I just got back from the visiting the family at My Ohio Home, where I grew up in the same house that my grandfather lived in with his grandparents. These days it’s not at all typical to have grown up in a house occupied by previous generations of your family, and even in rural areas where such a thing is more common, the locals don’t get overly sentimental about hanging on to a drafty old farmhouse just because it’s been in the family for awhile. Practical people prefer new windows and central heating, and in Ohio you see farm after farm where a brick ranch house was built next to the road sometime in the last several years, leaving behind – both literally and metaphorically – the old white frame two-story farmhouse, usually set further back among the fields and looking worse for the wear.
Like everything else in contemporary America, the landscape in the Midwest has seen some radical changes over the last few decades. It is now a sort of rural version of suburban sprawl, with randomly placed homes lining every road and the farm fields surrounding every town covered by the massive stretch of Wal-mart and all those plaza-based businesses that come along with Wal-mart, clinging to either side of it like barnacles to a whale. Rural life still has the veneer of what it must have been like for our agricultural ancestors, but it is a very, very thin veneer. Life in the country now consists of signing your life away to keep your farm afloat and planting and harvesting corn, soybeans, corn, soybeans, in an endless cycle that relates far more to producing subsidies than food. Also, going to church and/or Farm Bureau meetings (a combination of union and church for farmers), and of course, Wal-mart.
My family gave up farming a few generations ago, though we hung onto our farm, leasing our fields to a neighboring farmer so we can still watch the cycle take place, the latest in high-tech seed gadgetry being planted right outside the farmhouse’s picture window. We have a farm pond, and a back field planted in new-ish trees (one of the last projects of my grandfather before he passed away), a few old outbuildings and a pole building that substitutes for a picturesque barn. Which was torn down in a fit of practicality. Such practicality is almost a disease among Ohians. (I should start marking trips home by the number of old buildings that get torn down between visits.)
My brother has in the last few years mowed several paths among the crop of trees that are now growing into a real woods. The plan is – and it is only a plan at this point – to build a sort of structure among those trees, that will house my family during our more seasonable visits home, as by structure I mean a yurt or canvas tent on a platform. The farmhouse and the little guesthouse my parents also have are both bursting at the seams, as I have many brothers and sisters and they have many, many children. So having a version, even if a primitive one, of our own bunkhouse for visits home is looking like a good idea.
Maybe my next trip to Ohio will be spent among the fields and trees, under the stars in our family tent, and – may it be so! – completely free of a trip to Wal-mart.