when farms were small

I’ve recorded three interviews this week … and had more conversations re: Eastern Shore life, especially farming in the days before herbicides and huge industrial-scaled equipment. Looked at lots of photographs. My head is swimming with stories.

Today I plan to spend the morning with my grandmother. She was raised on a farm and then farmed with my grandfather near Jenkins Bridge, Virginia, until they “retired” in the early 1970’s. My mother says she and her siblings were my grandfather’s “herbicide.” Farmers used to grow vegetables on farms around here on smaller farms – 50 acres was a good-size farm for a family to work. They kept the crops free of weeds using hoes and maybe a small cultivator pulled by a horse or a mule, later by a small tractor. Everyone grew corn to feed their livestock.

Now the farmers here work thousands of acres and grow mostly grains. It’ll be interesting to speak with a few younger farmers – people who’ve made the shift to the current farm economies in differing ways. I guess that’s not a part of the “oral history” but now I’m interested. I want to hear their stories too.

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snapshot tuesday


I think this is called a “writing spider” because of the weaving pattern below it. This is what Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web must have looked like.

oral history project

I’ve done five interviews for the 20th Century Farm Life oral history project, and have another scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. It’s interesting material … mostly about living on farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia during the Depression and World War II … although I am hearing stories from the turn of the century too. Maybe because all branches of my family are from here – as far back as we’ve traced – these stories particularly resonate with me. Most of my ancestors were either farmers or shopkeepers, with a few schoolmarms and watermen thrown in.

I’m grateful to be working through the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society. The project is sponsored by a partnership between the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the PNC Foundation.

what would success look like?

To read last night, I picked up Julia Cameron’s book The Sound of Paper. A collection of essays about writing, she includes exercises after each essay. This morning I read the second essay and did an exercise about success. Or attempted to.

The exercise involved listing “twenty-five things that represent to you sophistication and success.”

What I found was that items don’t speak to me about success. I couldn’t think of 25 things to write down. I asked myself “what would success look like?” and wrote about feeling relaxed, about traveling and having two well-ordered homes (both small, one city and one in the country) and having an agent to sell what I write and having time to write.

Maybe the question is really “what would success feel like”? And maybe I’m already there, but don’t know it. I think the true measure of “success” is internal and personal. I’ve equated success with external markers like money or recognition. Those could come without any internal feeling of “success”. Some of the dictionary synonyms for success are “triumph” and “winner” – also “prosperity” as a trapping of success. Antonyms: “poverty” and “failure” As if “success” is a contest and money is the goal. But “failure” and “success” aren’t polar opposites. Failure, in fact, is frequently a necessary part of any journey worth taking. The ultimate goal, I believe, is spiritual.

Ahhh – but I still want that agent. Money buys time to write.

mostly unplugged


I’ve managed to do a few oral history interviews since I last blogged. I’m taping people who lived and worked on farms in Accomac County (rural eastern Virginia) before 1960. I find being without wireless or easy phone access frustrating … but that’s nothing compared to a time about 75 years ago when people around here walked ten miles on Saturday evening to get to a town to walk up and down the street … to see or be seen by neighbors who’d also walked a distance or driven in from farms on sandy roads that could wash out in a good storm. They’d spend a dime for the movies or an ice cream cone.