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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: Planting the Palouse
By Emily Gibson


My mother's older brother, a retired wheat farmer, passed away recently. Well into his eighties, he had spent the last few years of his life locked inside a body that no longer could do much walking, talking or remembering. This must have been particularly difficult for a man who walked many miles tilling the Palouse hills of eastern Washington state, and who planted the seeds of tall tales in his sister's kids' memories, waiting for their reaction with a twinkle in his eye.

Al and my mother were born in the isolation of a Palouse wheat farm, in a two story white house located down a long lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills. My uncle, after attending college, was destined by his gender and birth order to remain on that farm, to work long days and many nights over scores of years in all kinds of weather, before turning it over to his own son. I sometimes wondered how much his heart really belonged to that farm or if the legacy of the farmer's son prevented him from pursuing another destiny. He could not really leave the fertile piece of land that witnessed his birth, even if he felt a calling to another profession. Homesteaded by his grandfather and someday to be farmed by his grandson, there was family sweat equity fertilizing the soil from generation to generation. Perhaps he yearned to be free of it, but I never knew that to be the case. He seemed born to farm and farm he did and he did it well, raising his family in the old farmhouse that stood vigil amidst the hills.

Our occasional summer visits were filled with exploration of the rolling hills, the barns, and the chilly cellar where the fresh eggs were stored after we reached under cranky hens to gather them. We sat in the cool breeze of the picketed yard, watched the huge windmill turn and creak next to the house. We settled in the screened porch listening to adults talk about lentil prices and bushel production, who was sick and who had died and what the harvest might yield depending on the weather. We woke to the mourning dove call in the mornings. We ate wonderful meals cooked by my loving aunt and her daughters, and read every comic book and Mad Magazine in my cousin's collection. We listened to our Uncle Al tell stories and watched him do card tricks--he always had a few new ones.

Even as a young child visiting my uncle's family, I felt a kinship that tugged at me at a very cellular level. I too felt I'd been called to this kind of life: the hard work of devout stewards of the land.

I know from where my shyness comes, my preference for birdsongs rather than radio music, my work ethic of going until I drop, and my tendency to be serious and straight laced with a twinkle in my eye. This is my Palouse farmer side--immersing in the quietness of solitude, thrilling to the sight of the spring wheat flowing like a green ocean wave in the breeze and appreciating the warmth of rich soil held in my hands. From this spare richness came my mother and it is the legacy my Uncle Al shared graciously with his kid sister's children during our brief summer visits with his family. It has stuck with me and I'll be forever grateful to him.

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This article has been read 596 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Debbie Wistrom04/24/08
What a life. So enjoyed your painting it here. Keep up the good words.
Betsy Markman04/24/08
Beautifully written. One of the best that I've read so far in "Uncle."
Beth LaBuff 04/24/08
I love this description (and I'd love to visit this place), "the isolation of a Palouse wheat farm, in a two story white house located down a long lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills." This is wonderfully worded, "there was family sweat equity fertilizing the soil from generation to generation" -- it's a perfect description of a family (or century) farm. You were brave, I was always afraid of the "cranky hens". :) I hope this is a true story… cause your Uncle sounds like an amazing man. Great work on this! I enjoyed reading it.
Phyllis Inniss04/29/08
Your words give a beautiful description of your life on your uncle's farm and the legacy of wonderful memories he has bestowed on you. I was able to enjoy what you experienced because of the way you planted what you felt.
Jan Ackerson 04/30/08
This is gentle and peaceful--a lovely thing to read.
Dee Yoder 04/30/08
Lovely writing, as is usual for you! This portrait of your uncle and the family farm is filled with tender descriptions and emotions. Beautiful work!
Joshua Janoski04/30/08
A lovely read. The words you use paint a beautiful picture.

As I read this, I pictured a painting of a man off in the distance standing atop a hill working the land.

A very nice tribute to your uncle that I hope you share with all of your family.
Sara Harricharan 04/30/08
This is a great tribute/memory. I liked it and especially the little details you wove throughout. Nice job! ^_^
Loren T. Lowery04/30/08
This is such a beautifully written loving tribute to not only the man, but his way of life. It is rich in memory and insights that only someone of a tender heart and soul could write. Thank-you for sharing this wonderful story and helping me to re-call some of the same warm memories of my own aunt and uncle back on the Kansas plains.