Lately I’ve been browsing a book called History of Decatur County: It’s People, Industries and Institutions, a 1200-page tome written by Lewis Albert Harding in 1915. Among the township histories, I found a wonderful tidbit about my ancestor:
“Patrick Ewing came from Kentucky in the year 1826, settling on the land adjoining Mr. Douglass. He built a rude log hut, and in the yard there grew a small sprout about the size of a riding whip. He spared it, and it grew to a great tree of four feet in diameter. Under its boughs he reared a family of fifteen children.”
Right now there is some discussion about what should be done with the little house that sits on the site of the original Ewing homestead. It has been used as a rental property for many years, and as is typical with rentals, it has been poorly maintained and would require a sizable investment just to make it habitable. The last tenant did a pretty heinous job on it. Fixing it up just enough to make it liveable will bring an easy monthly income, but I am vehemently opposed to the idea because it means there will still be an awkward slum on this otherwise beautiful farm.
There has been some talk of demolishing the house. The first time I walked through it after the last tenant moved out, I was horrified, and actually said the words “Tear it down” as I ran to the door for fresh air. It was an emotional response, though, based on the fact that I couldn’t believe how slovenly a person could be.
But, after I had a few days to calm down, I walked back in there with a bucket of cleaning supplies, a dust mask, and an open mind, and underneath all the dog hair and cigarette ash and carpet soaked with who-knows-what, I found some decent hardwood floors. And under 8 years of dust, grime, and the kind of cobwebs usually reserved for haunted houses, I discovered a little bit of original woodwork.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s no architectural gem. But, as I mentioned (repeatedly) in my last post, I do think it makes more sense to work with what we have than to tear it down and start again.
Ever since I found the story about Patrick Ewing and his little sprout, I’ve seen plenty of potential in the little house. My ancestors started with absolutely nothing, and they carved out a homestead on this piece of land. They weren’t after quick profits; they were building a self-sufficient life here, and they were able to create something with their bare hands that has supported my family for six generations.
That silly-looking house is our little sprout. We can tear it down; we can maintain its sluminess; or we can nurture it and dream it into something better.
My dreamy ideas have been all over the place: an artist’s retreat, a fiber arts workshop, a summer camp for at-risk teens, a home for a local veteran getting started in agriculture through the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. Almost every day, I have some new, overly ambitious brainstorm.
But my favorite idea so far is the simplest and most logical one: to re-purpose the house as a farm store where we can sell the things we grow and make on this land. In the beginning, this would consist of farm-fresh eggs, fruits, veggies, herbs, cut flowers, ornamental plants, and potted succulents, but would hopefully grow to include hand-spun yarn and handcrafted items made of our yarn, and, someday, maybe even apples and cider and maple syrup and homemade soap and ohmygoodness farmstead CHEESE.
We’re not selling baby lamb meat, though, ever, and I don’t care how much money is in that market. My lambs will be my little buddies, and we will not be eating them.
It’s overwhelming at times that this could be my life. A year ago I was spending my days in a series of hospital rooms, hopelessly holding on to an ill-fated relationship with a man too traumatized by life and loss to love. Now I’m living out in the country, reading The Contrary Farmer, teaching myself to build fences and trying to figure out how to transport horse poo from the barn lot over to my garden.
Life is so uncertain. Things can change in a heartbeat. I can’t control my future any more than I can change my past, but I can dare to step optimistically into it. I’m trying to think like Patrick Ewing, who saw in this land an opportunity to grow something beautiful. More than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life, I’d like to make this place beautiful once again.