We named our farm after my great-aunt Anne, who lived in northwestern part of the state where it is so flat you can see the curve of the earth. At least, my grandfather could see it. He looked at the fields the way sailors used to look at the sea, and he remembered that sailors spied only the top of a far-away ship because the curve of the earth blocked their view of the rest of the vessel. Instead of seeing a ship, my grandpa saw a church steeple far away across flat fields. As he drew closer to a church, he saw more and more of the church building as the curve of the earth stopped obstructing his view and receded again into the realm of the unseen.
The silent curve of the earth did not haunt the home of my great aunt. Her old white farmhouse was surrounded trees, and filled with the activity of farm animals, work and children. My grandma was born and grew up in that house, and whenever she came back for a visit, she felt like she was going home. Grandma died when my mother was 11, and after that, I think Auntie Annie’s house became my mother’s home too, even though she could only visit during the summers.
I grew up listening to the stories of that farm, and those stories were told with such love that I grew up believing Auntie Annie’s life was a model of what life should be like. Auntie Anne was tough, and full of common sense, and ready to laugh. I remember that she had a twinkle in her eye even as a very old woman, which suggested to me she might be up to some mischief. I’ve been told that people could identify her car when they could barely see it across the flat fields because she always drove so fast down the gravel roads that she kicked up huge clouds of dust.
Auntie Anne was also wildly competent. She raised seven children on a farm that grew much of what the family ate, and when her husband died suddenly, she and her fairly young children kept farming. Apparently some relative speculated she would need to move to town after being widowed, and that lit a fire under her. She proved that relative wrong.
I will never be like Auntie Anne. She earned her competence and common sense by working tremendously hard all her life. My life has been easier in many ways, and full of more options. The culture around us has changed, too. The land where she lived, which used to be full of children, churches, gardens and chicken coops, has been emptying out for almost half a century. The houses go empty then disappear, marked only by the clusters of trees that once sheltered them from wind. Then, the trees turn into piles of brush, and the piles disappear into fields of row crops that go on like inland seas. Shops close, and schools close, and some people keep on farming.
On the day we chose our farm’s name, I think I felt the presence of Auntie Anne. It blew in like a wind through the east window. At the time, I was feeling unsure about this name because I was afraid that as new (less competent) farmers, we might sometimes be an embarrassment to her memory. My mom said not to worry about that because she couldn’t imagine Auntie Anne being embarrassed about anything at all. I am not really worried about it either. I feel easy with naming our farm after Auntie Anne not because I am competent but because I love her, and just like she did, I love a little piece of ground.