  (That’s the way it’s always been—the table always was willed to go with the farm.  The family gathers around that table and the truth is told.)  Well, anyway, no other family member was privy to what was said around the table that day, but my father always thought that Mel asked Tom and his sisters how much money they wanted from the farm as their inheritance.  They arrived at a number, then Mel went back out and ran the auction.  Grandpa bid the sky because he already knew exactly what he was going to pay his in-laws for the farm.

The Amish fellow went away empty-handed and Grandpa set to do some fast and furious bidding to get the bare minimum that he would need immediately to run a working farm.  The cows had to be milked before bedtime, which meant milking machines, milk cans, whatever.  Grandpa had been raised on a farm but he and his brother fought terrible mean so their father told them one of them had to leave.  My grandpa went to the steel mill and his brother stayed on the farm.  Now, in his forties, Grandpa was becoming a farmer again.  Grandma was going through “the change,” and nervous as a cat.

At bedtime she said, “Dick, do you think we did the right thing in buying the farm?”

Dick replied, “We won’t know for twenty-five years, if then.”

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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1 Response to Buying the Farm

  1. Don says:

    Anne , Great story I don’t know how you remember all this and in such detail. Don

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