Wednesday, October 5, 2011

160 Acres...and Me

Here we go again. It is Wednesday and I am struggling. What to say about me????? I thought I would share with you a place that holds me so tightly and to this day I can tear up thinking about it. I actually had put this place to the back of my mind until the other day when one of my cousins brought it up. I immediately went back to a time and a place which in it's own way....was integral in making me who I am today.

The family which I come from is different in many ways. My mother was the youngest of eleven children and her family grew up dirt poor post WWI through the 1950's. During that time, the world changed immensely but some things never changed and one of those was their home. They lived on 160 acres of dry, red Oklahoma clay. The house had started out as part of a log cabin and as the years went on and the family grew, additions were put on. In it's final stages, the house had a large kitchen, a small enclosed back porch, one (1) small bathroom with only a shower, sink and toilet, a living room and three bedrooms. There were little coal heaters and no air conditioning what so ever. In the winter the house was so poorly insulated that ice formed on the inside of the windows and the wind blew through the unsealed cracks. In the summer windows were open leaving the house prey to Oklahoma insects (centipedes, scorpions, assorted spiders and other flying beasts) and the ever present Oklahoma red dirt dust that flew every time the wind blew. Through all it's constructional frailties....this house was a fortress and held this family together sending each of the children out into the world with either a college degree, military service, marriage or all the above. In those walls the family was a tightly knit unit....but because of their upbringing or maybe the desire to get beyond those 160 acres there was no reuniting for holidays, birthdays and not a lot of reunions when I was growing up. all our minds, that plot of land with the little house, barn and run down out buildings was a connection we all had.

I remember as a very young child making the trip from Kansas to Oklahoma was exciting for me. It meant climbing in my aunt's teal Pontiac station wagon (she also lived in Kansas) with my mom, brother and cousins and making the 2 1/2 drive to visit my grandpa. (My grandmother sadly died when I was two). The trip always took much longer than the 2 1/2 hours as we stopped at Nickerson Farms for breakfast and spent lots of time looking at their bees which they kept and then of course milling through the gift shop was a must. Once on the road again....there were always bathroom breaks (hello...they were traveling with at least 4 kids at any given time). This was always so exciting and fun for me. Once we got there though.....there was always avoiding Grandpa's dogs (Bruno or King or whichever dog was currently residing with him). None of his dogs ever seemed to like kids so we had to be cautious. Then we would spend time in the old house freezing or suffocating (depending on the time of year), nosing through old pictures, snooping in drawers and entertaining our selves in the back bedroom while the adults laughed and visited in the kitchen.

It was always a thrill for us kids and regardless where in line as a grand kid you remember.... Grandpa going out to call his cows in from the pasture to eat. Grandpa would yell "Boss...Boss!" and the cows would come running. The barn they came home to was a huge old thing that "I" was never allowed to go near because of creaky boards, snakes and assorted other possible horrors that my mother was sure lurked there, but my older cousins that were more farm savvy than myself loved the place. Man how I longed for just one afternoon sitting in the barn loft looking out over the farm. In my mind....I would have even braved the snakes.

Even on the hottest afternoons, sitting out under the huge trees that grew in Grandpa's could always find a breeze and many was the time we all shared that yard. Again....Mom was not too trusting of us kids being allowed to roam freely on the vast acres that constantly beckoned us to come explore. Her cautionary nature did not see kids running and playing in the saw a road (though not busy) in one direction, a canyon in another and Grandpa's bull in yet another. Mixed in were farm vermin right and left which about put Mom over the edge as her father and siblings ribbed her over her extreme caution. At the time I felt suffocated but now....doing it by myself and being solely responsible for the young lives God entrusted me with.....I sort of understand Mom's phobias a bit better.

As I grew older, my Aunt Margaret moved out to the house to help take care of Grandpa and to be in the one place she loved more than life itself. Going to the house then was much more pleasant. Aunt Margaret redid part of the house, the furniture was more comfortable and the bathroom no longer creeped me out. By this time the dogs were friendlier and it seemed that either we came to the farm more or the rest of the family did.... as it was the place to get together and hang with cousins I rarely got to see and get to know aunts and uncles who until now were just names. It also seemed that the older I got the longer our visits were. I think it was quite possibly Mom's realization that "home" really was where the heart was at and that her fathers life was winding down. It was at this time that I became so in tune to the house and the farm. Many an afternoon I spent sitting in the front yard at the picnic table writing. I tried to imagine the farm alive with kids and animals. In my mind I pictured the garden, the pig pens and the lilac bushes that Mom always talked about. I also thought of my Grandpa when we weren't all there.....sitting in the front yard waiting for the dirt to roll up on the old dirt road signaling a visitor or just a passerby. Was he lonely or was he content with the memories of his life?

