On a long wooden shelf in the cellar, my great-grandfather kept a one-half gallon stoneware jug filled with “medicinal spirits.” The females in the family pretended they knew nothing about the corked brown and white jug’s content. Thus, they never mentioned it in public.
On the shelf below, he stored his “farm house” paint supplies. Considered to be many by the standards in the 1940s and 1950s. His inventory included the following:
. wide assortment of artist brushes, standing in quart-sized Mason glass jars,
. 1-to-3 inch paint brushes for interior painting and varnishing,
. turpentine in tightly-sealed Mason jars,
. pints and quarts of oil-based and lacquer paints, soft hues-to-vibrant colors,
. pints and quarts of stain and varnish,
. bottles of linseed oil, etc.
Setting on the floor were metal buckets (“pails”), small aluminum wash tubs and two wooden one-step stools. Under the nearby wooden cellar steps stood several well-worn, five-to-six foot wooden step ladders.
“Your great-grandfather had a lot more painting supplies that that,” affirmed his granddaughter.
Great-grandfather had two garages. In garage no. 2, he stored brushes as wide as six inches…pints and gallons of exterior paint…more cans of stain and varnish…a big metal container of turpentine, more ladders, etc.
In the barn that faced U. S. 27, he kept his workshop. “It always smelled of paint, and sawdust.” Shelf after shelf was stocked with more paint and more finishing supplies.
On shelves built onto one wall, he kept supplies and equipment needed to repair and maintain his many outbuildings: cans of building and barn paint (red and white), paint brushes, gallon-size metal containers of turpentine; sanding blocks, hammers, hand saws, screwdrivers, planers, wooden miters, plumb lines, etc.
Newspapers in the area ran articles that mentioned my great-grandfather’s farm. They reported that all of the farm buildings always looked freshly painted, and well-maintained. Even the huge DeKalb Hybrid Corn “advertisement” on the south exterior wall of the main barn.
In his later years, my great-grandfather turned all of the painting tasks over to his sons. That arrangement didn’t last long. They were busy operating their own large farms.
Eventually, Great-grandfather put the job of painting and keeping up the farm buildings into the hands of the young and strong sons of an Amish neighbor. That worked out very well. Growing up, the three young men had visited my great-grandfather many times. They respected him, and the great care he gave to everything on his farm.
Two years after Great-grandfather’s death, my grandmother and great aunts sold the farm. It must have been difficult; that was their family home. The U. S. foundation of their heritage. Still, they were ready to move on.
Recently, I read a copy of the sale notice for the farm – and the related story carried by papers five Midwestern states, plus Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida. Great-grandfather’s farm was identified as having been “the farm enterprise of the most prominent farmer in Adams County’s history…”
The description said that it was “prime farmland…producing bumper crops every year.” Every foot of the property was said to be “in excellent condition… All buildings and structures have been freshly-painted. Every section of fence is taut and mended, every post firmly imbedded…”
The “custom-built, red brick farmhouse featured twelve-rooms including a living room, parlor and dining room, kitchen, six-bedrooms and two bathrooms…all hardwood floors, fine woodwork and trim in every room…large front porch, enclosed back porch…”
The notice read, “Shade trees surround the farm house and the summerhouse…” The fruit trees were described as “healthy, producing large yields every season.” The remaining grape arbors still produced “heavily-loaded bunches of large black, red, and white grapes for eating, and making juice…twelve beehives produce gallons of natural clover honey…”
Within a few years of the sale of the farm, its new owners tore down every building except the red brick house and the summerhouse. Three or four adjoining areas had been planted in grass. The surrounding land, that my great-grandfather had cleared and prepared to grow crops, had been sold or rented out to a nearby farmer.
That’s what I saw on my last visit to the area. The view didn’t compare to the old, full-color photos in family albums. Nor did it come close to the old newspaper descriptions, or stories told by generations of relatives.
Nor to the 9-by-12 inch photo hanging on the wall here. The last family portrait of a strong, principled and traditional farm family. Everyone standing in their Sunday dresses, suits, hats, and gloves. In front of the pristine red brick house, with the freshly-painted white window frames, green shutters, and white front porch trim, gutters and downspouts.
Proof that Twenty-first Century commercial painters can still find worthy inspiration and outstanding examples hanging in their own family trees. And, growing on their crop-yielding lands. Farms and otherwise!
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