My love of old barns, farmhouses, fields and pastures goes deeper than just family visits to my dad’s family farm in Iowa that I wrote about in Holding on to the Family Farm. Once or twice a year growing up, my dad would also pack up the family wagon, along with his wife and three kids and we’d drive up the east coast to Hadley, Massachusetts to visit my mom’s parents at the family homestead.
Grandma and Grandpa Jakobek, Polish immigrants, moved to America for a better life in the early 1900’s, settling along the Connecticut River in the small town of Hadley. My mom was one of eight children, raised in a white clapboard farmhouse with a three-level red barn attached to it. No running water, a multiple seat outhouse and a family of ten!!!
My Grandpa grew asparagus in the fertile New England soil. He wanted a big family of boys to help him work the farm. The funny thing is his first four children were girls, Marianne, Millie, Kaye and Vee (twins)! Then came Joe, John, my mom and last but not least Duffy.
All grew up working on the farm, bent over at the knees for hours on end, cutting fields of asparagus. Hard work! Over the years the farmhouse gained a large bathroom on the first floor off the kitchen and indoor plumbing but otherwise remained relatively the same for generations. I loved the old, red barn that at some point was painted white. As kids we would climb up and down the ladder-like steps, run along the treacherous floorboards with big gaps and ominous creaks playing hide and seek.
As I grew older, I can remember my 80 year old grandfather showing me how to swing a scythe, as we cut goldenrod near the barn. I developed blisters on my hands and was struggling to keep up with him. Eventually I went inside and Grandpa kept going for a long time after. The old guy was still a workhorse. I saw the same work ethic in my mom and all of her siblings.
I have wonderful childhood memories of large family gatherings around the dining room table, my grandparents barely speaking English and my mom conversing in fluent Polish at her home away from home. There were lots of laughs, unbelievable Polish food and happy times.
WWII took many of the siblings off the farm. Others married and moved away. When both of my grandparents were gone, the farmhouse and land was left to their daughter Vee who cared for them in their old age. Eventually the farm was left to the last surviving son Duffy and eventually his son (my cousin).
Again, the farm wasn’t divided up for money between remaining closest relatives. The farm stayed in the family as long as there was an heir that wanted to live there or until it had to be sold because the cost to live there was too great to keep it. In the end it was sold to two women with good taste in real estate, who blew out the back wall of the kitchen, added a deck overlooking the Connecticut River and I am assuming turned the barn into a great room. I’m sure by now the precious land has been subdivided and built on.
We haven’t been back in years but the memories of the Hadley farm will endure forever. As I travel the country roads hoping to discover farms and barns to photograph and paint, I can’t help but wonder what the family history is in each. As I paint each painting, sadly I can’t help but think “the family farm” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
I may be a kid from the suburbs but I’ll also always be the son of the farmer’s daughter!
Here is a pencil study of Grandpa Jakobek that I did way back in college. He was a farmer, father of eight, barely spoke English and was always kind, generous and had a twinkle in his eye. I attribute my mustache of over thirty years to liking his! :-)