September 12, 2011

Forty Acres

My mind reaches to my deepest memory to the front bedroom of the clapboard house; I can still smell the man. I smell my Grandpa who slept there before I was brought in on cold winter mornings, feet dangling down, dumped over into his bed, warm from the electric blanket. Grandpa had been up for hours by then. That house sat on an acre across from the forty. Up on the asphalt road, he had moved the house on a trailer the quarter-mile from the place where it once stood, to a place where it holds only memories now.

Coal black hair rebelled the graying of time until his health failed. My grandfather orphaned during the Great Depression, he and his four brothers and sister went from farm to farm to work, maybe only for food, and to sleep, probably in barns. Life was about survival. I only know this part of my Grandpa’s story because my Dad has told me. Grandpa didn’t talk about those kinds of things.

Grandpa couldn’t read. But he could work. When those forty acres came up for sale, Grandpa went to the bank for a loan. The banker man said he could get a loan but first he would have to clear the land, prove its use for cotton or cows. He and my Daddy cleared that land and watered it with their sweat. The banker came out to see the result. With time that land belonged to my Grandpa, free and clear.

Land meant something to him. It meant security---and something else as well. My grandfather never received an inheritance but he had one to give.

As his life drew to a close, my dad and aunt helped him get a will drawn up. The obvious thing to do was to split the forty acres, twenty for Daddy and twenty for his sister. But my Grandpa wasn’t thinking in modern ways. He told them that he wanted to give at least ten to my little brother, his only grandson. The way he saw it was that his four girl grandchildren had husbands who would get them some land to make a living off of if need be, but he wanted to give his only grandson ten acres for his family yet to be. A boy could get a good start in life with a little land.

Tip-toeing around feelings and leaning on the side of fairness, modern ways won out and the boy didn’t get the part Grandpa wanted set aside for him. My brother has done just fine without that land. But he carries around everyday a part of our Grandpa. He carries his name. This given to the boy at his birth and now passed to his son. The land still pastures cows, and memories, and the inheritance cherished by a son, a grandson, a family. It is where we are from. It is home.

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