Thursday, March 6, 2014

West View Farm

Some of the happiest times of my childhood were spent in Minooka, Illinois. 

My maternal grandparents were Robert J. Erickson (1888-1968) and Clara Anderson Erickson (1892-1967).  They were married in 1913, and before long, they purchased the farm of Robert’s father, Charles Erickson.  But the Great Depression took its toll on Midwestern farmers like them, and the mortgage didn’t get paid, and by the time my mom was in high school they had lost that farm and then lived on two or three rented farms.  Grandpa was down, but not out.  The same year Mom married Dad—1950—Grandma and Grandpa Erickson bought West View Farm, and paid cash for it. 

West View Farm was 120 acres of Illinois clay loam.  Many of the buildings were already unneeded in the 1950s, having been built for an earlier time.  My grandpa kept a beef steer in the stable, and raised chickens in another barn.  Then there was a corn crib used as a repair and maintenance building, a small shed or two, and a huge barn which wasn’t used for much of anything, along with three empty silos and an old orchard…  and then there was the house.

The view of that farmhouse from Holt Road is something I will carry in my memory forever.  It was a magnificent place, especially when seen from the road across the vast expanse of front yard which my grandfather kept in magnificent condition all the years he lived there. 

We visited the farm most Sundays, and in the summers I would spend a happy week there, following my beloved grandfather and Uncle Bob around the farm.  It was a wonderful place for a child—the windmill, the cistern, the water pump, the corn crib with its souvenirs of my Uncle Bob’s plowing championships, the chicken house, the orchard, the garden, the sundial—and that wonderful house.  Grandma and Grandpa lived on the main floor, and the second floor had been an apartment for Uncle Bob and Aunt Shirley, until the women quarreled and my aunt and uncle built a house down the road.  So now it was unoccupied, with room after room to explore, full of furniture, toys, old clothes, and every kind of thing.

In the mid 1960s, Grandma Erickson’s high blood pressure finally took its toll.  The heart went out of Grandpa after that, and within a year or two, he was gone, too.  After a protracted legal battle, Uncle Bob bought out his three sisters and carried on with the farm—but the hard feelings lingered, and I didn’t see the farm again for nearly twenty years.  After that, I made occasional visits there, but as my uncle let the place “go to seed” as he got older (and as he went to seed as well), it was harder and harder to make myself drive out there and witness the farm’s slow demise.

Eight or ten years ago my uncle died.  Some time after that my sister and I drove out to Minooka to walk around the old place.  Looking up from the road, across the once magnificent lawn, and seeing the house boarded up brought tears to our eyes.  We walked around the buildings, marveling at how quickly the now-vacant farm was being reclaimed by nature.  We knew it would never be restored to its former glory; if the real estate slump ended and someone bought it, its proximity to Interstate 88 would make it prime property for development.

Last summer my sister and I returned once again.  We thought we were prepared for anything we might see, but we were mistaken.  Where the farmhouse once stood, there were only charred ruins.  I stopped at the farmhouse across the road and was told that it had burned down the previous year—perhaps due to lightning, or squatters who were careless with a cooking fire inside.  I grieve the loss of that farm like I would grieve a dearly loved friend.  But my childhood is bound up in the memories of that place, and always will be.

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