Sue’s mother has lived in her Civil War era farmhouse since 1942. About to celebrate her 93rd birthday, Bee is bright and interested and still calls to brag when the first tomato appears in her garden, or when she counts an unusually large number of turkeys out in the field. The farmhouse has a 5-acre yard, ten acres of woodlot, another five in fence rows and creek bank, and 20 acres of prime southeast Michigan farmland. Although it may not be considered the most aesthetically beautiful plot of land, it is relatively well drained, with soils ranging from sandy loam to loamy clay and it has been highly productive in terms of cropland year-in and year-out.
Bee has lived through a lot during her life on this land. She watched a world war unfold, welcoming her husband Bill back from combat in the artillery division of the Army – after he won two Bronze Stars in the process. She and Bill raised their daughter Sue in this house; raising cows, crops and dogs, even while Bill traveled around the country in order to make enough money from construction jobs to keep food on the table.
The war ended and the back 10 acres were converted to pasture for the cattle. At one point, Bill planted a stand of pine trees with the intention of selling Christmas trees at a discount for those who didn’t have much money. Some of those trees are still growing today.
Bee got very involved in politics, initially working for the Republican Party. Her collection of political buttons is a fascinating mix of history: Women make Policy, Not Coffee; Au H2O for President; Ed Brooke for VP; Nixon’s the One! Bee Lackey, Chair, Van Buren County GOP; A Woman’s Place is in the House, and the Senate; Bush Quayle ’88; Read My Lips! Buchanan ’92; Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican; Pachyderm Power; IKE; Perot for President ’92; Alternate ’76 RNC, Kansas City, MO; Now More than Ever – Nixon; and many more.
She has outlived her husband and most of her friends. Through it all, she has watched the land, and been renewed by it. It has been farmed since she moved in, and every year the crop comes in – sometimes beans, sometimes corn, occasionally barley or wheat. A bomb was dropped in Japan and that fall the crop came in; a President resigned and that fall the crop came in; a man walked on the moon and that fall the crop came in; a President was assassinated, another war started, a wall fell, the stock market crashed; tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes occurred, and every year the crop came in. In enduring tribute to the American farmer and to the land itself, every spring there was a planting and every fall there was a harvest.
The woods endured as well. Drain tiles failed in the field and the woods got wetter, but while some walnut trees died from the wetness, hickories rose to take their place. The deer herd thrived along with the turkeys, oblivious to events around the world.
When Sue and I go out for a weekend, we love to visit with Bee – to talk about politics, people, wildlife and the weather – but we also go to walk through the woods and fields and take another mental snapshot of the enduring qualities of the land. In a world that is ever-changing and turbulent, there is something calming and reassuring about the enduring cycle of birth and renewal that you can experience from the land. We come away having renewed the one piece of rock-solid knowledge that is deeply ingrained in Bee’s understanding of the world, and that we can all take refuge in during uncertain times.
The crop will come in.