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What You Learn Going Back To Your Roots

August 12, 2014

P1060017Mom chatting with my sibs at our homeplace: first Mennonite, now Amish.

I was just 17 when we moved away from the farm where I grew up. Funny how things change with the perspective of a lifetime. I thought I was old, that I would always consider myself an Indiana farm girl.

MD_TrainingWheelsMe when I was about four on our farm, about the same angle as the above photo.

I couldn’t imagine living in one place longer than I had already spent my first 17 years. The farm and Indiana were part of who I was. There were holy places on the farm—thin places I would call them now—where I felt incredibly close to God and where I would talk things out with my Creator in the days of my youth—yell at God when I was mad and cry when I was happy or sad.

P1060015With the “tiny” oak tree our family planted. We all remember Dad wondering how big it would get to be. It survived a strike by lightning, see slash on the left.

I’m glad we moved off the farm but there were years when I yearned to go back to the roots which formed me—not just to visit, but to live. I think that’s because for 17 years I had lived in one place. I loved it without question or imagining it would ever change. Our family was happy (yes we had problems, but worked through them) and the farm was just part of who I was.

Then I went through a period where I changed locations or residences every year for eight years: the late teen and young adult years. While I loved the adventures, something in me missed that beauty of belonging so intimately that the land, the buildings and the trees were almost part of my DNA.

Our farm was first sold to a bachelor who later married my first cousin so of course we had a tie where we could go back, visit, walk through the old house, remember.

My cousin’s husband then sold the farm to an Amish family. We have also come to know them a bit—initiated first by my father, who would occasionally stop to chat—he loved to roll out his rusty Pennsylvania Dutch (switching to English as needed), and I think both the farmer and my Dad enjoyed those visits.

Now we encroach on this Amish family on special occasions, asking if we can visit: when my father died in 2006 and after the graveside service, the farm was where we wanted to go. More recently, on the day before my mother’s 90th birthday (covered here), the farm was where my brother and his family especially wanted to go, a sort of pilgrimage for his son, wife and their two little girls who had never been there. The rest of us were only too happy to oblige. Indeed the farm and land is a holy place for all of us where roots were put down deep and wide.P1060016Our old barn, now with Amish work horses plus those for pulling buggies.

This time I was stunned to realize this farmer had owned the land longer than Dad had ever owned it, about 28 years to Dad’s 23; he was clearly busy but he recognized us immediately and paused to chat and catch up a bit; his wife and several daughters were gone for the day working with other women making preparations for a September wedding. He had had to sell off more of the land—that was hard, he said—the home place now down to some 30 acres from the original 128 we owned, bordered on all sides by lovely modern suburban type homes on large lots. The farmer was mainly raising cows and corn from what we could see. He welcomed us to walk around as we wished, but we did not ask to go in the house. Happily we went to the barn, laced with the familiar smells but more profoundly, memories.

P1060019The bank hill at the back of our old barn.

Oh the barn. The silo now gone (the farmer said the extra yearly taxes were too much for something they were no longer using)—we walked up the barn hill which seemed so huge when we were little, now little more than a small rise. Inside it was mostly filled with hay and straw. The granary was still there, the sheep shed still attached, the bunker silo still in use, a square hole for throwing hay down to the floor beneath still gaping and dangerous for the little ones in our midst.

P1060020My sister Nancy, me, brother Terry, sister Pert.MD_Presentation004Circa 1965: Terry, me, Mom, Dad, Nancy, Pert.

But the rungs of the hay mow ladders were what reached out to me this visit: the same rungs we climbed as kids, still sturdy as you could ever want.


I put my hand snug around those rungs and felt 17 again: young and strong and ready to find my own life and love.

P1060025On the farm with daughter Tanya & grandson Sam; daughter Michelle with grandson James; Doreen; son-in-law Jon, Tanya’s husband; Mom; son-in-law Brian.

Which I did. And they were all there with me now: husband, three daughters, two sons-in-law, two grandsons, visiting my roots. How rich, how connected, how overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness I felt. There is something about the land, something about the house where you grew up that calls you back, catches you, but lets you go—happily back to your current life and chosen path, at least if you are happy in it. I no longer pine to go back to age 17 or that Indiana soil. But touching the past, we somehow feel more whole. More content perhaps, to know and remember all that has gone before: the thin places, the rough places and the high points. It helps you trust that your Creator is still with you, no matter where you land.

A rich time. Thanks always to the farmer and family who stewards the land that none of us ever really own—we just take care of it for a season.

As many ancient native proverbs go: “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

P1060014Me with our little oak tree.


What have you learned about yourself or your family when visiting places you used to live?


My favorite book teaching me to think about land differently is Great Possessions, written by Amish farmer David Kline.


From → Faith, Family Life

  1. As you may know, I am temporarily living in our mother’s home as we settle her estate. There are memories all around, but our emotions are so raw, we can’t absorb it all now. What I know for sure is that you, I and other keepers of the family flame are preserving a legacy for our own and generations to come that would otherwise slip through our fingers like sand.

    I think of the photos as anchor points for the detailed text we write. You can probably identify with the sentiment of these words: “Yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Enjoyed this post as always, Melanie.

    • I figured you were in the Pa. home area but not living at your mother’s house. Oh that would be a time of raw emotions, for sure. No matter how old, no matter how prepared, it hurts to loose a person who has been part of your whole life–who gave you life.

      Thanks for signaling this is part of “keeping the family flame.” One of my family members just called saying I had put into words some of what she was feeling after our visit to the farm. (And no sweat on Melanie. I answer to anything. I’ve had a brother-in-law who has called me that for years! He doesn’t go online. :-).

  2. Melanie, Melodie – yes, I do know which one is you. Sorry for the typo!

  3. Beautiful post. I loved this sentence: “I put my hand snug around those rungs and felt 17 again: young and strong and ready to find my own life and love.”

    • It was funny how touching that same wood and feeling it had not changed much was somehow reassuring. Solid and unchanging. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Athanasia permalink

    I am curious Melody, why were you glad to leave the farm?

  5. That is a good question–mainly because we were moving to Florida, and I thought that sounded so romantic and exciting. I had longed to be a “new girl” in school. And it was exciting–but also lonely and I was homesick much of that year. We moved to a farm in Florida too although that was such different kind of farming, it was hardly the same. We were moving to a much newer “modern” house with a fireplace and I guess I was just up for something different at the time. I touch on this experience in this post:

    and also here:

    Thanks for asking!

  6. Margaret Kauffman permalink

    I just returned to Montana after visiting in Indiana. I enjoyed such a nice visit with your mother. Your blog touched my heart. The one thing I failed to do was walk out to the barn on our homeplace. I thought of it but time got away.

  7. Mother told me about your visit–so glad you looked her up. I’m glad this blog post touched you too. There’s never enough time — and with this post I thought about the things I didn’t cover, like walking back to our old “cabin”–which is no more, but we still love to walk back there and just remember. Thanks for checking in!

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