April 21, 2024

**Do Not Use**

New Director's Dialogue available now in ARC Event Library

Losing the Farm

By Susan Sabino

Note: The following is an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming book of memoir and poetry.

As a 13-year-old, I knew nothing about a wall in Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Bay of Pigs incident. But my daddy’s job was running the National Guard Armory in Brownwood, Texas, located in the old Camp Bowie Army Base.  In the fall of 1961, Daddy’s division, the Texas 49, was called to active duty, along with other divisions scattered across the country.  All we knew was that Daddy left in uniform, and we had no idea when he might be back. He couldn’t tell us anything about where he was going, for how long, or why. In fact, he may not have known.  I only learned the details of  Daddy’s mysterious recall from historical accounts years later, long after he died.

            I’ve often tried to imagine how my mother must have felt. In her early 30’s, she was all alone to manage our land in addition to the acres we leased and farmed.  Granddaddy, always the farm’s real caretaker, had died the year before.  At my age, I couldn’t do much more than feed the stock and do household chores, and my sister Karen was only a baby.  The Cold War was simmering, and it had somehow reached out to take Daddy away. The farm’s water pump broke down frequently, the animals pushed through our fences, and the dry Texas wind started blowing the unplowed topsoil away.

            One night, we all jumped awake to the sound of our dogs barking wildly. Even when we called them inside, they kept snarling at the door. Shaking, my mother gathered Karen and me into her bed.  A couple of days later, the Brownwood Bulletin ran a story that solved the mystery of the dogs’ warning. A group of college students had vandalized the hundred-year-old William’s Ranch family graveyard a mile from our place. Later the newspaper reported how the local students had stolen bones from the graves for a biology experiment – desecrating the family plots and throwing bones and pieces of  wooden coffins everywhere.  After that, Mom trembled in fear most nights at every bark or rustle in the bushes. We still had no idea when Daddy would come home. The Mooney family dream couldn’t last.

            Suddenly, one frantic weekend, Daddy appeared home on leave. Over the next few days, he and Mom met with the owner of the adjoining farm, an old friend of Grandaddy’s who had long shown interest in acquiring our land. He bought our farm “lock, stock, and barrel”, as the saying goes. From my bedroom window, I watched my beloved Molly Bee rear wildly as another neighbor urged her into his horse trailer. I don’t know if she was sold or given away.  When she was finally inside the trailer, her wild son reared in panic, before hesitantly following his mother up the ramp. When that colt was born, I had gathered his leggy body into my arms and twirled round and round in pure joy.  But without Granddaddy around to handle him, the young stallion had gone wild. Unable to watch any more, I choked back tears and turned away to pack my porcelain horse and doll collections into old boxes. 

            And just like that, we drove away from the farm the next week in the old blue Buick. I remember staring out the back window on that last ride into town. Traumatized, we slept that night in a house we rented near my grandparents, and Daddy reported back to the unknown deployment. Every day, my mother looked for a house we could afford.  In our rush to move, many things had been tossed into the burn barrels in back of the old farm house. Most likely, my earliest poems –  scraps of paper and Big Chief notebooks  –  were burned there.

           Losing the farm was not just a personal loss. It was a family grief that persevered through the years. Even my little brother Patrick, born long after the place was sold, would endure endless stories about the home we all loved but he never knew.  Even now, that loss sometimes rattles around in my dreams. Thankfully, over time, I’ve learned that the farm wasn’t completely lost. Closing my eyes, I can still summon the path my feet wore through the woods down to the creek. That path is still part of me, always my north star. It’s where I’m from.

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