Mourning the death of a place feels different from mourning the death of a person. When we lose loved ones, we keep them alive in our memories as best we can. We make their favorite recipes, look at old pictures, hold sacred objects in our hands and visit the places that keep their spirits alive.

Robert and Muriel Tupper “raised three barns, six kids and a hundred or so Guernsey cows” on their farm in Fairfield, selling “their milk to neighbors and the city folks in Waterville.” Photos courtesy of Danielle Jacques

My maternal grandparents, Robert and Muriel Tupper, met in the 1940s at the roller rink in Smithfield. They married hurriedly during a visit over Christmas before he was sent back to battle in the South Pacific. When he returned two years later, he built a house with lumber from their land. On that land, they raised three barns, six kids and a hundred or so Guernsey cows. They sold their milk to neighbors and the city folks in Waterville. They worked constantly and played occasionally, especially at the Grange, where Grammie was a member for over 80 years.

For the duration of my childhood, my mother yearned to return to the farm. Her hobbies included gardening and drawing up floor plans of the house she might someday build there. A big open kitchen. A bedroom for each of her four kids. Farm animals and a little tractor of her own.

She dreamed of a better future, a quiet life in the rolling green pastures that felt precisely like home. In the end, she paid too much for a plot of swampy, sandy land directly adjacent to one of those pastures. The house was finished just in time for her youngest to leave for college. Still, she tended chickens and shaped the land in a backhoe with no brakes. Determined, she made her home there in the company of her parents’ spirits.

The milking barn at the old Tupper farm, “whose cement foundation never cracked.” Robert Tupper built it himself.

An unexpected death. Negotiations behind closed doors. My mother learned of the sale of the farm after the fact. Her mother’s garden. The brook where she rode her horse to cool off on hot days. The flat where her father let her drive the tractor once or twice. The milking barn he built himself, whose cement foundation never cracked. Remnants of a past she thought for sure would shape her children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

What is the market value of 80 acres of fertile farmland and five generations of memories? The farm now grows a crop of “Posted” signs, which will be followed by 70,000 solar panels. This new “green” future is a heartless metallic gray.

The farm “now grows a crop of ‘Posted’ signs, which will be followed by 70,000 solar panels.”

When I come home, I look forward to the smell of the air, the sight of colorful finches visiting the bird feeders my mother has accumulated over the course of many Christmases and Mother’s Days, and the distant hum of chainsaws leveling the old woods behind the back pasture. Those who walk there tread on hallowed ground, the cemetery where my grandfather buried and mourned his animals (the only time he ever cried). It is a small and secret violence. I feel the vibrations in my chest as past is severed from future.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: