April 20, 2019

Demolition of Dreams

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

We purchased the farm next door in 2008.  It doubled our acreage and doubled my workload in one fell swoop.  Still, I’m glad we did it.  Owning that property protects us while keeping me busy.  Very busy.

Shortly thereafter, we cut off the house and barn and sold them on a stand-alone piece.  The logic behind that move was simple.  I simply couldn’t take care of two rundown old New England farmhouses.  At times it feels as though the one we have is beyond me, too.

The people who bought the place were very nice.  They had two young children.  For a time all went well.  But then the mortgage crisis intervened and they moved out.  The house was foreclosed.

While the bank owned it, burdocks, goldenrod and milkweed overran the lawn.  The rhododendron, hollyhocks and rhubarb struggled to survive.  Paper wasps festooned the eaves.  Vinyl siding flapped in the wind.

Thieves stole the copper.  The water from the ruptured pipes rotted the bathroom floor.  The roof developed a series of leaks.  Frost caved the foundation.  The barn appeared to be sinking, taking on an easterly list.
We bought the farmhouse back last month.  The move was to protect ourselves from the lawlessness and neglect unfolding next door.  We’ve hired a contractor to demolish the buildings.

I still can’t care for two rundown New England farms.

The decision to raze the structures fills me with regret.  That house, like this one, was the birthplace of hopes and dreams.  Guy Mullen raised his family there.  His son, Gary, is still my neighbor.  He lives on Brann Road today.

Worse, I simply can’t save all the old windows and doors, the hardwood flooring or the kitchen cabinets.  My mother was raised during the Great Depression.  “Waste not, want not” was her byline.  She saved everything.   In many ways, I’m worse.  I don’t just save it.  I collect it first and then save it.  I justify it by looking around.  I don’t know of anyone farming successfully in New England who doesn’t utilize every possible source of material.

My byline is a derivation of my mother’s.  “If you can’t fix it yourself, you can’t afford to live here.”

Yet here I am, demolishing an entire house and barn.

We have several motives to move quickly.  The Town of Levant tax commitment date is April 1st.  We don’t want to pay property taxes on a set of buildings we’re not using.  Then there is the forementioned lawlessness going on right next door.  We imagine that will disappear when the buildings do.  I surely hope so.  Last, my daughter has expressed a desire to return home and work at her mother’s veterinary practice.  She’ll need a place to live.

She and her fiancé plan to build next door.

That’s the hope that led to the demolition of those old structures, the real reason at the bottom of all the others.

Perhaps by sowing a new crop of dreams on the fertile ground that supported the Mullen family for two generations, I can get past the idea that I’ve wasted precious resources, moved too hastily into the future and disregarded the prior dreams that built the structures there today.

Because farming isn’t just planting and reaping.  It’s not only land and animal husbandry.  It’s balancing old traditions with new technologies.  Much more than that, it’s sowing new hopes and dreams as old ones die.