Thursday, February 28, 2008

George Herbert (The Country Parson)

Yesterday, the Anglican Church commemorated George Herbert. I have been meaning to post on Herbert since I started this weblog, because he is a great example of an early Christian Agrarian. Thanks to the Ohio Anglican blog for reminding me, though it is a day late. His day on the Lutheran Calendar is March 1, so we can have a second chance to remember this exemplary Christian pastor.

Rather than try to create a biography of him , I would refer the reader to this one, or this one. Suffice to say, he was a Country Parson by choice, and loved his flock of country people. Here are a few gems of his wisdom

Be useful where thou livest

One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters

By no means run in debt: take thine own measure.
Who cannot live on twenty pound a year,
Cannot on forty.

Here is one of my favorite Herbert Stories, taken from Isaac Waltons biography of him, written in the mid 1600’s.

In another walk to Salisbury he saw a poor man with a poorer horse, that was fallen under his load: they were both in distress, and needed present help; which Mr. Herbert perceiving, put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload, and after to load, his horse. The poor man blessed him for it, and he blessed the poor man; and was so like the good Samaritan, that he gave him money to refresh both himself and his horse; and told him, “That if he loved himself he should be merciful to his beast.” Thus he left the poor man: and at his coming to his musical friends at Salisbury, they began to wonder that Mr. George Herbert, which used to be so trim and clean, came into that company so soiled and discomposed: but he told them the occasion. And when one of the company told him “He had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment,” his answer was, “That the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight; and that the omission of it would have upbraided and made discord in his conscience, whensoever he should pass by that place: for if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practise what I pray for. And though I do not wish for the like occasion every day, yet let me tell you, I would not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul, or showing mercy; and I praise God for this occasion. And now let’s tune our instruments.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

210 Years of Church Hopping

One of my daily pleasures is listening to Issues, etc, with Rev. Todd Wilken (Talk Radio for the Thinking Christian. Recently they did a show on the new Pew Survey of American Religion, and the results of this survey are making the rounds on many Internet sites. Rev. Wilken and many other intelligent analysts are somewhat shocked by the mutability of Americans religious preferences. I am not too shocked, coming from a long line of Church hoppers.

One of the benefits of having a family stay in one community for 210 years is a lot of family history is pretty much lying around. Here is the extent of the story I know. I do not know to what extent it reflects the typical American experience, as Pennsylvania has always been haven to a wide variety of religious groups.

In 1797, the first ancestor of my name came here. He had been a Lutheran in eastern Pa, but there was no church of any sort for another year. When a church was built, it was Presbyterian. He never joined. His kids either married Presbyterians, or caught Methodist fever in the 1830's. Another ancestor, contemporary to him, founded one of the local Presbyterian churches. According to one published story, he was expelled for drinking and founded a second Church, where I was baptized 164 years later. Another published story was that he left Presbyterian Church "A" and founded Church "B" because he was incensed with the introduction of hymns, and had been a strict advocate of only psalmody. I do not know whether he was a fanatic or a drunk.

The first ancestor of mine who owned our farm, left Ballycreely, County Down in northern Ireland a Presbyterian. His son became a Baptist, that whole branch of the family is buried in a Baptist cemetery at the other end of the Township. I have no idea why.

90 years ago my grandparents were married in the Episcopal Church of the town Grandma grew up in (About 18 miles away). Her Father had been a Lutheran who married into the Episcopal Church. When Grandma moved out here to the farm, she joined the closest Church-the Presbyterian one founded by my fanatic or hard drinking greatX6 Grandpa.

Exercising religious preference has not really been a choice for many rural Americans through much of our history. It is luxury that comes with mobility. My ancestors have faced 210 years of either lonely denominational integrity, Do it yourself religion (founding churches) or switching churches for geography (or even perhaps plain cussedness). It is a story much older than the Pew survey last week.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Agrarian Quote of the Day

In the last analysis, provincialism is your belief in yourself, in your neighborhood, in your reality. It is patriotism without belligerence"

Richard Weaver

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Agrarian child rearing: lessons from my grandfather

Yankee agrarian Walter Jeffries and my wife recently had a nice discussion about Walter’s son growing into becoming a woodcutter. This got me thinking about raising kids on the homestead. I thought I would offer a few posts for those who are raising children on a homestead or small farm, but who grew up themselves under other circumstances. I am blessed in having several generations of wisdom beyond my own, starting with my paternal grandfather.

