Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Perpetuity

I don't know how long forever is, but I know it is longer than my lifetime, or my children's lifetimes, or their children's lifetimes. Forever is how long descendants of Staeblers and Goodells will be able to visit the Michigan farm that has been in my family for 98 years and counting.

Last week I left my not-so-big house and my not-so-big garden and my singular life with my cat, and went to a gathering on the many-acred ancestral home with some 140 people who share my bloodline or are related by love to those who do. The occasion was the celebration of my father's brother's 100th birthday. In attendance with Uncle Donald were my 94-year-old mother and my 92-year-old aunt--the three remaining children and their spouses of my grandparents, Ella Louisa Lucretia Goodell and Albert John Staebler. Joining me were my two sisters and all seven of our first cousins; along with a multitude of spouses, children, and grandchildren and various and sundry leaves on other branches of the family tree. 100 years separated the oldest and youngest in attendance. If I ever felt--and I have--that my family consisted only of the thirteen descendants and partners of my parents, I have been blessed with the realization that I belong to a much larger clan. Forever. In perpetuity.

My Uncle Donald gave the clan a gift without price. It was given a dozen years ago, but it is a forever gift. Rather than lose the place on the mid-west map where all of the family have spent precious time over the decades and about which we have heard hundreds of stories, he assured its perpetuity by selling the farm--its land and buildings and the stuff of their lives (he is a lifelong packrat)--to Washtenaw County at a less-than-premium price. The other farms that dotted Plymouth Road during my childhood, have been sold to developers who raped the corn and hay fields, razed the buildings that supported the farms and large families of the past, subdivided the acres, and replaced it all with out-of-place brick mansions with huge lawns to house the small families of the 21st century. But the Crick-'n-the-Back Farm will remain as an historical site and a demonstration farm, with community gardens and a museum of the clever implements that were used in the last century to support family and livelihood. The restored big red barn, the silo, the pig and horse barns, the milk house, the tractor shed, and hopefully the farm house will all remain for future generations of our family, and be shared with all who come. In perpetuity.

The farm and its original family of eight represent a microcosm of American cultural history from the turn of the century. The first children were born at home, the later ones in the hospital. They ran a self-sustaining farm--the boys working outside, and the girls in the house, because that's how it was then. All six children graduated from college, an amazing accomplishment. They experienced the second world war as soldiers, an overseas nurse, supporters of the war effort at home...and a pacifist--perhaps a family emotionally divided by political differences, though that is a story I do not know because they are also a family that doesn't talk about what they consider hard or unpleasant stuff. The extended family not overseas during the war lived, at least for a time, together on the farm; keeping it running by day and huddling around the radio for war news by night. My aunt Helen experienced the death of a spouse at an early age, followed by discrimination when she was turned down for nursing school by the major Michigan universities because she had been married. They held onto the farm through the great depression, eventually having to reinvent the farm from dairy to beef cattle in order to keep it alive. The farm still supported cattle and crops when an interstate was cut through the back fields of land farmed by my still-living uncle and his family before the advent of the automobile. They saw the post-war migration of grown children to points around the country and moved with the fast-moving times into the age of electricity, the space age, and the technology age. Though Ella and Albert and the five of six children who married all celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries, descendants have married for life--the first about to reach the 50-year mark; divorced and remarried, or not; been open, or not, about being gay; had children, or not, some raising them alone and some blending families; and eschewed racial barriers in marriage and adoption.

Though the Staebler name through the direct descendants of Ella and Albert, at least via the culturally established path of the male line, will die with my first born cousin, the family--and the family farm--will remain. ...

... In perpetuity. And I remain proud to be Gretchen Helen Staebler, a member of an amazing family.

Value of prime location land between Ann Arbor and Detroit? Millions. Value of an ancestral home and a vanished way of life preserved for all time? Priceless. Thank you, Uncle Donald, for your determination, foresight, creativity, and love of family. Your life and that of your parents and your siblings--Lloyd, Helen, George, Ruth, and Melvyn--will remain in the hearts of your family forever.


Church Lady Chronic-ails said...

Such interesting history! and what a relief to know that it will be here in the form of the farm for many generations to come!

Charly On Life said...

Love the family history. I remember the Burma Shave signs as we'd drive in an old green Pontiac from CA to OH. How fascinating the family Crick-n-the-Back farm will remain open to others... How gracious and important.