I also spent a great deal of time trying to imagine the grandmother that I never got to know. My older cousins would talk of her and I sat jealously by listening to their stories wishing I had seen this woman, touched her over worked hand or heard her gentle laugh. My mother spoke of her mother is the most wonderful way and from time to time would break down in tears missing her and wishing that she still had her mama to turn to. Again....I understand this far better than I wish I did. One evening I wrote an amazing story (amazing to me anyway) sitting in that old farm kitchen and trying to imagine that little lady (she was 4'11") bustling about and taking care of her family. The story was about her, seeing only me and her perception of who I turned out to be. At the time I was still in my late teens and had yet to really become anyone....but I knew in her eyes....if she had been there.....I would have been special....just like all her other grand kids.

As I became a young adult....the farm became my refuge. My grandfather died on my 21st birthday, but my dear aunt stayed there keeping the place comfortable and welcoming for all who wished to visit. Often I would just get in the car and drive. In a strange sort of way....even though I had never lived was home to me. The barn was now gone as a tornado had damaged it beyond repair along with many other buildings. Also gone was the bull. I was well aware of the canyon and the I was now free to roam those acres that had once been forbidden to me. I would walk that farm and the pasture knowing that not one spot of ground was foreign to me, for at some point my mother, her siblings, my grandparents and assorted other relatives and trodden every inch of that land. It was a part of me....but what was was a part of all of us. Every Dougherty/Etier that came from the union of Ray and Grace was a part of us, and it was an amazing feeling. It was ours!

Later....Aunt Margaret began to go down hill and she could no longer live on her own. My mom and aunt brought her to Kansas and the farm lay empty. The house though checked on by other local relatives regularly could easily fall prey to anyone who knew the family situation. It was decided that the farm would be sold and the house and its contents auctioned off. When I heard this.....I cried. My husband had no idea why a piece of property could hold such emotion....especially one where I had only visited but never lived. He had no idea that the house and the farm held so much of who I am and where I came from. He didn't understand the bond I had with the house, the land and the memories. It was one of the most overwhelming feelings I had ever had to that point.

The day of the auction....we were all invited. We could bid on anything we wanted. Tim offered to take me, but I couldn't. I hadn't been there since Aunt Margaret was there....and I couldn't go back and see the house empty. I preferred to keep my memories in tact. From what I understand....many of my cousins felt the same.

After the auction....the new owners eventually raised the house (a landmark since the early 1900's) and put a new home on the land. The 160 acres were also a thing of the past as the land had been sold off in parcels. I am is just a little house on a little piece of the country. In just a short period of time....all signs of the Dougherty place were gone. I have no first hand knowledge of any of this as I have not been back since 1994. I have though talked to my cousins about the farm. Their memories, like mine are a mix of Grandpa standing in the yard and calling the cows, the dinners around the kitchen table, the summer afternoons in the yard and the knowledge that we would always have that farm......until we didn't. 

Yes....this place was special to me. It was a part of me and I have unimaginable sorrow that my own children will never know the place. It was a blessing though to have such special times with family and to be so connected with so many to a little 160 acre farm in the red dirt of Oklahoma. I wouldn't trade those memories for anything....and know a little more about me!

Hope you have a wonderful and memorable Wednesday. Happy Wednesday everyone!!!


Marni said...

Where is the check mark for "made me cry"?
Oh girl, what wonderful memeories of an amazing place you hold in your heart. What a true blessing that must be for you. Although it is no longer there in is in your heart. And that is what counts.
Oh if we all could have wonderful memories like that.....
Thank you so very much for sharing...I believe this is one of my very favorites!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I admit today's was good. I have a place similar to yours in my memory and this sort of took me there.

J'nelle said...

Cmom, I am with Marni. I cried. I can't imagine having something that is so much a part of you. You and your cousins are very lucky and I think you know that. Great blog.

Anonymous said...

This was awesome!! Kind of reminds me of my husbands family of 12 kids, he was number 9. They were raised on the farm and it also holds alot of memories for them. Their parents have been gone for a few years, but they can't seem to let the farm go, and so it sits.

I kind of got teary eyed over Anon's post. It was nice to an emotion other than what it has been in the past.

Have a fabulous day to all
Chris L.

Anonymous said...


This blog brought me home. My home in little dear Mulvane.

I miss this wide open plains and the people that I understand and know so well.



Deb Shore said...

Thank you, Lisa. Your memories match mine to a tea, although I'm a few years older than you, still too young when grandma died. I remember the dogs letting us leave the house to explore but not letting us back until grandpa called them, they terrified me! I also remember exploring ponds (and getting bit on the butt by red ants) and of course the 'hidden dinosaur cavern' and fishing hole! What great memories...

Sestaks in Texas said...

I too loved to visit the Dougherty farm, even though the dogs and huge spiders scared me to death. Mom (Rudelle, the oldest child) cautioned us about the road, the canyon, and the bull. The windmill fascinated me. I remember the bathroom too. I am old enough to remember when Dad worked with Grandpa to install the shower. It was quite the event! You've kept the memories alive, Lisa. Thank you!