Greetings from Harrison Farm! I sincerely hope that your family has enjoyed a blessed and wonderful year. As I began reflecting on this past year, it has truly been the most difficult of my life -- and I do not say that lightly. With the passing of my grandmother this fall, I have been very reflective on the chapter of my life that has closed now that my parents and grandparents have all passed onward. During the struggles I have encountered, I have found myself often turning to those things that my family instilled in me.
I was fortunate during my childhood that my grandparents were such an active part of raising me. My grandfather Virgil taught me to drive a tractor, to deliver lambs, to provide medical care for livestock, and to understand the circle of life on a farm. My grandmother Ina Marie taught me to bake cookies, to sew & mend, to garden, and to understand how to nourish a family. The happiest times of my childhood were spent with my grandparents: the weekly Friday night that I got to stay at their house, the wonderful road trips that we took in the motor home, the time we spent sitting together in their kitchen talking. I spent hours at the kitchen table with my grandfather (as my grandmother brought us chocolate chip cookies, sweet tea, and popcorn), where we would discuss history, politics, economics, religion, and culture. I was fortunate that my grandfather never tried to guide me to simply be the best woman I could be -- but rather instilled in me the desire to be the best individual that I could possibly be. With a strong-willed wife and three dynamic daughters, I am sure that by the time I arrived there was no doubt in my grandfather's mind that a woman could achieve whatever she put her mind to doing.
I can recall distinctly as a child that my grandfather tried to prepare me that at some point my world would fall apart. It could be from something dramatic like war or famine or plague -- or it could be something intensely personal like divorce or cancer or job loss. While this was an unusual lesson for a child, he tried to instill in me the realization that this happened to everyone at some point . . . And it would happen to me. And when it did, I would only be left with what I had in my head and what I could do with my hands. Of late, I have often thought on those words.
My grandfather did not have an easy life, but he was a hard worker who loved people and always wore a dynamic smile no matter the situation. I suspect much of his attitude on life came from watching his own parents. My great-grandfather Frank was crippled, with one leg approximately six inches shorter than the other. He wore a specially designed metal lift attached to his shoe. One of these shoes has survived through the decades, and I still have it at the farm. It weighs a good ten pounds, and it amazes me to think that my great-grandfather overcame what had to be a profound physical struggle to find success as a farmer & a butcher. That resilience of spirit was matched by his wife Monnie. My great-grandmother was an educated woman, who spent the first years of her marriage living in a sheep wagon in Wyoming. I am continually amazed by the fortitude it took for her to give up what was a civilized life in Columbus to travel to the open country of Wyoming and live in a wagon the size of a truck camper with her husband, their dog, and hundreds of sheep. After my great-grandparents returned to Ohio, they originally lived at a farm outside of Fredonia. One day while my great-grandmother was home alone, the house caught on fire. She saved a pillow that she had hand embroidered (which my grandfather gave to me on my 16th birthday), and she saved her piano. I cannot imagine the surge of adrenaline that fueled the strength to save that piano from a fire, but I am in endless admiration of a woman that shows that kind of courage in the face of danger.
I know my mother Rebecca was fascinated by her grandparents, and in my youth she shared with me the stories they had told her. My mother was tough on me -- very tough at times -- but I doubt I would have survived this long in life if she had not expected discipline and endurance from me. When I was nine years old, I was riding Abraham the Mule after school one day, when he bucked me off. As Abe headed for the barn, he managed to step painfully on my ankle. My mother caught Abe, brought him to me, and told me to get back on. I recall distinctly crying and telling her I did not want to do so, yet she kept telling me I had to get back on. And so I did. My mother got bucked off a lot during her life -- both literally and figuratively -- but she never gave up. As I have matured, I have come to realize that one of my mother's best traits was that she was not afraid to make mistakes, and she always tried to learn from them. She baked beautiful wedding cakes, she loved making baskets, she got her pilot's license at age sixteen, and she was extraordinarily gifted at healing the maladies of little lambs. Watching my mother as she went through her journey with cancer inspired in me proud respect for a woman who could face the end of her time on earth with such courage & graciousness & laughter.
As I have faced the struggles that have arisen in my life this year, I have thought greatly of how my grandfather cautioned me that this time would come. With age, I have gained more perspective on his life and the challenges he faced, and I recognize that he was demonstrating clearly to me that one could live with dignity no matter the challenge. Life is not easy. One of my favorite songs has the line "if you're going through hell, keep on going". There have been many days that I have pulled myself exhausted from bed this year despite my physical challenges to keep my work commitments. There have been many times that I have felt nearly broken while nursing an animal late at night in the barn, knowing it was probably going to die any way. And I have spent a lot of time with my arms around the neck of my dog or my horse as I nursed a melancholy heart. But the legacy that my family passed to me has strengthened me through this time.
If I am tough at all, it is because my mother demanded it of me. If I have any wisdom, it is because my grandfather spent his live demonstrating it to me. As I live my life in the same home where my mother, and my grandmother, and my great-grandmother resided, I am continually reminded of the legacy they left me. You may recall that line that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did -- but backwards & in high heels. My great-grandfather's boot is a tangible reminder that he did everything I do today, but with a ten pound metal lift on his left foot. Every time I see my great-grandmother's piano, I am reminded that we have deep reserves of strength within each of us that we do not even know we have until we must call upon them for survival. Above & beyond all this, I know I am alive today because my grandmother took the time to make sure I had a good meal, a delicious cookie, and a warm hug whenever I needed them during my childhood.
We all possess the ability to inspire others through determination, dignity, and love. I am extraordinarily blessed to have such remarkable friends in my world, and I am truly grateful for that support that has been given to me. I hope that you have received such inspiration & support in your life -- and I hope that you have found ways to offer it to others. I wish for you a blessed and joyful 2016! May it be a wonderful year for all of us!