57: The Family Farm

57: The Family Farm

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


The Family Farm

Where thou artthatis Home.

~Emily Dickinson

A few years ago, my in-laws made a big announcement. After forty years in their farmhouse, they were selling the house and moving to a retirement community. This came as quite a shock to us, not just because the house had become a family “heirloom,” but also because of my father-in-law’s packrat tendencies — none of us thought he could ever let go of the stuff he’d collected over the years. My in-laws’ farmhouse sat on five acres of land that had numerous structures, including two barns and a large workshop. And these buildings were stuffed to the rafters with the many tools, spare parts, old furniture, and other treasures my father-in-law had accumulated over the years. In order to get the apartment they wanted, my in-laws had needed to act quickly, and they left themselves only three months to sort through and pack up forty years worth of stuff.

Over the years, I’ve found my mother-in-law to be unflappable, a strong and calming presence when life throws its curveballs. But the sudden rush of this move had even her rattled, as she wrestled with her emotions and worried about my father-in-law’s reluctance to part with anything.

We were heartbroken to see the old house go, but despite this we put on smiles, wanting to make the transition smooth for the two people who had done so much for us over the years. Privately, my husband and I worried. This house had been a labor of love for my in-laws for most of their adult lives. They had taken it from a dilapidated eyesore to a magnificent dwelling, raising three boys (as well as one dog, two goats, and twenty-five chickens — but that’s another story) and holding down multiple jobs along the way. In addition, through their generosity and hospitality, my in-laws had turned the home into a sweet haven for the extended family, giving us many wonderful memories of Christmases around the fire, summer solstice celebrations, and explorations in the property’s woods and pond. So much of their life was tied up in that house, not to mention my father-in-law’s collections. Could they truly leave it all behind? And what would their life be like once they did?

When we arrived the first day to help, we realized how valid our concerns were. Although my mother-in-law was making good progress in the house, she was on edge, and the two barns and workshop were huge messes. My father-in-law insisted on facing these beasts alone, but we doubted that he could actually sort through it all and part with most of it in just three months. We joined my mother-in-law in the house, and she and I talked about everything that was happening. “I love this house, and I’ve loved our time in it,” she said. “But we’re getting older, and we’re tired. We want to be able to relax and enjoy the years we have left. It’s time to move on.”

As I listened to her, I realized that the tremendous experiences we had enjoyed in this house had come at a high cost. While we took for granted this place that provided us with so many joyous memories, my in-laws were working harder and harder each year to make sure the experiences could continue. And they were doing so with a 200-year-old house that required large-scale maintenance each year and with bodies that, although healthy, were suffering the natural aches and weaknesses that come with age. And when I really thought about my father-in-law’s “hoarding tendencies,” I realized that the things he had amassed over the years were not silly collectibles, but things he and my mother-in-law needed to restore and maintain their “labor-of-love” house.

At that moment, I knew. It was not the house that had given us our memories… it was my in-laws. Without their loving presence, their amazing hospitality, and their incredibly hard work, the house was nothing more than a house. And in honor of all they had given us through the years, it was now time for us to give back. We needed to embrace this change and their readiness for it. As I listened to my mother-in-law talk eagerly about the new direction in which their lives were heading, I resolved that we would give these amazing people our best and enthusiastically support them every step of the way.

As we trekked over to the house each week for the next several weeks, we began to notice the changes. First the garden decorations were gone. Then the curtains were down and most of the furniture packed up. But most astonishing were the barns and workshop… little by little, the accumulations disappeared, and with them much of the weight that had sat on my father-in-law’s shoulders for so many years. He seemed to realize that his possessions had served him well but were no longer needed, and it was time to send them to new homes (ours one of them!) and jump into the wonderful new phase of life he and my mother-in-law so richly deserved.

Finally, the time came for the big move. As we pulled into the driveway of the farmhouse for the last time, everything felt different. The house was becoming just a house, and it would soon be a house that belonged to someone else. As we approached the front door, we saw my in-laws standing on their porch for the last time. And the looks on their faces said it all — their expressions showed not sadness, but beaming pride for all they had accomplished with this house for so many years and excitement for the new adventure they were about to embark on.

Two years have now passed since my in-laws’ move. They have settled into their retirement community, and by all accounts it seems that the move has given them a new lease on life. Wonderful new friends, daily activities, and adventurous trips now fill their schedule, and we find that they are busier now than they have been in a long time! But at the same time, they are also more relaxed and at peace than they have been in a long time. And most importantly, they are enjoying the reward for the hard work they put in for so many years, providing a wonderful haven for their family. And, with renewed vigor, they are creating fantastic new memories to add to the special ones we will always have of the old farmhouse and what they made it into for us.

~Maggie Hofstaedter


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