Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Monday, March 18, 2013

Field Trip with Pap

I've been thinking a lot lately about my grandfather.  Tomorrow would have been his 100th birthday.  It's still hard to know that I can't talk to him.  I think there are some people that you never really get used to being without. Pap is one of them.  

Two springs ago, just a few months after his 98th birthday, Pap, my Dad and I spent the day on a driving tour of our family heritage sites.  I'm so very, very glad we took the time to do this together. 

First stop on our family tour was the old family cemetery.  This cemetery is on the original land my family farmed - 700 acres in Western Pennsylvania.  This is the farm where my grandpa was born and where he lived until he was a teenager.  Pap spent a lot of time telling me about the people who are buried here.  Most of the stories were ones that I had already heard, but listening to them again while standing at their final resting place made for some very special, and memorable moments.

After we left the cemetery we headed to my great-grandpa's farm, where Pap worked as a teenager.  This farm hangs on the edge of several hollows.  It was a very steep and rocky farm.  Most of Pap's stories were about helping run the cider press and the lumber mill.  The world he described is so different from the world we live in today.  It's hard to comprehend all of the changes he saw in his life.  Most of the stories that I love come from his time at this farm.

Pap had been having a great day, but Dad and I were conscious of not making him be over tired.  We were ready to be finished and head for lunch, but Pap had one more stop for us.

He guided us to a cemetery where more ancestors were buried, including the first Amish bishop in Pennsylvania.  He hadn't been to this cemetery for years, and he was very motivated to go see it.  The cometary is at the top of a steep (and at that time very muddy) hill.  Keep in mind that this was a 98 year old man who used a walker to get around.  He was absolutely determined to go up that hill.  So, with much trepidation Dad and I helped him walk up the steep incline. 

When he reached the top he spent a long time resting and thinking.  The day was hushed and overcast.  It was a good place to be introspective.  I wonder what thoughts were going through his head.  Joy at being able to visit again?  Gratitude for the day we had?  Deeper thoughts about when his time would come?

I know that I was filled with thankfulness for the day we had spent, and with a new sense of understanding of our family's heritage.  I already knew a lot about my family's history and had spent time about once a month sitting and listening to my Grandpa's tales.  I'm such a tactile and visual learner though, so this day really brought all of those stories to life.  I could picture where the barn was when Pap almost killed his grandpa's new bull, and I could see the route he took to walk to school.  I gave me an entirely new perspective.

I spent a lot of time listening to, and recording, my Pap's stories.  I don't listen to those stories very often, but because I took the time, his voice is very present in my head and his love is in my heart.  I learned so much from him.  So much of who I am, and who my Dad is seems to be tied directly to our Swiss German farming heritage.  I know that he loved the land.  I don't think he was ever happier than when he was farming.  I get it Pap.  Growing things and raising animals is in our blood - isn't it?
I've been working on writing this post for several months.  I keep coming back to it, and remembering and then getting teary.  As I was making the final edits, my oldest came in and gave me sweet hugs.  I told her that I was OK, but that it was hard because I missed him.  Her response - It's OK.  Everyone misses him Mommy.  It's true.  We all miss you Pap.
I love you - forever, and I'll see you again one day. Until then you'll be with me every time I work the ground, or walk the land. Thank you for the model of a life well lived, and for the love you gave to me.


  1. A beautiful tribute. Loved the pictures of your trip together--what a blessing to have so many wonderful memories at your fingertips.

  2. Very sweet and touching, friend. What a gift of a day and a life.

  3. What a wonderful post, I have tears in my eyes xx