Sunday, July 17, 2016


Hearth and Home
The Fulcrum
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            On a trip to Germany many years ago, an historic farmhouse was witnessed.
            The bottom level was a barn of sorts with hay cribs and pens for the family’s animals. The family lived in the second level of the rambling structure. We were told during the teeth of German winters all the animals were gathered into the home and the doors were locked. Hay and fodder was stored and dry for the cows, sheep, and horses. The family was safe and secure with their stores of food and fuel. Everything that was needed to survive was contained within the family compound.
            What a feeling of security that must have been. By the size of the structure, it must have been a multigenerational effort. Surely, the effort that went into its construction was the work of many hands. Experience and the exposure to the elements altered or expanded the concepts of its features.
            It was a fortress against the rest of the world. It kept the bad out and the good in. It was home.
            Hearth and Home
            Adams, Madison, Jefferson and Washington all devoted enormous energy in developing their rural holdings. Statesmen, businessmen, leaders, and family patriarchs they were all men of the land. There are abundant writings and records describing their interest in improving their lands, selecting fruit and crop varieties, and improving the methods of their agrarian endeavors.
Washington was perhaps the most capable steward, but all of them stand head and shoulders above vast majority of the citizenry today in seeking the natural benefits that developing and controlling our surroundings provide. Our first president was an astute businessman. He observed the limitations of a single crop enterprise, tobacco, and altered his entire program to concentrate on cereal grains. From that he built infrastructure to enhance his cropping patterns. He became a miller, a distiller, a fisherman, as well as a stockman. He added thousands of acres of undeveloped lands to the expansion of Mt. Vernon and he systematically embarked on a plan to develop those lands.
Mt. Vernon evolved from being a residence for his older half brother to an agricultural fortress of George’s vision and design. His orchards, his gardens, his fields and his improvements were all planned with the idea his home was the focal point. Even his fishing enterprise out his back door in the Potomac was part of the enterprise mix.
He savored his surroundings and they became much dearer to him than his accomplishments on the field of battle, the limelight of the presidency, or the social spotlight that never dimmed. His last active hours were spent horseback checking on the progress of his ideas.
He was finally at peace.
Certainly, the headquarters of my youth were not on the scale of Washington or his Founding Father colleagues, but they offered the same aura of security and home. As a kid, Ma Rice’s place fit that model perfectly. Grandpa Rice was gone when I came along, but I remember Ma. In her white dress and apron and sturdy black shoes, she was the resident steward of her domain. Her orchards, one north of the house by the cottonwood plank barn and one on sloping ground south from the house, were renowned for the quantity and quality of fruit. In season, they provided summer bounty, and from that point on they provided canned ingredients for some recipe every day of the year. We were raised on such continuing staples of apple sauce and pear preserves.
The big garden was guarded from intruding milk cows and pigs just south of the north orchard. It was there we learned the magic of a salt shaker and sundown stroll through a garden wonderland. We delighted in the first corn-on-the-cob of the year and fresh tomatoes. We knew it, too, from canned green beans, tomato preserves, and dill or bread and butter pickles through the winter.
Without a sprinkler system on an unleveled yard mostly upslope from the house, Ma had a system of canales from which she watered her yard. We loved to look for fish that came in from the ditch and got trapped in her system when the water was shut off.
Grandpa Rice built a granary that was an engineering marvel. It was there he stored, processed, fed, and or traded grain.
He also had his blacksmithing equipment, his milk pens, and his red gravity metered gas pump by the old catalpa tree. He had farrowing huts, milk pens, and working corrals. His garage was both a place to park the car as well as a maintenance center. Hugh and Jim got in a fight one day there and rolled one over the other into the grease pit in the middle of the floor. They were both screaming and yelling until they hit the bottom and couldn’t talk from the absence of air.
The barn was a kid’s delight. We swung from ropes attached to the rafters and we built forts in the baled hay stacks. We rode pigs and milk pen calves outside, and stood in line for whippings for various infractions when things got out of hand.
What a great place it was.
Joe and Ethel Hooker’s place was similar. Ethel was the only daughter of Grandpa and Ma Rice. She married Joe Hooker whose family preceded her family’s arrival in the Gila River Valley by six years in 1878. She was the grandmother of more cousins and her house and lands on Bear Creek were another wonderland for folks and kids alike. Dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, horses and an assortment of vehicles and equipment were all fair game for adventure.
David and I shot BBs by the pound at fish in the creek never knowing if we hit a single one. We ate green apples until we were sick, we saddled horses at the corral on whims, and we went home dirty, sweaty, sunburned and tired. The Hooker headquarters was an oasis of joy in the midst of a big two fisted land. Outside of its perimeter, it was hard work, strife, and perpetual management of drought, but inside it was a safe place where multi-generations mingled.
It served as the model for hearth and home.
At the mouth of the Mangus, Uncle Hap and Aunt Mary McCauley’s was no different. Permanence was displayed by another great orchard and a yard with actual sprinkled grass. Fish ponds were filled by engineered diversion of the Mangus, and the big garden was enhanced by the first green house I ever saw. It was the place we learned to eat hot chile and speak a little Spanish. It was also the scene of the last branding we ever experienced with Grandpa Albert. He was 80 and he roped.
The meaning of generosity is what the McCauley headquarters offered. It was always filled with people and chatter. Never once in my memory do I remember harsh words from either of this couple. It was a place you could count on if you needed a cup of understanding. It was there I learned the logic of two speed rear axles and discing counter to prevailing winds.
Each realization had more importance than ever meets the eye.
The Fulcrum
 There were other headquarters that exhibited similar, temporal permanence, and, for each of those memories, there are blessings. They all provided food, water, shade, human interaction, joy, security, and hope. Not a single one had television. They represented immense human efforts of creation and maintenance. Each was multi-generational, but nearly every one of them is now gone from original form. The orchards are dead or unattended. The descendents of the animals are largely gone or reduced, and the mix of the human generations is no longer continuous.
The symptoms of change can be debated, but the common thread is that the original forces of stewardship are mostly gone. Gone is the individual who started the process. Gone is the couple who worked together on a life’s struggle of starts and stops. Scattered are the offspring that resulted in the union, and disruption of the steadying forces that kept it all intact is complete. There are a few exceptions, but they are few and far between.
Perhaps the conditions that allowed the genesis of these special places will never be recreated, but the contributions of their existence shouldn’t be forgotten. Every person who experienced the social structure of them concedes they contributed to the best of times. They also continue to serve as the basis to measure many things. They were a fulcrum of conditions and events that produced self reliance.
Their revival could benefit … our America.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “As Christians, we must herald the opportunity for men and women to create from their surroundings. We must remember the servants of the master were judged critically by the results of their handling of his treasury. Are we any different?”

Wilmeth's column today reminds me of the great sociologist Robert Nesbit. In his The Quest For Community he writes of intermediate institutions that buffer the individual from the state. Primary among these intermediate entities are family, church and community.  As these institutions decline, the state moves in to fulfill their function.  Thus the attacks on the family and the church by the left serve one principal function:  to increase the power and authority of the state.  

Wilmeth is calling for a revival of these intermediate buffers and the resulting decline of the state.  We need more "headquarters" and fewer government hindquarters.

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