Monthly Archives: February 2013
After dropping a couple of teenagers at school, and hubby has long left for a real job…I come back to visit with my critters…or as they like to be called…my co-workers. Often I prefer their company, especially as the craziness of the world swirls around us. It is breakfast time. They get theirs before I get my first cup of coffee.
So this morning is a little chilly, but the sun’s warmth is welcome on my shoulder. The chickens who did not make it back in their coop last night, run from the barn to greet me and provide companionship as I go about my chores. I let the rest of the gang out of their coops to help in the search for grubs and other tasty treats.
I head to the barn to prepare breakfast. On the menu is hay. The tiniest shoots of grass are beginning to appear in the pasture, but do not provide the needed nutrients for pregnant ewes and rams and goats. I slide open the door and take in the smell of sweet hay. I grab bailing twine around a fat square bail and pull it down. I reach for my favorite Tony Stewart knife and pop the twine and peel off a few slices and head over to the near by fence and drop over slices into 3 even piles as the ewes come over for their meal.
I check out the pasture as the sheep crunch away. The geese are on the banks of our lake digging around the shore for their breakfast. I scan the ridge and find Nisa in her usual morning spot-flat out on her back to napping while taking in the morning sun. I envy the life of a dog.
A deep baritone baaaa! brings me back to the task at hand. Old Rosie is in the paddock by the barn with two yearling ewes who were not bred this year. She is 12 years old and officially retired and acts as nanny to the youngsters. She is hungry and always tells me so. Off to the barn for her share as the chickens follow me in hopes of some seeds dropped from the hay.
After Rosie and her charges are fed, it is off to the rear field with a big stack of hay for the cashmere goats and the yearling rams. They don’t share so well, so for the next few minutes, I run around the electric net fence and drop off 6 or 7 separate piles of hay so everyone has a bit without fighting.
Finally, I check in with the rabbits. I fill water bottles and give each of them a share of hay too. Crunching noise follows as all approve of the menu. I look in on Saphire, who will kindle in about a week. She is already building her nest of hay and fiber from her tummy in the nesting box in anticipation of her babies. Good. Right on schedule. I sigh as I look forward to new Angora bunnies.
I look around and am happy and blessed to begin my morning in this place and with such lovely company. Now I am off for that cup of coffee and to work.
This country is fast loosing our agricultural heritage. The average age of farmers in this country is 58. Very few young ones are choosing agriculture and animal husbandry as a major in our colleges and universities. We are fast loosing those skills. This is to our detriment as a society who’s founding is based on agriculture and free enterprise. In fact, the first businesses were agriculturely based. We all can trace back our family histories and find a farmer somewhere. These were the back bone of hard working can-do individuals who formed the strong moral character thread that wove strength into this country. It is yet to be seen if this strength is enduring as we are being stretched, divided, scraped, and spit upon and I do not know if the fabric that these farmers will endure this abuse from within. We need to remember where we came from and learn their lessons. We need to pull forward the legacy of their strength and work ethic. So I have reached back to see if I can glean some strength from my family past.
I am the great great grand daughter of Eli Ball Stokes. He was a life long farmer in King George County here in Virginia. As you can see, he was a Corporal in the 9th Virginia Cavalry, 1st Company, also known as Johnson’s Regiment and also Lee’s Legion. This is his wedding photo. I found an application of a soldier’s disability he filed at the age of 85. It is in his handwriting. He states his occupation is farmer and when asked how long he has had this occupation. He states, “all my life”.
I have a photograph of him much older, probably around the time this document was filled out. My first observation is that one of his hands is in very clear focus. It is well worn, leathery and wrinkled, a badge of a farmer.
I have many of these photos thanks to my mother and her father who saved them. Several years ago I made copy negatives of them and printed many copies in my home dark room for my family members so we can have some record of our heritage. This is an important pursuit because this is a history lesson. We are not learning history in our schools, but we can learn our country’s history from searching out that of our family.
Eli married Mildred Jane Clark….
…And they had a a daughter, Mildred Viola Stokes, my great grandmother who along with her husband, Herbert Sisson, owned a grocery and a bakery in Washington, D.C. Another example of entrepreneurship.
Their daughter was my grandmother, Mildred Myrteen Sisson.
I am the first in 4 generations to pursue farming. I feel this sense of kinship with Eli, but also those brave Americans that subject their livelihoods to the wind and the rain, that partner with their piece of the earth to earn their keep and provide valuable food and fiber to fellow citizens. I am proud to be a shepherd and feel satisfaction to pass this American heritage to my children. They have their own dreams of course. But they take with them a code of hard work, entrepreneurialism, and patriotism.
Lots of people over the years have asked me who had taught me to knit or spin. How did I get into the fiber business? Who was my inspiration?
Well, growing up, while my mom was a bit crafty and she knew how to knit, I never saw her with needles in her hand. Although there was the brief crochet phase in the 70’s when made a poncho. The less said about that the better. But I had a great grandmother who defied logic and produced many of these beautiful quilts by hand sewing. And she also crocheted. One year, she announced that she would crochet each of my sister’s and my brother an afghan for our birthdays. No small task as I am one of six kids. She asked that we tell her our favorite colors. I chose blue. And sure enough, on my 16th birthday, a package arrived. I opened it and the lovely blue and white granny square afghan was inside. Never mind that it did not match my bedroom. I loved it. It has been with me ever since.
It covered me while I studied for finals at LSU. I snuggled under it with my new born son during chilly midnight feedings. I wrapped it around me the night I found out my Dad dyed of a sudden heart attack at 49. It has followed me on all my moves, from New Orleans, to Baton Rouge, to Richmond, and small towns like Powhatan, VA and now here on my farm in Cumberland, VA. And you know, for the first time since receiving this wonderful gift, I have that blue and white bedroom. And the joy a hand crocheted gift inspired me to seek the opportunity to share that with others. So while my Great Grandma did not teach me stitches as she lived far from me in Pennsylvania. She did teach me the value of the love shared when some one takes yarn and pulls loops through loops to create something that can hug someone even far away.
So I taught myself to knit from a Woman’s Day Magazine. I learned all I know from books and later taking a class or two. My Art major at LSU has helped me learn about color-a great asset in dyeing yarn. And my Dad’s love of animals has spilled over to me as I tend sheep and goats, train dogs and raise rabbits and chickens. And every evening, I get under that afghan and knit.