Grasping for Heritage

I feel an affinity with a parcel of land in Illinois that I have never seen and probably never will. This 90 acres was purchased by my great-great grandparents, Jacob and Margaret Eberle, in 1900 or so. When they died, ownership was split between their children, including my Grandma’s father, Harry.

Splitting shares is common practice as family possessions transfer from one generation to the next. It doesn’t take long for the value to become so diluted as to be more trouble than it’s worth. Such is the case here—my Grandma’s uncle sold his share to his sister Irene, and even then the smallest shares, owned by Irene’s great-great-granddaughters, are 1/24.

In November, a sale of this land will close, ending more than a century of Eberle ownership.

I interviewed my Grandma last Friday, when I was in Wisconsin for Get Your Pitchfork On! readings in Milwaukee and Madison. I knew that she grew up in town, not on a farm, but I was hoping to hear stories of her spending summers on this land, visiting her grandparents. I knew she and her family foraged nuts and mushrooms from a neighboring forest, and I wanted to learn more about this. I hoped I wouldn’t make her sad by asking about it.

“Oh, I’ve never seen the land,” said Grandma with a dismissive wave. “It was in the southern part of the state, and we lived in Lincoln.”

Poof! went my romantic bubble. Contrary to my assumptions, the farmland was an investment. It was leased to a farmer, who paid my family to work it. My grandma remembers nothing about the farm except that they would get a dividend check every Christmas, and that its mineral rights were explored for a while (but never exploited).

“It had good woods,” she said, “but we weren’t sure of the value of it.”

There’s really no reason to feel attached to this land. If I hadn’t learned of the sale it would have simply floated on down the river, like everything else. I have no desire to abandon Oregon for Illinois. I’m not a farmer.

But still, it’s family land. As someone who has turned out pretty rootless, I feel an attraction to something—anything—that has five generations attached to it.

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4 thoughts on “Grasping for Heritage

  1. My mother’s family farm wasn’t far from your grandparents’ home in Lincoln. My father’s family farm was in Morgan County, Illinois. All those farms gone now. Today so much of that land is nothing but row after row of corn, all exactly alike, genetically modified, horrifying. My mother still lives in Illinois. The heart or our nation’s farmland, but nearly everyone buys their food from Walmart.

    • Eberle Darnell says:

      Thank you for your comments! My mother, Elizabeth Eberle Tostberg said the reason the family held on to the property was oil was drilled on that land, and back in the 70’s a coal company was interested in leasing the property for mining but it didn’t materialize. I can tell you many stories about the farm your grandmother and my Mom grew up in

  2. Steve Goebel says:

    This whole process of selling a mere 90 acres of farmland that has been in the family for so long that only 3 living heirs have ever set foot on this soil. That’s out of 10 heirs who divvied up the spoils ranging age from 92 years young to 35. We live in Illinois, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Kentucky. Its been interesting – I learned a lot. It could also be frustrating – mostly trying to prove a line of conveyance from one generation to the next. Its also been most enjoyable to converse with family members – all cousins – that I have never met before. A few of us will gather for a celebration this Dec. 4.

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