Friday, November 11, 2005
On November 10, 2005 the Gray Goose Farm left the Grummon family and its descendants after being in our family since my grandparents purchased it in March 1946. A new owner has bought the house, barn and two acres. Sixty-five acres of the original farm (which once was about 100 acres), give or take a few feet, continue to surround the farm and its barn and will remain in the family.
Two years ago we all gathered at the farm for Thanksgiving: my brother and his family, my other brother and his dog, my husband and children, and W's children and their families. I had thought it would be the first of many more gatherings to come because it felt so good "to be back" altogether enjoying the place. Even if our family had changed, we were accepting and welcoming (it had morphed once before in the 1980s when my mother married someone with children, much younger, as we were, too--but that change ultimately was good for the farm and our family, for a while, at least). I was sadly mistaken. It was, in fact, the first get-together we had at the farm since my mother remarried in 2001. It was sadly also the last. In retrospect, it was the end of an era, perhaps even anticlimactic to something great. [These photos, taken in black & white--an odd choice for me at the time--were taken on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, Gray Goose Farm, Jaffrey, NH]
I will always "see" the farm in my memories as it was in those days of my childhood and even into my early adult years when my mother and stepfather Gerry really continued the vision of my grandparents, giving it their own personality and hard work. They had great plans and I admired their ability to work together while keeping family at the core. But in the last decade the farm had become almost a stultifying "house of memory", a saddened place, perhaps even a bit forlorn. I'm not quite sure why this sentiment but I think it has a lot to do with the reality that my brothers and I had moved on to our own lives in the past ten years, with new families and pursuits, but also because my mother had moved on with hers, too. It all changed with a new 'blended' family, but a blended family of adult children and the farm teeter-tottering at its center. Looking back, there was no way to have an easy arrangement or future plan for the farm with the many changes it was experiencing. Our plans were dreams that became anxious nightmares at times--forces seemed to be working against us, like walking upstream in a strong current. Perhaps we just didn't have the fortitude that it takes.
The farm would have continued on for a while but not without a needed infusion of heart, soul and cash. Just yesterday we found out from the new owners, a young hard-working couple who have been searching for just such a place for the past two years, that they have home owner's insurance coverage from the same group in Jaffrey that threatened to drop us if we did not have the place entirely rewired, the porch replaced, and everything reroofed. I can't even believe this! It is as if the fates have conspired against us in every direction. I don't even want to "call" the insurance company on it now because I don't want to impede the process for this new couple. Ironically, they also have the same "black-listed" breed of dog that we have!
Seeing the farm over the course of the past several months, empty as it has been, has been helpful for me. I have come to realize that people make a house and things only decorate it. The house has lacked the atmosphere within that my mother and grandparents before her had infused at the place. It has been like walking in a vacuum--traces of the place are there, but they are just the bones--not the heart, not the soul, not the flesh. Those things went with my mother to her new home which, I am glad to say, is infused with the same coziness and familiarity--it's just been transported to a different place, just up the road. My mother and I also met at the farm a few weeks ago to "say goodbye". She is the most attached to the place and I wish I could have done more for her--given her life estate, built a small house on the property next to the house, built an apartment--but what we could have done was not enough in the end. Perhaps the deck was stacked from the beginning--now the farm that we have all loved has become a place of mourning. It holds the tatters of a family in ruin over a place, some misunderstandings, some feelings unspoken. It has become a vessel of discontent and confusion and looking back at its past thirty years it is amazing it has stayed in the family for this amount of time.
Several items of interest have surfaced: one is that my grandfather seriously considered selling to a member of the Sawyer family in the early 1970s. Then my Uncle Dan came back to the area and my grandparents parceled off 17 acres for him on which he built his house (we have come to learn that he also had an unwritten agreement with my grandparents as to taking over the farmhouse one day--perhaps that gift of land and a promise were both reasons, as well as our presence, why I remember my aunt screaming at my uncle, her brother, on many occasions out in the garden--when she was done with him, she went after her own mother). We moved here fulltime in 1974, post divorce from Akron, Ohio, and my mother had the early intention of buying a small house in Jaffrey (I remember even looking at several with her, including a log home). But those plans all derailed when my grandfather died in August 1974 and my grandmother soon declined into Alzheimer's (which, at the time, we thought was depression and senility). So, Mom never left and the farm more or less stayed as it was, contents intact. Even after my grandmother died in 1985, very few things left the house. In those years of our later childhood, I remember distinct discord from some of my mother's siblings as to her presence at the farm and assistance with her mother's life. My uncle, tragically, ended his own life in May 1976.
Yesterday, I went through the remaining books left at the farm to make sure there were none left that belonged to family members (with several generations of family scribbled on the front pieces). I had gone through all of the books at the farm and rearranged them by subject, "in a bout of tidy nesting", just before my daughter was born in June 1988 (I wrote about this experience in my second published article for VICTORIA Magazine in an article called "Home Fires"). I spent the same amount of time just lingering over the books, remembering many, seeing my grandmother's notes and scribbles or her mother's, too, realizing that this library, like the house, represents a great family of many interests and pursuits. So I gathered up the books that would seem lonely left on the shelves of a new family--and we left others that the new family will enjoy. The new couple is already calling the old "Toy Room" (why it was called that by our family, I'm not sure, although we kept a toy trunk in there all of my childhood), the Library, so it is fitting that they have some books to line their shelves.
My husband looked out my old bedroom window as we were gathering up the last few boxes of books and said, "There are two deer in the upper pasture." I went to look. Sure enough, they were gazing back at the house, with seeming interest but also a certain nonchalance that deer seem to have. "It's Grandmother and Grandfather," I said. "I think somehow they approve." My mother has always seen symbols on significant days with the animals of the forest. When her second sibling died in 1997, she reported seeing a buck and a doe in the field, and two others coming out of the forest to join them. After a few minutes they all walked into the pine woods together: Grandmother, Grandfather, Dan and his sister Joanne. They will still have those pinewoods to walk through and the farm to gaze down at from time to time.
This story isn't over. In many ways it has just begun. The farm has been a subject and a passion on my mind for some time. When I finish with pantries, I need to return to the farm story, if only to honor those who came before with every good intention. It will be a love song, a poem, a document of a place. Fifty-nine years can't have passed for nothing. We have all been tied in ways good and bad to a special place of great meaning. Now those ties are unfurling and we can each experience a kind of freedom, perhaps a certain levity. As we scan the limitless expanse of horizon ahead--with all of its hidden dangers and opportunities--we must also leave our childhood home. Eventually the wagon furrows we have made in the road behind us will smooth into the unclaimed prairie that awaits. It will be a hard and difficult journey, but one we must all make at some point in our lives.