Coffee with Mimi: Family farm lives on in family’s successes

Published 1:24 pm Monday, February 13, 2017

By Mimi Becker

Contributing writer

My mom is from a small town in southern Mississippi. She actually grew up on the family farm which had been in the family, even then, for generations. As a child, my mother’s grandfather lived with them. She was his favorite — she called him Tommy. 

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I imagine them sitting on the front porch of the house after dinner in the summer, the trees still providing shade from the hot Mississippi sun even in the evening hours. Maybe he will be drinking a last cup of coffee. Maybe she has a book, or a toy. Her mom and dad would be there, too, talking over the finished tasks of the day and planning for the next. Mom was the youngest; there were two older brothers and a sister. I see them all on the porch, too. They might be reading — they were excellent students — or playing games. I picture this scene often lately. 

My great-grandfather was born in the mid-19th century and had lived and worked on the farm through some of the most turbulent and remarkable times in our history. “Life altering” wouldn’t be an inaccurate description. I wonder, how would a man of his time have envisioned the life that young, favored granddaughter might lead? How could he know what stories to tell which would lead to lessons learned? 

America had survived a civil war, participated in a world war and managed through a worldwide economic depression. Societal norms had been challenged by the emergence of a working urban middle class, the erosion of the family farm as the younger generations migrated away, incorporation of a formerly enslaved population into Constitutional equality and women gaining the right to vote. 

Our country had also enjoyed the increased availability of telephone communication. Radio brought the world into more and more homes. Cars were everywhere and airplane use became more than a dream. The groundwork for incredible technological advances was in place and educational opportunities were slowly opening to more diverse students. Immigrant populations continued to bring new skills and connections to parent countries. Where do you think we got the ravioli recipe? 

In the face of rapid change, families lived their lives dependent on each other, the community and confidence that today was a good day and tomorrow, with planning, would be good, hopefully even better, than today. 

There was always work. Sitting on that front porch, wrapping up the day, I imagine there were problems to solve. Running a family farm was incredibly complicated. The farm was very nearly a self-sufficient unit providing for almost every need of the family. There were beef and dairy cattle, pigs and chickens. The garden was phenomenal. If it could be grown in the Mississippi climate, it was. Food was varied and plentiful. 

The farm had all the equipment necessary to run the operation. There was a blacksmith shop for repairs and maintenance of items such as horseshoes. Knowledge was passed around and down to keep the entire system functioning and satisfying. What couldn’t be provided from the farm could be bought in town as necessary. If it wasn’t available, it may not have been necessary, and you just made do. 

But, times do change. They have since the beginning of society. I picture that idyllic, three-generation scene on the front porch and there is no doubt in my mind none of the participants would trade their life then, or ever, for a different one. What I know of this family is they also encouraged and welcomed the exploration of all the possibilities.

 In that family, and so many others like it, the depth of understanding of change and appreciation for its significance was alive and well. We do look back at the past with nostalgia. Wasn’t it wonderful when…? 

Yes, it was wonderful; because it gave us today. 

Because of those conversations and the meticulous planning on the front porch in the hot Mississippi summer evenings and throughout the darker winter evenings, today our family can boast the second, third and fourth generations of Ph.D.s, both men and women; lawyers, doctors, retired teachers, artists, corporate and business executives, social workers and government leaders; both men and women. 

We live in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, West Virginia, California and New Mexico; and I may have missed a couple. We live in large towns and small ones, in houses, apartments and condos. We have big families, small families and families created from far-flung places. 

Each generation has encountered change and faced a different set of circumstances over which they may have little control. But I am still certain at the end of the day as they gather in whatever place they may be, and with whomever, they consider the possibility of the next day. 

The family farm is still in the family. It belongs to a great-grandson. He doesn’t live on it — it is leased out. His life led into academic administration. Knowing my family I’m quite confident my great-grandfather would have no regrets or disappointments. The world isn’t what it was. It shouldn’t be. This time is the challenge for each of us. What capacity and optimism will we build in our children now?