Close your eyes and think of the word “land.” What do you see? Maybe it’s a forest you’ve walked through. Or maybe you see a vast field of corn. You might even picture an image from Google Earth! When I pause and think of land, I am brought back to my grandparent’s farm in Burton, Texas. My brother, our parents, and I would “go up to the country” at last once a month and on most holidays until my grandmother’s death in 1995. The two hour drive out of the city and into the country led us over the muddy Brazos River, past a decaying drive-in movie theater, through gravel roads, and over the Mill Creek Bridge.
That bridge meant about fifteen more minutes to our grandparent’s house (and the bathroom!). My grandmother would often step out onto the back porch with her apron tied around her waist to greet us. And after a quick hello, the kids would run off to play.
My grandparents Henry and Lillie purchased their land from Henry’s parents in 1931. They lived in the “Big House” with Henry’s parents and farmed the land until 1939 when the promise of work as a carpenter drew Henry and the family to Port Arthur. They returned to the farm in 1946 when the Rebotsky family who was leasing the land moved away. In 1965 they sold a portion of the land to their daughter Delores and her husband Jack and moved to Houston where Henry again worked as a carpenter. A smaller house was built close to the road and was used as a type of vacation or weekend house. Henry and Lillie returned to the farm with their youngest son Lanis for the last time in 1979 and the land has remained in our family.
When I think back to my grandparent’s farm, I remember the exact path I took from their back porch to the excavated pit that we called The Silo. There was a cattle pen and a minefield of cow pies to navigate, and then the glorious trip across a trickle of water called The Creek that was best experienced running at full speed with arms fully extended. Thick brush and a forest-like canopy of tangled branches opened the door to the kind of imaginary world that exists only for children. The Tank served as a vast lake for the herd of tiny plastic horses I set up alongside. The Gravel Pit (which was actually a pile) rivaled any man made playscape and on its mountainous peak, I was king.
Place Attachment Theory describes the emotional bonds that occur between a person and a place when that place is instilled with meaning and value. Those meanings arise from lived experiences in that place and increase with greater time spent there. This is why we feel more of an attachment to our childhood home than a nice apartment. But what does a place mean to a person who did not grow up there? None of us cousins spent more than a weekend with our grandparents, yet The Farm, The Country, and The House have a shared meaning and evoke the same response. That is, a yearning to replicate the positive experiences of our childhoods. My mom has about a dozen photo albums full of Christmas celebrations, Thanksgivings, and various life events. These albums span decades and I’ve often looked through them, start to finish, and watched everyone grow up and go away.
The land I grew up with began slipping away sometime around middle school. It became harder to slide between the rails of the cow pen. My feet left heavy impressions in the ground and even running across The Creek felt clumsy and wrong. By the time Lanis passed away in 2007, I no longer enjoyed visits to The Country. The landmarks that once brought me so much happiness now conjured up desperate longing for the magic of childhood. The funny thing is that once I resigned myself to the knowledge that Granny and Grandpa’s land exists only in my mind, I was able to make peace with the changes. Although the landscape has transformed to the point of being unrecognizable, all of the experiences that bonded me to the land remain
The Tank and The Gravel Pit, circa 1990
For more information, check out:
Quinn, Courtney E., and Angela C. Halfacre. “Place Matters: An Investigation of Farmers’ Attachment to Their Land.” Human Ecology Review, vol. 20, no. 2, 2014, pp. 117–132. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24707629. Accessed 23 June 2020.