On Saying Farewell to a Family Farm

It was a particularly emotional All Saints’ Sunday for me. Not only did I think of Glen Wiberg as we gathered in the sanctuary where he preached and worshipped for so many years, but I carried a candle in memory of my Grandpa Peterson, just a day after we’d gathered at the family farm to clear away all the unwanted remains of a century’s worth of living and working.

On that gray Saturday, then during worship this morning, I kept thinking back to the eulogy I had posted here in June, the day before we buried Grandpa.

…I couldn’t grieve too bitterly about a peaceful end for someone who said many times that he was ready “to go home to Heaven” — to be in the presence of his Savior and to be reunited with my beloved grandmother, whom he outlived by nearly fifteen years.

But I do feel deeply sad about the loss of his earthly home. Thanks to the incredible caretaking efforts of my aunt Joy, my mom, and their sisters and brother, Grandpa could spend his last days living where he’d been born, come of age, raised his family, and spent his long retirement. He never lived anywhere but the Wisconsin farm where he welcomed his suburb-raised grandchildren every summer, for visits whose reawakened memory last month made me rethink my suspicion of nostalgia:

And since we all remain God’s children, perhaps it’s okay — once in a while — to think like a child and temporarily put away adult-ish ways. Indeed, even as my grandfather loses his ability to remember the recent past, his recollection of being a child has only sharpened. Like me, he looks out over that farm and is brought back to the age when the future, like the rolling fields, seems to stretch on beyond the horizon.

That future has now reached its end. With Grandpa’s death, another Midwestern century farm is sure to be sold, pass out of the family, and begin a new chapter in its history. That’s going to be a hard page to turn. For that homestead was not just the land Grandpa and his ancestors tended; it was a gathering place for our family, and a living memorial to those who had gone before.

A very hard page to turn.

As long as I was busy hauling scrap metal or disassembling an old washing machine, I could keep the tears at bay. But when we paused for lunch, I got six notes into the table grace and could go no further.

Pictures of Grandma and Grandpa on a side table
Being in the dining room especially brought back memories of Grandma, who died fifteen years ago

So instead I just listened to our family sing those simple, familiar words once more:

Be present at our table, Lord
Be here and everywhere adored
These mercies bless and grant that we
May strengthened for thy service be

The first time I wrote about that prayer, early in the life of this blog, I reflected how its words reminded me of the way that my family had loved me into the Kingdom of God over the course of long years. “We don’t use the word ‘mercies’ often enough in our culture or our churches,” I wrote in 2011, “but these were mercies indeed.”

I’d realized something similar as I continued Grandpa’s eulogy, five months ago:

But even as Grandpa was keeping that farm, he was tending something more permanent: the faith, hope, and love that he had received from his grandparents and parents and passed on to his children and grandchildren.

I don’t know if I’ll ever set foot on that farm again. As it becomes the future of another family, it enters the past for ours. But even as we all feel a bit uprooted, I thank God that the fruit of faith, hope, and love are still being harvested in new generations of Petersons.