I never knew him. He died in the living room of the house we now live in. One Fall day, he went out to get the mail; came back in; gently teased my grandma that a check they were waiting for had not arrived (It had) laughed; and died. Incidentally, my Great Grandfather died in the same room. According to my father's oldest brother, they went out one spring day to plant potatoes, he felt tired, came in, laid down on the davenport, and died peacefully.

At family reunions, my older cousins and aunts often compare me to Grandpa, and I take it as a compliment. He was born in the 1880s. He never owned a car and farmed with horses and mules. He was known for his sense of humor, and physical strength. He did have the common rural failing of excessive gossip. His first wife died in 1902, leaving him one young son. He married my grandmother in 1917, and they had five more children, the last of whom died as an infant. My grandparents were poor their entire lives. There was always too much hard work. It was a stretch for my father to graduate high school. However, all of their children had memories of a happy childhood. In fact, some of the cousins used our farm as a place to escape relief from various forms of abuse in their own homes, so there was always a passel of kids around.

At that time and place, the amount of hard work to be done brought a constant temptation to extract all of the work possible out of children. I still talk to old people who remember with resentment hours of mucking stalls, hoeing gardens, chopping wood, and carrying water. Some Children were worked from dawn to dusk at tasks that are hard for adults. Many of these children grew up and left the farm at the first possible opportunity. Even if they stayed, they harbor resentment to this day.

My father said that grandpa always gave kids chores, but he was very careful to ensure that those chores would not take the entire day (Especially if not a school day). He would also make sure that the task was appropriate to the age and ability of the child. When Dad was very young, his primary chore was to split wood to start the cookstove. When that was done, the day was his to fish or swim the crick or play. However, that chore had to be done. Once when he forgot, grandpa got him up in the middle of the night, and dad split wood by a lantern while grandpa watched. There was no other punishment; just a realization that it was my dad’s responsibility to ensure the family had wood to cook. Dad said he never forgot again.

When dad grew older, his responsibilities grew. He helped muck the horse stalls, make hay, milk and shock corn. However, he still had time of his own. He spent a lot of time hunting with his two brothers. Grandma canned rabbits and squirrels, so this recreation still contributed to the household economy. From the time Dad was ten, he could wander about with a 22 and shoot groundhogs. I understand my grandfather once had words with one of his in-laws about this. The in-law came to hunt groundhogs and was offended my grandfather would allow a ten year old to wander armed and unsupervised. The short conclusion to this is that the in-law left and Dad kept hunting.

Dad did misuse his firearms twice. When he was ten, his older brothers tricked him into shooting the mailbox (Which was full of mail). They kept picking him targets and saying he could hit them. He would shoot them to prove he could. The mailbox was the last taunt, and by that point, dad was pretty much in the spirit of the thing, and not thinking about what the target was. He drilled the mailbox clean through. I do not remember what punishment might have been doled out. When he was fourteen, he shot a hole in the upstairs ceiling with a sixteen-gauge shotgun. He had been left alone all night for the first time, while the rest of the family went visiting. He got up in the middle of the night and thought he better check out the house for burglars. He bumped the closet door, got scared and fired into the ceiling. Grandpa replaced the damaged plaster with a board upon which he had painted a bull’s-eye target. The board remained visible until the house was remodeled in the 1970s. I found it in 1999, when we remodeled again. The board was a pretty unforgettable reminder about the misuse of firearms, placed there by a man who carried a gun nearly every day of his life (Many of the old time farmers around here carried 32 H&R pocket revolvers. They were peaceable, but realists). Thanks to that target in the ceiling, my father never had another negligent firearm discharge for the remainder of his life.

Grandpa also left enough time for Dad to make a little money working for someone else or himself. In summers, dad worked for a nearby truck farmer, or raised a small patch of his own sweet corn to sell. In winters, he hunted and trapped muskrats, skunks, possum and coon. The money from furs bought his school clothes. Dad once told me the skunks stank, but the money never did.

