John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to email@example.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
This was the year that my sister sold the family farm.
My great-great-grandfather, John Early, bought the property
outside Elizaville, Kentucky, in 1862. My great-grandfather, Benjamin Given
Early, built the farmhouse circa 1890. It was the home of my grandparents,
Lucien Lundy Early and Clara Rhodes Early, during my childhood. It was in that
farmhouse that my mother, Marian Early McIntyre, the last of the Earlys, felt
her heart begin to fail on November 2, 2001.
My mother left the property to my older sister, Georgia, who
found it increasingly burdensome to manage from her home in Cleveland. In
conversations during recent years I encouraged her to consider selling it.
Otherwise she was going to leave it to me, which I would have found burdensome to manage from Baltimore. And I
entertained no fantasies of retiring there.
This is the year that Georgia sold the property, house and
land, to an Amish family moving to Kentucky from Pennsylvania. Their plan is to
convert the property, which for generations was devoted to growing tobacco and
corn, to an organic dairy operation. I wish them well. It is better for the
land to be worked, and to be worked by people who live on it. It is better for
the house to be lived in than to be allowed to deteriorate. She made the right
decision, a good decision.
But it is still a wrench to sever the link to the land and
the past. There were the fields I roamed and the creek I played in. There was
the house where my grandmother watched her “stories” every afternoon. One of
her favorites, The Brighter Day, had
as its theme the slow movement from the Brahms Double Concerto, and every time
I hear it I am for a moment back in the front room of the farmhouse, reading,
with my grandparents in the next room, the world stable and secure as it was meant
I effectively left Elizaville when I went off to graduate
school in the fall of 1973, returning since only as a visitor, an expatriate
Kentuckian. Today what remains for me to visit is a row of headstones on a
hillside. Home, a construct of memories and metaphors, hasn't been my home for
years, and now can't be.
On my desk there is a tobacco canister I filled with soil
from the family farm years ago. In a small way, I am a landowner. And if I
should succumb to sentimentality, I may ask my family to mingle that dirt with
my ashes, to reestablish the connection at the end.
John E. McIntyre, a veteran editor and teacher, is back in harness. He worked for nearly 23 years at The Baltimore Sun, for 14 of those years as head of its copy desk, and, after a one-year hiatus, has returned as night content production editor. He has taught copy editing at Loyola of Maryland since 1995. He was the second president of the American Copy Editors Society, serving two terms, and he has been a consultant on writing and editing at publications in the United States and Canada.