Do you ever get the sudden urge to reconnect with your past? To look at where you came from? It hits me sometimes when I’m least expecting it, and happens more and more as I’m getting older. I see a shrub or tree that my Grandmother planted flowering, or I use one of my Grandfather’s well-worn tools, and for unknown reasons I find myself sitting in our farm office that night looking through the boxes and albums of old family photos, stretching back well over a century.
I see scenes of rural Edwardian Britain there, where tired looking men and women, with weather-beaten faces and rough hands stare into the camera, solemn-faced in their starched shirts and blouses. I see heavy horses, and early tractors and machinery. I see my Great Grandfather Evans, Sam Nant Mill, standing beside a horse and cart bedecked in flowers and garlands, ready to participate in the village carnival. I see families standing proudly beside their first ever car, the inevitable black Ford model-T, and wonder how they must have felt on that life-changing day. And I see fresh-faced and excited looking young men, in the army uniforms of both first and second world wars, ready to march away to France, and know that many of them are still there, in the great military cemeteries of the Somme and Flanders.
Last week, driving through our local village on the way back from checking Cattle, it was this familiar urge that caused me to call into our local village Church of St.Dunawd’s, where my Parents, and my Wife and I got married, and we baptised our four Daughters, to see my Grandparents. I don’t visit as often as I should, but they wouldn’t mind. They were busy people all their lives, and would fully understand the demands of farm and family. And anyway, I never could do any wrong with my Grandmother. I was her only Son’s only Son, and was the apple of her eye until the day she died. She was more like me than anyone else in my family, passed on to me her intense love of literature and words, and I miss her every single day.
It’s a simple headstone; it has their names, year of birth and death, and the name of our farm – Lower Eyton Farm, in bold letters. I stand awkwardly, with tears in my eyes (this happens more as I get older too), for a few minutes, before walking back to the truck. But as I walk back through the churchyard, I notice for the first time many other headstones with the names of farms on them too. Family names, dates, farm names, and sometimes a brief verse. Some of the farms I recognise, and some of them have the same families still there now. Some I’m not sure of, and some are long gone; the house and land sold off, and the barns converted into expensive houses for commuters. But on the headstones, the farm names are linked to the family names forever.
We are of these farms you see, part of the very soil. We love every single square inch, and we live and breathe them every single day of our lives. They are indelibly linked to our identity. I look around me every day and see gates that my Grandfather made, and fences that my Father and I put up together. I see my Children playing in the yard. I see my Parents putting as much love, care, and dedication into this farm now they’re in their mid-sixties, as they have all their lives.
My Grandparents weren’t born on our farm, they came from West of here, up in the hills. From a Welsh-speaking community where both of their families had lived for generations. They arrived here in their twenties, with two young Daughters in tow, full of ambition, hope, and hard work, and when my Father was born shortly afterwards, their family was complete. They made this farm their home, and it always will be – it says so on their headstone.
And when it’s my turn to go and join them, to laugh with them again, and tell them about all the improvements we’ve made here in my time, I only have two requests; that Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen is played as I go out, and I too have Lower Eyton Farm on my headstone.