Bringing Home the Family Farm
MY great-grandfather's eyes were hidden behind dark glasses to shield the world from his blindness. When I knew him, he could no longer see, yet, he could peer deep inside me. Strong of mind, he spent his last years trying not to lose sight of his dream the way he lost his land - piece by piece, as the stars left the night. He dreamed of willing the farm to future generations; it was a tract of land that had once reached all the way back to Leeds Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland's Eastern Shore. During Grandpa Moaney's last years that dream was confined to one dark room in his mind. Poor health had forced him to sell most of the land that comprised the family farm - a parcel that began with two acres which his cousin, an ex-slave, brought outright during Reconstruction. The Freedmen's Bureau had been slow delivering on its promise to grant ex-slaves 40 acres and a mule. So, my ancestors paid for the land that came to symbolize their freedom. Over the years, my great-grandfather and his cousin added to the original two acres until the farm spanned 65 acres.Skip to next paragraph
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During the farm's heyday, my great-grandfather grew wheat, corn, and tomatoes for market, and raised cows, hogs, chickens, and ducks. He also had a small garden which put food on the table. In the fall, he slaughtered hogs, cured ham, and seasoned sausage. Three generations of my family had lived off the land.
I missed all that by at least a decade. In 1954, after his wife died, Grandpa Moaney decided to scale back production. He was 80 years old and his grown sons had all moved to the city. He could no longer maintain the farm. So, he reluctantly sold 50 acres to a prominent white landowner. In 1956 - the year I was born, he sold 13 more acres to the same man. The land was just about gone: reduced to the two acres where the house and outbuildings stood.
For years, I assumed that those two acres were all there ever was of the family farm. My father, who spent his early years in the country and attended the one-room school house down the road from the farm, took me to the homeplace a few Saturdays each season. As each season gave way to the next, I witnessed the old ways bow to progress. I saw the pump replaced with indoor plumbing, the wood stove with a gas one, and the outhouse with an indoor toilet. And I saw weeds thriving where a victory garden had once grown. Grandpa Moaney's death in 1964 marked the end of an era.
Or so his progeny thought.
As a boy, my father had announced to his grandfather that he would one day run the farm. As my father neared his 50th birthday, he decided to make good on his promise. With a goal of planting a garden, he approached the wealthy white man who had bought the land from his grandfather, proposing to buy some of it back. As if the land were never meant to leave my family's possession, the man, now ailing himself, confessed that he felt guilty about paying my great-grandfather so little for the property. He offered to sell it back at cost.
So, in 1972, my father brought a dozen acres back into the family.