I did a double take as I headed home from one of my frequent trips to Wayland Cemetery where a host of my families' bodies rest. There, at the corner of Plank Road and Route 27, was a sign advertising a dairy dispersal sale. What made it much more personal was that the sale was at a farm on Walton Hill, named long ago after my great great grandparents, and an area my great grandparents, grandparents, parents and my family called home and labored for many years.
Why did that sign have such an impact on me while the average person would pass over it as just some old cows moving on, another sign of the times, another tired farmer quitting the dairy business, and another empty barn?
It all started in the early 1950s when my mother needed a place for her baby boy. My Pa and Mom were farmers since birth. Pa worked at American Viscose as well to provide for us. It wasn’t easy. The chores needed done even when Pa was at “work” so Mother packed up her newest member of the family and down we went to the full barn where she put me in the haymow in front of the small herd of Holstein, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Jersey cows. She watched every move I made and so did those big brown eyes of perhaps a dozen cows, wondering what this new creation was all about.
Throughout my youth it was my utmost privilege to participate in the family farm, learning about life and death in what many would consider passé. It was definitely a way of life where the work was never done, get up and get moving didn’t start at a welcome time. Saturday morning meant cleaning box stalls, going up in the silo and trying to loosen the solid frozen silage, and an endless amount of other tasks, all of which accompany the full barn. A well-cared-for herd is usually content with life, even when the surroundings are sometimes minimal and well worn.
All too fast and permanently the family farm has left the rural American landscape. It was a great way of life and I for one will always be grateful that I was a part of an agricultural society in my youth. The dairy 4-H and FFA are greatly diminished as you can attest, too, by walking through the barns at the Crawford County Fair. Farms still exist throughout Crawford County but the number of dilapidated, often empty barns is alarming and disheartening.
Well I made to that sale on that Saturday when that herd was sold. It was a nice herd of cattle and I congratulate that farmer on producing such a nice group of cattle. It didn’t just happen; it took a lot of hard work and investment, intelligence and “dirty boots”, success and failure. My wife and I sat across from the exit driveway of that farm and watched as each cattle trailer, some with one, some with several cows, rolled down that hill that I once was so familiar with, imagining each cow’s new life and hoping for the best for each of them.
Many years have now passed and the barn of my youth is long gone but the memories that it created will long be a part of who I am. Although the many small decisions of life did not lead to a career in agriculture, it will always be a highly respected way of life. To all those (both present and past) who labor day and night, who keep the barn filled seven days a week, 365 days a year, a heartfelt thank you.
Clyde A. Walton, a native of Meadville, is a resident of Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community. In retirement, he is employed by Symbria Rx Services of Meadville.