Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Forty-three years ago, my parents bought a 160-acre property in rural northern California. It was what would be known today as a "hobby farm". We moved there when I was two, and I grew up there. At the time we called it a ranch, though in retrospect I know it doesn't qualify due to its size. We grew alfalfa, grain, pasture grass, and over the years raised beef, dairy cows, chickens, pigs, kept bees and extracted honey (if you've never extracted honey, I highly recommend it!), had dozens of barn cats, two fox terriers, and had a couple of horses around for general purposes.

The house was nothing to write home about...built by the original owners in the 1940's, it has always been obvious that many corners were cut. Insulation was apparently deemed an unnecessary luxury, and the plumbing and wood stove flue/chimney would often set my Dad reciting a string of expletives that I've yet to master (think "A Christmas Story" and the boiler in the basement, and you'll get the idea). By the time we moved to the property, two of the six kids were already grown and gone, which made the three-bedroom, one-bath setup a bit more bearable...only six people to accommodate!

Our view out the front window was of Mt. Shasta. 14,162 feet of wondrous Cascade volcano. No matter where life and travels take me, I always get a special feeling when I round a corner on the highway and see that mountain come into view...I'm instantly home.

At some point along the way--I don't remember the exact year--Dad and Mom sold half of the property, leaving them with a more manageable 80 acres. When one of my four brothers returned from college with his degree in field agronomy and became engaged, they sold half of the 80 to him and his new wife.

I learned about responsibility and work ethic on this property. My Dad worked full time as an appraiser for the county before retiring in 1982. Watching him work a full time job, and then work a second full time job irrigating, haying, calving, feeding, milking cows, etc. gave me an appreciation for doing what needs to be done.  The rewards were tangible, and the most basic of farm chores stay with me today in the form of fond memories.  To this day, one of my favorites is getting up with Dad around 4:00 - 4:30 a.m., climbing on the tractor with the baler in tow, and baling hay for a few hours while watching the sun come up over the mountains that rim the Shasta Valley.  The smells, sights, and sounds of that experience will be with me forever.  It was heaven on earth.

And now, the time has come for a new chapter for this beautiful piece of property.  Since Dad passed away in 1984 (having only two years of retirement to enjoy his beloved ranch), Mom has stayed, feeding calves and thawing the water trough in the winter, hauling wood for the wood stove, working in the yard.  She's 85 now with macular degeneration, and none of those things are nearly as manageable for her as they once were.  After much deliberation on her part, she came to the realization it was time for a change.  Which explains my absence for the past couple of weeks.  I've been down helping her sort through nearly 44 years of memories, paperwork, and STUFF.  And, for the first time in 60 years she now lives back in town, out of view of her mountains. To say it's a big change for her would be an enormous understatement.

As I lifted the last box and prepared to leave the house on Saturday, I stood in the kitchen and replayed my own decades of memories.  The huge family dinners; the nights when my parents would have their friends over to play cards; game nights with Dad, Mom, and my brother; quiet Sunday afternoons with a book in front of the fireplace.  I feel blessed that the vast majority of memories were filled with lots of laughter and contentment.  My parents provided me with a wonderful home life and childhood, and I will be forever grateful.

And now, while one book closes, another begins.  My brother's son has purchased the ranch from Mom, and will relocate there soon to return it to its prior operation.  Cows, dogs, hay, grain, and early-morning baling will return as the next generation takes its turn. I think Dad would approve.

1 comment:

  1. I love the area around Shasta, its a special place. Thanks for sharing such a nice story and your satisfying childhood. I bet its a relief to know the land is staying in the family.