How Sixty Acres and a Privy Build Strong Character

Kerri - Beecher, Illinois
Entered on May 4, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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How I hated camping on our land as a kid! My Mother owns, through inheritance, a farm that has not been used as a farm since the early fifties. Later, when I was a kid in the sixties and seventies, the homestead consisted of a one-room cabin, a barn and sixty acres in the process of being reclaimed by nature. There was no electricity and no running water. And for weeks at a time during the summer, our big long station wagon was packed with adults, kids, the dog and whatever we could fit into the cargo back, on the floors, and on the roof. When my sister and I were older, we would smuggle contraband, such as our trendiest clothes, make-up or specially purchased butane curling irons. Now we laugh and ask each other where the heck did we think we were going? Since my Dad wouldn’t purchase the box for the roof from a store, our roof carrier was made from plywood and painted green to match the station wagon. The stuffed car would leave the city in the wee hours of the morning with us youngsters sleeping on the back seat, the floor (the hump in the middle was always difficult to negotiate) or in the back. Seatbelts were not required in this era. Returning to the city occurred during the day, complete with the over-flowing car, green box and messy irritable kids who hadn’t bathed properly. As teenagers, the return to our neighborhood was accompanied by prayers that no one we knew would see us. The longer my Dad’s vacations became, the longer we would stay. Originally, five of us (including my Grandma when she was alive) occupied the 12 X 18 cabin. After my brother was born, we were introduced to more modern accommodations in the form of a used pop-up camper.

My mental process during our stays went like this: At first I would be miserable, trapped in these rustic surroundings with NOTHING to do. There was no TV with no electricity (well, back then anyway) nor any of the things we did at home with friends. I had only my sister and brother for companions. So, what did I do about this injustice? I use the word injustice because, believe me, I thought these “vacations” were cruel and unusual punishment. The intention of my parents was not to be cruel. After working hard all year they were relaxing and connecting to the land by getting in touch with the basic necessities of life. I was not yet aware of my own connection with nature and, not given any choice in the matter, I endured. Enough trips to the outhouse at night, and I was no longer afraid of the dark woods. Becoming old enough to care whether I smelled or not (before that it was because Mom made us), and I learned to bathe, using small amounts of water, because it had to be heated on the wood stove. My biggest achievement was conquering the well water by washing in the water that came out somewhere around forty five degrees. Not only did I learn to endure, but I learned to overcome. Eventually I would grow tired of pouting and look for something to do. My siblings and I took walks in the woods, built tree houses, played catch, picked flowers, and sorted through piles of stones looking for pretty ones. We invented our own games. And I can say that now we all believe in the ability of Nature to sustain us and in Her power to reach into a soul. In the evenings, we built campfires, played games, read books or drew pictures. We discovered how to entertain ourselves. There were some good lessons for life in all of this, not the least of which is that putting up with a little discomfort will eventually pass. Or how all of the material things that were left back home were not at all necessary to be happy. We had wonderful times being together with family, using our imaginations and exploring the world around us.

I am writing this now because ever since I can remember my parents have wanted to live on their land. Now retired, they are building a modern house and moving full time to where they have always wanted to be. While I cannot be happier for them, the essential way of life I learned on the land will be gone forever. It is gone for my kids, nieces and nephews. I cannot expect my parents to spend their golden years chopping wood to keep from freezing over the winter or to bathe in ice cold well water. Wait! Isn’t there sixty acres? Could we re-institute those pioneer ways on a new homestead away from the luxurious accommodations of a three bedroom ranch house with indoor plumbing?