Settling in Virginia

IMG_20130508_171332_212 In the last post I said I didn’t come from a farming family. Well, that’s not entirely true, but you have to go back a few generations. My great, great grandfather, Papa Collins, had a 100+ acre farm kind of across the street from our farm. I may have met him when I was a young kid, but if so, I don’t have any memories of him. Luckily though, my cousin who remembers him is still around to tell us stories about her grandfather. He grew wheat on the land and always kept a few pigs. He worked the land with horses and refused to have electricity run to his house when it finally came to the county. Every year for Christmas his kids and anyone in the family would get a sack of wheat and a share of the pork. He used to say that no Collins would ever starve as long as he had the farm.

Unfortunately, none of his kids took to farming and the farm was sold to a timber company. My grandfather was one of his grandsons. He always loved his grandfather and coming to the farm. I think he wished he could have gotten the farm back. Instead, he worked hard to buy a piece of property across the street from his grandfather’s old place. The property was mostly wooded, but he cleared a space to begin building a cabin and another space for a large garden. He and my grandmother lived in Charlottesville, but came down as much as they could to tend the garden and work on building the cabin. They hoped to retire there some day.

I have lots of childhood memories of coming “down to the country” with my grandparents. We would help Poppop load firewood he’d cut onto his truck. Forage for blackberries with Lulu. Help with the digging of potatoes. Watch Poppop run the tractor in the garden. Go down to the spring and dip a ladle into the cool, delicious water. And eat Vienna sausages – they kept a stash in the cabin basement.

Poppop and Lulu didn’t live long enough to see their dreams of retiring to the country come to life. Illness slowed them down and kept them away from the property. And they both died some years ago. Eventually nature began to reclaim the land. Pine trees grew up where the garden once was and critters of many kinds moved into the unfinished cabin. But the land never stopped calling to me.

When Poppop finally passed on, I asked my mom if I could have the land and we began planning our move. The cabin was not suitable for living, so we considered our options of living in Charlottesville till we could build a house or buying another property nearby. As it happened, an adjacent property went up for sale with a house, in our price range. And so here we are. It is not ideal farmland. The property we bought is mostly loblolly pine with about 1 cleared acre that is so striped of topsoil that most of it is just bare clay with little life and no earthworms. Poppop’s property is full of beautiful hardwoods, but the cabin and the former garden area need a lot of work to bring them back to life.

Still, we are slowly but surely rehabilitating this land that we have. Every year it looks more alive and vibrant. When I walk through the woods, I often think of Poppop and Papa Collins and wonder what they would think. I hope they would be happy that one of their own is trying to give life to this land that they loved and to live out their dreams of farming that skipped a few generations. My cousin passed down Papa Collins’ pitchfork to me. His initials are carved into the handle which must be over a hundred years old. It is the best tool on this farm and I use it nearly every day. She also passed down his horse drawn plow, which we once hitched up to our riding lawn mower to try to break some new ground, but that’s a story for another day…pitchfork

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