June 2006

Influencing my Life

Paula Miller Nolan

"City girl" Paula Miller Nolan tries to milk a cow, wears a "farm" swimming suit & steps "in it" at the Spiker Farm.

My Spiker relatives and the farm have been among the most important influences in my life and they continue to provide comfort, inspiration and the feeling of belonging to a wonderful extended family. For a woman who has lived her life in urban environments, the farm and the family have shown me and my children different experiences and perspectives. As a little girl, I loved our annual visits to the farm in West Virginia and looked forward to all the adventures that awaited us. As a grown woman, those adventures and family continue to lure me back to the home place.

Doing the everyday farm chores with grandma are wonderful memories. We would “slop” the pigs, gather the eggs, pick the vegetables and feed the baby lambs with bottles. Our grandparents were hard workers and it was fun to work with them doing those chores that I never did during the rest of the year. Grandma’s muddy boots were always waiting by the back door by the pump. Watching her brush her long hair and put it into a bun was a treat for a little girl always fascinated by hair. Grandma’s meals were always feasts, and she always had a crowd at the midday meal, particularly during hay harvest. Her beautiful collection of gourds on the stairs is a vivid memory.

Grandad allowed me to try milking but that was not a huge success. Also, the taste of warm, fresh milk was not particularly to my liking. One night I remember my father and granddad working on an injured animal in the barn into the wee hours of the night but they were unable to save the animal in spite of all their efforts.

Marjory and I had wonderful experiences during my visits. She had collections of so many common items, i.e. buttons, and I never tired of looking at them. We spent hours together and usually slept in the same bed. Marjory was also a hard worker, but Grandma let her spend fun time with me.

Of course, one of the best parts of our visits was swimming and playing games in the river. Mike, Brada, John, Melinda and I had so much fun playing in the muddy water. It could have been a fancy resort pool for all we knew or cared. Mom always insisted I have a “farm” swimming suit because whatever was worn in that river turned a most unattractive color.

Another favorite activity was taking walks up the hill in back of the farm. We could walk to the top. It was pasture land and not overgrown like it is today.

One of my childhood memories was watching the men of the farm take a big net to the river at night, drag it through the water and catch plenty of fish.

The only fishing I have ever done was in the farm river. Once someone else put a worm on the hook, I was very excited to catch a few sunfish or blue gills.

John and I laugh about the day I stepped in a cow pile out in the front pasture and became quite upset as the manure squished between my toes. To city girl feet that was a true crisis.

I always had my eyes open for snakes. Brada and I were visiting in the dining room when she told me to leave the room immediately and not look back. A rather large black snake was slithering my way.

I wish Tom could have written down his memories of the farm. He loved it so and, at one point, had a dream of building his own cottage on a remote part of the farm property. He liked to tell the story of a rainy night that he and Mike spent on the farm. According to Tom, Mike stayed up half the night checking water levels.

I also wish that Aunt Jean could have written down her memories, but her memories live in all of us as she enjoyed telling stories of life on the farm. When Aunt Jean was growing up, the farm was a social center for the entire community. Particularly on Sundays. People would come from miles around after church to play tennis, croquet, swim and eat. She liked to tell of riding her horse to school and the horse returning on it’s own.

Memories of Ryan and Evan enjoying the farm and the Spikers are also special. One fall day, Uncle Brad spent hours with Ryan collecting leaves for a school project. Another day, Evan used someone’s BB gun and mistakenly shot down a song bird. It was his first and last experience with a gun. Our grandchildren, Cole and Payton, have experienced the joys of jumping from the rope into the river.

We are all very blessed to have such a loving family and to have a place where we return, gather and create new memories.