This afternoon, Annabel and I got to talking about her namesake, my paternal grandmother, Anna Bell Doll Musser. I have a distinct memory of when I learned Granny's full name. She had a plate commemorating her and Pop Pop's 50th anniversary on a table in her living room, inscribed with her maiden name and Pop's name and their wedding date. I remember thinking that her name was the most beautiful name of any real person that I'd ever known and that Anna Bell Doll seemed an incongruously delicate and girly name for my sturdy, sensible Granny. Somehow, I loved her even more for having this wonderful name. From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Annabel, I knew she would be a girl and early on, before the ultrasound lab tech confirmed for me what I already knew, I also had decided (after consulting Mike, of course) what what my baby girl's name would be. We never considered any other names for her...had she come out a boy, he would have likely spent his first several weeks of life on the outside without a permanent name. She would be Annabel. Pronounced AH-na-bel, with the sensible German spelling rather than the fanciful French spelling, as Mike put it.
So, I was telling Annabel some of this and she wanted to see some pictures of Granny . I have some prints around, but I knew my dad has many old photos up on his web site. I didn't realize the treasure he had put up there and so was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this page of pictures of Musser Farm, in Manchester, Pennsylvania, circa 1942-43.
A little background about the pictures. Sometime in the early 1940s, Christian B. Musser (aka Pop Pop), decided to try contour plowing his small (acreage, Dad?) farm. The US Soil Conservation Service helped Pop figure out how to go from traditional straight furrow cultivation to contour farming and the USDA, bless 'em, filmed the process over a year long period, in an effort to create a bit of pro-contour-plowing propaganda to convince other farmers of the ease and benefits of contour farming. Contour plowing prevents soil erosion and after millions of acres of farmland lost top soil during the 1930s, the USDA began actively promoting the method through the SCS.
I've watched this short film, entitled For Years to Come, many times over the years and am always utterly fascinated watching my grandparents, uncles, and aunts, all so young, smiling shyly as the camera trains on them picking peaches, carrying baskets of eggs or big jars full of summer's bounty up from the cellar. To see these people, whom I have only known in person as "old," animated in the spring of life is such a gift. To see the Musser Farm, now in its demise with my Uncle Paul (who bought the farm my grandparents in the 1960s) turning 80 this year and none of his kids taking it over, in its glorious, beautiful heyday, pleases me to no end. I never knew the farm with such a variety of crops and animals--pastured no less! I spent weeks there every summer as a child, chasing ducks, helping my Aunt Helen sort eggs, and just generally wandering around and exploring. Many of my happiest childhood memories come from that place.
Anyway, I stumbled on this trove of stills from the film on my dad's site and as I sat there looking at these pictures with my daughter, marveling at the primitive yet ingenious tools they used and the abundant beautiful crops they grew, I couldn't help but wonder about their farming practices. Were they organic? Did they compost? My dad has often commented on the rich dark soil we have here at our place and wistfully noted that Pop Pop would marvel at my soil. What would Pop Pop think of my pathetic garden? Maybe he'd be impressed with my asparagus and artichokes.
I think of Granny everytime I can, with her spectacular bursting-at-the-seams pantry. I wish I understood its organization. It seems somewhat random, but I can't help but think there must have been some reason to it. Did she can small batches and just add jars wherever she had space? Did she put jars in the order she wanted them taken back out? Was life just so unhurried then that she didn't need some high level of organization to keep things from getting chaotic? Oh, Granny, I have so many questions for you.
Please excuse me for going on and on about this. (Well, I suppose I shouldn't have to beg your indulgence. This is my blog afterall. I can go on and on if I want to, right?) I'm rather attached to those people and that farm. I miss them all terribly, especially my grandparents. For years I have fantasized about taking over the farm myself, transitioning it to organic, bringing animals back on the land. I know I'll never live on the East Coast again and I'm too old and out-of-shape to take up farming. Unfortunately, with no one in the family to pass the farm on to and the property being worth so much now, it seems unlikely that anyone wanting to farm could afford to buy this valuable bit of land and its lovely old buildings, now surrounded by suburban development and industrial parks.
I've been sick and down for a couple days...we just learned that one friend has bone cancer and a neighbor has leukemia, another friend's company is going out of business, someone stole the catalytic converter off our truck, and my husband's job remains in jeopardy, too. I'm completely wallowing and now find myself falling even further into my pit o' despair imagining Musser Farm being no more. Could someone please send me some uplifting news?