Archive for July, 2017

Gone Except for the Memories

Today we went to Denbigh (Newport News) to attend the 120-year homecoming celebration at Warwick River Mennonite Church in Newport News. But first, we had to drive past the farm-Quarterfield Farm, Gene’s home place fronting on Colony and Hertzler Road.  Well, it used to be a farm, now it is just a memory.

 

The house site

The garden plot

For 118 years, it was a fertile, productive farm (dairy, then a horse boarding facility) within sight of the Warwick River and belonged to the Hertzler family: Great-grandpa, grandpa and then dad Hertzler.

The once lush meadows and pastures are now pushed over trees, tractors have given way to bulldozers and houses are starting to grace the landscape instead of pecan, walnut, crepe myrtle and oak trees. They tell us the house, barn, machine shed, milk house and shop were demolished 2 weeks ago. What once was a familiar homestead is now a dirt construction site. The pecan trees and shrubbery are still standing marking the outline of the yard but we were told they too will soon be gone. All traces of history have been removed, never to be recovered or preserved. This history was more than just Gene’s family. It was an important part of the history of Mennonites who came to Denbigh. In 1897 D.Z. Yoder and Isaac D. Hertzler (Gene’s great-grandpa) came to Denbigh and purchased a 1200 acre plantation for $10 an acre. This quickly attracted the interest of many other Mennonites in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other parts of Virginia who moved there. The land was divided between the families forming a very unique close-knit faith and agricultural community called  “The Colony”.

A new house now built in the front pasture.

The neighbors fought hard against city hall pleading for a park, a preservation of the cherished land. They fought City Hall and City Hall won. A sign saying “Hertzler Meadow” almost feels like a taunt.

It feels sad and as a family we now only have a marker in the church cemetery a mile from the farm to document Oliver and Anna Mae Hertzlers’ existence.

But, they are not forgotten. We have memories, lots and lots of memories, precious memories and pictures that we do and will continue to cherish. Dad Hertzler knew the inevitable was coming and he had worked out the plans before his death. We are just glad he didn’t have to see the reality of it.

It reminds us of the frailty of life. We are only here for a few short years and then we are gone, never to return.

What will be our legacy?

How will we be remembered when there is nothing left but a tombstone?

 

All flesh is like grass, and it’s loveliness as the flower of the field.

Isaiah 40:6

As for man, his days are as grass; as the flower of the field so he flourished. For the wind passes over it and it is gone; and the place remembers it no more.

Psalms 103: 15-16

This is a unique, to scale model of “The Colony” made by Sam Brunk for the 100th Anniversary showing how it was in 1947. It is now solid development. The 60 acres owned by Dad Hertzler was the last piece of land to be sold. He held on to the land tenaciously even though the city was determined to force him out.

Quarterfield Farm, farm of Henry-Anna Hertzler, Gene’s grandpa.

 

Some related blog posts about the farm.

A Mulberry Tree

I have never had any interest in mulberry trees. None. I have never seen, tasted a mulberry or even thought about one until today. Well, actually the “seed” (of thought) was planted last week. Today that tree burst onto my horizon and I tasted of its sweetness.

Let me tell you a story….

Last week a well-known Powhatan local, previous business owner, (Flatrock Hardware) Jack May, stopped in the store and we started chatting. I could have listened to him for hours. You see, Jack used to live on our farm way back in the 40’s. Jack has a bank full of memories and stories about our farm.

One such story is the about a huge 5-foot diameter (according to Jack’s tale) mulberry tree that was beside a pig pen just down the hill from the house behind one of our house trailers.  A tree that big had to have heard Indian tales. He recalled climbing the tree and eating the sweet berries.

His grandpa, Henry May, owned the farm but Donald May, Jack’s dad, lived here and cleared/tilled the land. Grandpa Henry owned a prized Hereford breeding bull for which he paid a lot of money. The bull was not mean, but he had developed an intense dislike for Jack who was a young lad. For Jack to go to the barn he had to go around the mulberry tree and through the pig pen to stay out of the area the bull was kept.

One day when Jack was home alone, he decided to go to the barn. As he headed for the mulberry tree he skirted too close to where the bull was chained and found himself in a dangerous situation. To defend himself, he picked up a softball size rock and hurled it at the charging bull. The rock hit the bull in the center of the forehead, right between the eyes, dropping him instantly to the ground. Jack says he learned to pray that day!!! He thought he had killed grandpa’s bull and he was scared to death of the repercussions!

The bull finally started shaking his head and eventually got back up on his feet.

The mulberry tree eventually met its demise.  After hearing Jack’s story, I found myself thinking about that huge tree and wishing I could have enjoyed it’s beauty and sweetness.

This morning brought with an unexpected wonder.  The past several weeks we have been cleaning up the brush and weeds that have grown up behind and around the house trailer which just happens to be the area where the mulberry tree was.  There are now several big stately oak trees growing there but also a dense jungle of scrub bushes, poison ivy and other trees: Rose of Sharon, gum, maple, etc. I told the guy doing the cleanup to take out all the little sapplings except for one nicely formed tree that was getting some size to it.  I was standing under the tree when I happened to look up and to my wonder, my eyes suddenly fixed on red and black berries that looked like elongated blackberries. Mulberries? This had to be a mulberry tree! (If it hadn’t been for Jack’s story the previous week I would never have given a second thought about what it was).

A quick internet search confirmed that it was indeed mulberries.  The berries were almost gone but I was able to feast on a few deliciously sweet berries. The deep dark red, blood colored juice stains your fingers purple.

I am not aware of any other mulberry trees growing on the farm. It makes me wonder, could this sapling by chance, after all these years, be a descendant of the original mulberry tree? It is in the right area.  Coincidental-maybe.  By chance-perhaps. Does it matter? Not really, but I am going to speculate on the wonder that it just might have some Powhatan history in its DNA.

 

A resource: Mulberries- Sweet but Beware Their Dark Side

A memory: When we were kids we used to sing and act out the nursery rhyme “Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush”.

Blog post about the history of this farm:  “Once Upon A Time”.  I now have to change the history of this blog to reflect the Mays!

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