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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Memories of Thanksgiving, grandparents and childhood

The lamp from the “secret farm” now enjoys a spot in Stacy Turner’s home. Photo credit: Stacy Turner

By Stacy Turner

As had often happened during visits with my mother-in-law, my husband brought up the farm in rural West Virginia where his mom had been raised.  His mom left the farm behind for city life in Columbus as soon as she was able.  She returned each year with her entire family, however, traveling the winding roads to spend Thanksgiving in West Virginia throughout my husband’s childhood.  All the while, his grandparents continued to raise sheep, hogs, dairy cows, and chickens well into their golden years.  And like any working farm worth its salt, those holiday visits didn’t stop the daily chores.  Each morning, Grandpa rose before dawn and attempted to step over grandkids, like sleeping speed bumps scattered across the floor, on his way out to the barn for the early morning milking. Rolling over to return to sleep, my husband remembered Grandpa pass by his sleeping bag like a ghost; tall and lean, holding his trusty oil lamp as a beacon on his his way to the barn. 

While my husband was in college, his grandfather passed away.  Not long after, grandma’s failing health moved her to an assisted living center, and the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimages ended.  The farm sat idle for years, long after Grandma’s passing, since none of her children continued to farm, and only one remained in the area.  The last time my husband had set eyes on the farm was when he returned for his grandmother’s funeral, early in our marriage.  Since that time, the house had been demolished and all that remained of the outbuildings were a ramshackle single-story stable and an old shed filled with creepy dolls and forgotten ephemera. 

The beauty of those rolling hills never left him, and often during visits with his mom, they’d reminisce, and talk about the old property.  At one point, one of his aunts dreamed of building an A-frame cabin there, but those plans never materialized. Since I had never visited, my husband often talked about some day packing a tent and taking a family road trip down those winding roads, but we had never found the time. 

During one visit with his mom, we didn’t realize that our kids had stopped whatever they were doing in order to hear what sounded like a juicy story to their young ears.  We didn’t find out until we had packed up and were on the highway heading home, a captive audience to their new game of 20 questions.  “What’s this ‘secret farm’ you were talking about with grandma?,” our older daughter grilled us.  “Are there horses there?,” they asked hopefully.  “Why haven’t we ever heard of this place?,” they continued accusingly. “And why haven’t we ever seen it?”  It took much of the return trip to assure them both that the farm was the place where their grandma was born, and where her parents — their great grandparents had lived.  Eventually, they were convinced it wasn’t some dark family secret we’d been hiding, but the name “secret farm” firmly stuck.

A few summers ago, during what turned out to be a record heat wave, we spent a week at the secret farm, so we could all experience this historically mysterious place firsthand.  We pitched our tent near an ancient oak tree on a hilltop overlooking a grassy hollow where many a sheep would graze in days gone by.  We shared the place with a small herd of cows owned by a neighbor that pastures them there.  Following the cow paths, we hiked all over the property that week, through woods, up and down hills, and to the small pond where, as a boy, my husband caught frogs with his cousins. 

On our last night, relentless rain made us happy to pack up and head home, leaving the secret farm in the rear view mirror like my mother-in-law had done so many years before. And while it’s no longer a family secret, my kids now have their own stories from the secret farm to mingle with their dad’s childhood memories. 

One Christmas after our visit, my mother-in-law gifted my husband with his grandpa’s oil lamp that he remembered fondly from childhood visits.  It hangs on our mantel, one of the few artifacts that remain from the now not-so-secret secret farm.

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