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.