There is something about love that makes sacrifice sweet. My dad understood this. He didn’t talk about it he just did it. He may have learned that from his father. My grandfather worked all his life to buy a farm. He would love to have been able to raise his children on a farm but he was never able to do that. A few years after his last child married and started a family of his own he and grandma purchased a simple farm in the rolling Ohio farmland that he loved. As far as I know they never named it. I would have. For years we have all just referred to it as “the farm.”
When finally they were able to get the farm they shared it with all of us. It was our gathering place growing up for every holiday and during summer breaks. The farm was a stable thing in a life with a great deal of change. Once when our family was recovering from a difficult experience in Oklahoma it was to the farm that we came back in the fall of the year. We lived on the farm until we got our own home a few weeks later. I rode the school bus along the winding gravel back roads to the farm gulping down the cool autumn air. There was something beautiful about seeing the bright yellow bus crawl along the hillsides among fields of ripened corn and the brilliant Maples of October.
I have so many memories there. If we had a big snow my cousins taught me how to sled off the huge hill across the road down onto the roadway, along the road for about a hundred yards, down the long drive that descended to the creek and across the small concrete bridge. I’ve never had a sled ride like it since. In the summer we imagined the corncrib was a pillbox that we had to capture from the enemy. We had a tire swing in a monster Maple at the corner of the garage. We picked berries up behind the house. We worked in the haymow and we played there in the hay sometimes even though we weren’t supposed to. We fished the pond and ran the lines early in the morning that we left out all night. On summer holidays when evening came after a day of bailing hay, we would all gather under the big maple in the yard and Uncle Bill would grill big fat burgers. We would eat them with baked beans and potato salad and gulp ice tea aunt Marlene made. She was from West Virginia that is close enough to the south that they make the tea sweet and that was an unusual treat for us. Then we would eat watermelon. Later we would chase fireflies. At night I remember lying on the front porch enjoying the cool misty night and looking up into the dark night sky at thousands upon thousands of stars. I had no idea how wonderful it was to be there then. It almost hurts to think about it.
Thinking back I realize the farm was our vacation. It was our connection with nature, growing up in the suburbs for the most part. It was our way of appreciating our family heritage. It lent for us and I think for my dad a sense of security and stability. The farm economy was about to take a hard downturn but at the time there was a little profit in it.
I learned some things there, too and most of them were good. It was there my grandfather taught me to drive the tractor and fish and bail hay and mow the pasture. He taught be to identify different kinds of trees and told me interesting stories of his growing up and his service in the Navy on Guam during World War Two. He spent more time with the other cousins because they lived closer, but I was the first-born grandson and we shared the same name.
I didn’t realize it at the time but the most valuable thing that I would ever learn from my grandfather was the art and value of storytelling. I admired him so much and you usually subconsciously imitate those you admire. He always had stories to tell. Everything reminded him of a story and he was the kind of man who just had the knack of retelling things in an interesting way and noticing things other people overlooked. Sometimes his stories surfaced in his messages. He told stories as he talked to friends at the grain elevator. He told stories to me as I listened from the fender of the tractor and of course he told stories at home in his recliner at night when all the adults would sit up late and I would listen from the grate overhead. He told stories to illustrate the points he made when he was trying to teach you things. He told stories in the dark men’s dorm on August nights at Christian Union Council in Greenfield, Ohio. Everyone would get quiet when he stared into a tale.
I’ve never inquired about the details, but when Uncle Bill and Aunt Marlene needed a place to raise the children out in the county Grandpa let them live in the farmhouse. My cousins Diane, Beth and Lisa grew up there. Of course Uncle Bill worked the farm too to help Grandpa, though I don’t think it was his real love. Grandma and Grandpa moved into a little duplex in Newark so the girls could grow up in the country and attend a small-town school.
Every night grandpa would get off work at Fiberglass in town and drive out to the farm in the evening to work and come back home late at night. On Saturday he would drive out in the morning to the farm and spend the day there. Toward evening Grandma and Grandpa would make their way back home. Grandpa would ready himself for his message Sunday morning he and grandma would drive out to the little Christian Union Church in Linnville where Grandpa was the pastor.
Eventually Uncle Bill and Aunt Marlene had their own place on the farm and Grandma and Grandpa moved back into the house. I never remember anyone talking about the sacrifice that Grandpa made and I never gave it any thought until years after the farm was sold and Grandpa was with the Lord. One day when I was back in Newark I wanted to drive past the apartment I remembered. It was on Tenth Street. When I found it I was struck with the sacrifice it must have been to exchange the quiet rural tranquility of the farm for the humble neighborhood in town where the houses where built close together. But like I said before, now that I am a dad, too I understand a little better that love really does have a way of making sacrifice sweet.
Kenneth L. Pierpont
Riverfront Character Inn International Conference Center
September 8, 2003