There were limits to permissible off-farm work. At that time, our area was dotted with small coal mines. Our family had a small mine (called a coal bank) that provided winter work for men, and coal to sell. There were some larger mines nearby. Dad was not allowed to work in the larger mines. When he was sixteen, he secretly got a Saturday job at a pit nearby. After the first day, he didn’t clean his fingernails well enough and Grandpa knew where he had been. He was made to quit. Grandpa said he had cut enough coal for the both of them.

Grandpa was very much a man out of step with his time. Neighboring farmers were beginning to buy tractors and gear up for larger scale commercial farming. This often required pushing family labor resources. Grandpa’s farm was primarily to feed the family, and sell enough products to pay the taxes. As far as I can determine, He never got beyond two horses, a mule, six cows, 200 chickens, and a few hogs. He had a pear orchard, and did some truck farming. He still often had to work off-farm, laboring in local mines, on other farms, and doing carpentry work. However, my family ate very well throughout the great depression. There were always milk, eggs, vegetables, and meat.

I think there are still some lessons here. Children are not a free farm labor force. Chores impart responsibility, but there is a limit. Kids will often own up to responsibility if they understand that. The intimate connection between hard work and good food can be a happy one. Due to grandpa’s influence, many of his progeny are still raising chickens and vegetables. Few became rich, but all are small property owners, and many are very good gardeners. Country life also gives kids a chance for freedom and responsibility that town living does not. If they misuse this responsibility, the punishment should teach them the consequences. Allowing kids to make their own money is important to create independent adults. Dad had his own corn patch to make money, and also learned about working for others. I am sure that grandpa could have increased the family fortune by regulating this energy to the home farm, but he chose not to. The children who grow up in this household remember some hard times, but they also remember a lot of happiness and love.

Friday, February 15, 2008

tied down

Last night, an extended family member remarked about our cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits, dogs and cats, that they certainly tied us down. I have heard this more times than I care to remember. The remark always troubled me, until tonight. I never minded being "tied down", as one of my callings is to be a stockman. The daily routine vaires with the seasons, this time of year,each morning I do the following.
Open the barn door, and let out the cows. Each girl gets her grain. While they eat the grain I cut open a bale of hay. I refill the waterer. Feed and water the buck sheep, who stays in his bachelor Pen. Grain, water and hay the ewes (Called "yoes" in the local tongue) Let the heavy breed chickens, bantams and ducks out of their pen.
Thaw out the rabbit bottles, and feed the rabbits. Feed the dogs, and let them run a bit. Check the cat food. Each evening it is a similar routine, though everyone gets penned for the night.

On the rare occasions we go away for more than the day, I fret like a new mother leaving her child with a babysitter for the first time. Many adults expect to come and go as they please. Even a dog is avoided to avoid being "tied down". For many men my age, the their money makes it possible to ditch the bride of their youth (Who is now tying them down,) and find a newer model. Why are so many "adults" afraid of "being tied down"? At one time, adulthood was marked by responsibilities and a willingness to stand up to them. Our livestock ties me to this particular place on the planet, my family living and dead, my lovely wife, and the creatures themselves. The next time someone remarks about animals tying us down, I will reply, "I certainly hope so."

Agrarian quote of the day

It has always given me wonder why ninety percent of the people choose to live in ten percent of America's landscape, subjecting themselves to the insidious debasemnt of overcrowding. Out there between cities in mountains and prairies, are still hundreds of thousands of empty acres of adventure and health and meaningful living.

Eric Sloane

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why The midland Agrarian?

Cultural geographers and students of dilalect call the great area of the Ohio valley, upper South and lower Midwest the midlands of the US. There have been many great southern agrarians, like Thomas Jefferson,Richard Weaver,and Wendell Berry. There were some great Northern Agrarians like Russell Kirk and Eric Sloane. The great middle area sometimes get overlooked (though we do have Louis Bromfield, Conrad Richter, and Gene Logsdon). I thought it would be fun to blog about some of my agrarian interests and life---besides, granny miller didn't want me hacking into her blog anymore.