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Don't sell the land

The Daughters and I went off to the family rice farm in Arkansas this past week to check the crops and attend the annual farm meeting.

I am happy to report that despite some problems at the beginning of the growing season, the rice fields look like they will yield a respectable crop after all. We have a few soybeans to boot and they look much more promising than I was told they did a month or so ago.

That is pretty much all I know to say about the crops. My cousin, the chief farmer, is good at his job. However, he is cautious when discussing yields, especially with those of us who haven’t a clue about the rice farms. To many of us, farming and the annual meeting are a great excuse to have a family reunion.

My mother’s family is large and extended; she was one of six children. There are 17 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and I am not sure how many great-greats, but there are some. Of course most do not attend the meetings, but there are pictures galore and copious amounts of reminiscing with those who are there.

A great many of us are scattered across the country from New England to California and Guam and many points in between. Our lives have taken us far from the little Arkansas hamlet where my grandfather had the local general store and fed many families during the “dirty thirties” on a promise and prayer.

He was also a shrewd man who bought land whenever he could and believed it was important to hang on to it, farm it right, and make it pay. Once, when I was about 14 or so, I was sitting with him on the screened-in front porch of his home. It was a large area and my grandfather sort of held court out there on the old porch swing, smoking his pipe, watching the traffic on the gravel road. Often his cronies would drop by.

My mother sent me out there that day to “visit” with him. I am not sure what she thought I might say to him — I was one of the “Yankee cousins” who grew up far away and who knew little about anything that was important in Arkansas. But she thought I should try. And so, try I did.

After the conversation lagged and I was trying to figure out a way to extricate myself from the porch, he pointed at me with his pipe in his fingers and growled, “Don’t sell the land!” There was a huge pause as I thought, “Land? Land? What land?” He said again, “When it is your turn, Sis, don’t sell the land!” I think I stuttered around and said that I would never do such a thing.

I wish I had been older and had asked questions. I should have asked what it was he wanted one of the Yankee cousins to understand. I wish I had known the ins and outs of the county in which he lived, all the good stuff and the bad stuff and why he had placed such importance on his land — why he looked at a kid who was a high school freshman in a state hundreds of miles away and say, “Whatever you do, don’t sell the land.”

I hope I can do a better job. And I want to share this with you in hopes that you also will be explicit with your heirs. Have discussions with them about what you are leaving them and let them know what it means to you. Have the talk early and be flexible if your situation changes. If what you are leaving becomes a liability for them, what are their options?

Do not put your family in the position of thinking, “What does he mean, don’t sell the land?” Share your life, your wishes, and your obligations with the people who will carry on after you are gone.

— SUSAN MARSHALL

Last modified Oct. 2, 2013

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