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 jemcintyre@gmail.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/.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

No home to come home to

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 to be.

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.