Saturday, April 10, 2010

Farmer City

Tomorrow evening is a big deal, perhaps not as big as Joe Biden's deal, but important to us locals. Millie, with other former Nelson ladies, has worked hard to commemorate and memorialize some of her, and by derivation, our history: tomorrow evening is the Farmer City historical marker get-together.
She has spent untold hours on the phone, visiting with those near and far who know, remember, lived, or just have stories, all about the Farmer City community she grew up in. Like many other landmarks of wood or our local soft brick, the Farmer City store is no more. But, due to their tireless efforts, there is a marker in place and that means memories will be preserved for posterity.
This tenacity, this perseverance, in keeping hold of all those ties to the past is beyond price. What have we, as families, communities, or nations, if we lose our collective memory? Philosophy is a pretty slippery thing and not that solid to boot. But our loyalties to a ball team, a country school, a church, a far flung but extended family, keeps us grounded and gives us common cause.
We used to drive by a country school on our way to Tarkio. Just off hand, I'm thinking that one was Possum Walk, but I could check my work in the directory downstairs. If I remember correctly, Blake's great-grandpa taught there a while. But it has been bulldozed and there is no physical trace remaining. East of us, according to Charlie, stood Peckville, a shipping point for cattle. There is a steel bridge still, in a place one wouldn't expect one, and some indication of cattle lots, but these days the past activity at Peckville can only be imagined. There was once a big barn on the Macrander farm where we have our greenhouses now....when the house burned, lumber from the barn was used to construct the house. At least, that's what I've heard and there's no doubt the ceilings are shorter than an eight foot stud! The interior lumber is solid stuff though and circa some date much earlier than the 1970s.

When we married, the railroad tracks still crossed highway 59 between Tarkio and Fairfax. That lifeline, that connecting thread between all these little railroad towns, is nigh invisible now. Nothing remains but the domino effect of cascading centennials. Who knows the provenance of the formerly grand homes in Blanchard? How long before no one remembers the "college" in College Springs? While I remember the country store in the town I grew up in (Loebe's), the name of what could be its twin in Westboro, though 400 miles away, escapes me for now.
When the kids were all little, we had a family tradition of picnicking on Memorial Day, then making the rounds of the local cemeteries and visiting the graves of family members old, older, and oldest. From Hunter on the west to Blanchard and High Prairie on the east, with St. John's and the Grange and Tarkio Home in between, we'd take peonies or little cemetery boxes from the greenhouse. Each stop we'd gather around close to hear over the ubiquitous wind the stories associated with this or that family member. I'd work hard to keep track of various aunts, uncles, and generations. We haven't done this for a year or two and, with the new marker up north, its time we gathered up the next bunch of kids and caravaned again.
To a certain extent, this is why I take pictures. The beautiful views, the light on water, the architecture, the history: this is for pleasure and for effect. But the people, the gatherings, the ceremonies momentous and trivial: this is for today but also for tomorrow, for the times in the future when family gathers around the table, or the fireplace and says, " Yeah! That was the year....."
And, perhaps, some day, when some future family historian like Millie wants some tidbit about our lives, our business, our town, our relations, our weather, our buildings, our school, our celebrations, they'll have to struggle to unstack that closet, but it will all be in there...

1 comment:

  1. My mother used to tell us stories about our family and I didn't listen very well because I knew I could always ask Mom. Now she is gone.