NORTH AMERICAN, historical.
(as provided by the federal Homestead Act of 1862) an area of public land in the West (usually 160 acres) granted to any US citizen willing to settle on and farm the land for at least five years.
My mother’s family, historically, has had no problem packing up and moving to wild, unsettled, or otherwise difficult western locations. Starting with the Mayflower, my great (great, great, you get it) grandfather William Brewster helped run the “let’s get the hell out of dodge” relocation plan to Plymouth, and the Brewster family was one of the few to not just survive, but thrive, in that desolate, dangerous place. In Massachusetts, the Brewster name is still synonymous with that achieved settlement – in fact, my father, (unrelated, and who comes from comparatively
puny delicate Norwegian stock) coincidentally lived on Brewster Lane in Hingham, Massachusetts when he was a kid. We actually just figured this out recently. “Brewster Lane. Brewster Lane… Brewster – hey! I just got the connection!” My father smacked his forehead and the world came full circle, and with it the realization that these huge life coincidences may not be so coincidental after all.
Not only was William a complete badass for packing up his entire family to travel for months on a filthy, diseased ship (as I type, this sounds less bad-assy and more bad-parenty, but it’s 2017 and we judge other parents for shit like that these days), he also gave his kids cool names like Love, Patience, Fear, and Wrestling. Together, they sound like a survival reality show that culminates with shirtless fighting to the death. Or maybe I’ve just recently re-read Lord of the Flies. I digress.
Fast forward ten (?) generations, and the Brewsters were still going strong. My great-grandmother Anna Brewster married Arthur Ogden and the Brewster name disappeared from my family (effectively ending any chance for me to have any claim to fame about “still” being Brewsters after “all these years” even though I have zero credibility to do so), and the couple set up a homestead near Missoula, Montana.
My great-grandfather Bruce was born on this homestead.
His daughters, Anna Phyllis and June Katherine, were born on this homestead.
Anna Phyllis was my mother’s mother. I can reach back into my most faded memories and see her, still. Her kind face and soft hands are woven into my early childhood, along with the memory of her insisting that my eating cold hot dogs was fine because “what’s the difference, anyway”. She, this woman in a pink velvet pantsuit tossing a cold hot dog onto a plate, was born on a homestead. I was born in a hospital, which was great for my mother, because according to her, laboring me out took approximately 18 days and she refused medication like a goddamn saint.
I have always been restless for home. I’ve tried living in just about every situation you can imagine. Tiny, shitty apartment. Upscale condo. Lowscale suburban rancher. Fancy townhouse in a hipster neighborhood in Los Angeles. Falling-down farmhouse in a poor neighborhood near San Diego. Near the beach. Near the bottom. Near the top. But I have never truly felt at home. Until this house.
When we found our home, here in the rural mountains of southwestern Idaho, we were less than impressed. In fact, on our first attempt to view the property, we stopped halfway up the (woefully under-maintained and wonkily switch-backed) driveway because of dust and wasps. Our realtor even refused to get out of the car, and we all starting referring to it as the “Wasp House”.
The Universe was watching, and thwarted our attempts to purchase another home in the area (seriously, HOW did we get beat out by $5k on a house that had been for sale for 400 days??? HOW). We decided to give the Wasp House another shot. The house was promising but the property was desolate. We sacked up, brought baseball caps to swat at any wasps that may attack, stepped inside, and fell in love. “If you don’t buy this house, I will”, our realtor said, and 45 days later it was ours. Covered in wasps and not a single green thing on the property except for sage and scraggly pines. 5 acres of dust and dirt in every direction, surrounded by hundreds of miles of unforgiving mountain wilderness.
This. Was going to be The Suck. Structures and gardens and fences would need to be built. I would need to learn to sharpen my suburban gardening skills to actually produce real food from a real garden. I would need to get used to being 30 minutes away from the nearest grocery store, and I would need to say goodbye to chinese food delivery and mimosa brunches by the beach.
I had my homestead. I was finally home.
And it DID feel like home, almost immediately. Every hole I dug, every rock I picked, every path we laid, I felt more empowered. We planted grass. Built a deck. A giant stone fire pit for bonfires and other practical purposes (we burned our Christmas tree instead of putting it out by the curb because we literally have no curb). A 1000 sf enclosed garden was erected. I found asparagus growing wild on the property and cultivated it. I began to bake bread – REALLY bake bread – and suddenly that KitchenAid that I had been dragging around for 15 years became a daily driver. I became keenly aware of the pattern of the sun and the direction of the wind. My husband dug trenches to channel water. We planted trees – dozens – and my cosmos took over. Mountain Bluebirds and huge yellow butterflies and bossy little hummingbirds moved in (so bossy, in fact, that when I emerged early this Spring and began poking around in the front garden, they would dive-bomb my head every few minutes until I figured it out and put out their feeder). Frogs croak at night now, all blissed-out in the warm water of my husband’s trenches. Small children play here now, jumping from straw bales and delighting in giant sunflowers.
Our grandchildren will play here. On our homestead. Our home.
The work will never be finished, and I am absolutely certain that is a huge part of having a homestead. You add as you go. You stretch your pennies and you add as you go. Projects are completed as the budget allows, and help from family and neighbors is often employed. Our neighbors in San Diego were drunken sorority girls who cried on the sidewalk at 2 am and that Navy couple who had noisy sex every night. Here, our neighbors are 30 acres away, but will absolutely (albeit slowly) drive a load of dirt over for us in their front loader, because we do not own a front loader. And I will absolutely thank them with homemade creamy wild rice soup and perfect french rolls. Money does not exchange hands.
We’re working on having chickens approved (oddly enough, we do have an HOA), and I’ve started a gardening cooperative. Our most useful vehicle is a beat up 1989 Chevy.
I am home.
And the funny thing is? I did not know just how recent my family’s dedication to homesteading was until after we bought this property. It was not until my great-aunt June’s death last year that I received those pictures. What I had been searching for all along had always been a part of me. I just didn’t know it.
And the Universe smiled and the sky stretched out and my soul is at peace. Just. Like. That.
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I love this. So much. The writing, the history, the imagery and grit and love of it all.
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