The September afternoon my father and uncles first met the farm buyer, my mother kindly distracted me with a visit to the local art museum for a traveling Georgia O’Keefe exhibit. The Hyde Collection showcases European and American works of art and antiques without much of a consistent thread beyond the curatorial eye of the former purveyor. Though my mother’s invitation was well intentioned, looking at the framed relics separated from their makers by centuries and continents brought a wistful reservation. Soon my own family’s history would be scattered, much like the works lining the walls.
It wasn’t until the equipment went up for auction this spring that my apprehension leaned into a reality. Other farmers came to look over the equipment, eying what would fit on their own farms. Though most of my uncles and their family’s had already moved away from Goodman Road, the farm property had gone mostly unchanged over the winter months. But the auction brought a new finality. Seeing the equipment out on display meant no more summers watching the tractors till and turn the soil, my uncles waving from the cab as I passed them on the road. Memories like this, I feared, would soon fade away for good. In a sense, many already had.
As in any collection, a few signature pieces stand out. For weeks, my dad had been talking about an old International 966 that was among the rest of the tractors up for sale at the auction. It was the last piece of equipment his father had bought new before his sudden death on the farm shook the family. Dad eyed it, considered buying it before the sales, realizing in the end that he did not have much use for it. On the day of the auction, my father hung back, entertaining his friends with a few beers in the garage rather than be at the center of the sales. Except for when the 966 came up. He stood among the crowd intently following the auctioneer. A friend offered to bid on his behalf, but of course my father shook his head. Pragmatism outweighed the nostalgia, and the old International rolled away to make room for next item up for bid.
I am my father’s daughter, at times to my poor mother’s chagrin. I had wanted to preserve all of our history in protected space and time like the walls that surrounded the portraits in the Hyde. My dad lost something important to him that day when the 966 pulled away. But the old tractor would have sat idle without much use in my parent’s front yard. Rather than rust, it’s alive and well and working the land on another farm not too far away.
Something else stood out as visitors descended on the farm leading up to auction day. The older farmers who were sifting through the equipment and tools shared a distinct and common limp. It was a stiff shuffle acquired from too many days kneeling to milk and not enough set aside to rest. One would be hard pressed to find a dairy farmer whose joints were loose enough to play hide and seek with his grandchildren. With the weight of the family farm and the burden of history lifted from the backs of my uncles and father, there was still life in their years for their bodies to recover. More memories to be made, even if the old ones slipped away.
Museums exist to share the world’s beauty and its history, not to confine an artist’s work or one person’s story to a single place and time. And even a collection of great works, like O’Keefe’s, doesn’t stay in one place for too long. The best we can hope for is that the relics of the past can bring new life and inspiration to the present, whether through canvas and oil paints or Internationals and soil.
As for the hops, we are making due without much mechanized equipment at this point. A good friend from Middlebury, John Derrick, gifted his apple picking ladder that makes it to the top of poles, though a bit shaky. And boy, are the hops growing like crazy. But more to come on that soon.
**A shout out to Chris Czarnecki for an enlightening conversation on fading affect bias (yeah. That’s the wikipedia link).