The Tale Of Foster Farm, 1936-2016: Part One
Our House Is A Very, Very Very Fine House with Ten Cats In The Yard
In 1974, we were living in Peoria at 2205 N. Linsley St., a house between Sheridan and University on the West Bluff that we had rented since I got my job teaching English at Illinois Central College in August 1971.
As always, we needed more book-cases. My ICC office-mate and friend Leanne Schertz told me about a former ICC colleague of hers, Nancy Esposito, (whose desk and office chair I had inherited then I was hired) who was divorcing her husband. He had made a book case six feet high by eight feet wide that, like Gaul, was divided into three parts.
So I phoned him and he gave me directions.
I was taken by the farmhouse at once. Surrounded by corn and soybean fields, it was a two-story home built in 1936 out of recycled lumber by two bachelor dairy farmers, who’d also constructed a large dairy barn on the west side, a big wooden corn crib and tractor building to south, and a garden shed that we later used as a hen-house.
The two-acre plot also included a tall and wide wire corn crib in the southeast corner, a two-stall garage with a work bench just west of the house, and a privy that my dad Claude later informed was a “WPA (Works Project Administration) stinkless outhouse,” built on a concrete slab with a clay tile and the classic crescent moon cut out above the south-facing door. We used it for years during clement weather. Toilet paper was kept in a Medaglia d’Oro coffee can. We “flushed” it with scoops of lime.
It was lovely sitting out there in the summer morning sun, reading the Journal Star, watching the swallows swoop, waving at our landlord Don as he farmed on the 78 acres south of our two.
People asked me “Does it still work?”
“Silly,” I’d say. “How can you break an outhouse?”
During our 1982 upstairs remodeling, my longtime friend and bandmate and our contractor Mike “Kingfish” Boyer ran electric power out to the privy. I added a Hamm’s beer sign, a wall-mounted reading lamp, and tacked up some vintage rhythm and blues show posters.
Another Franklin Roosevelt 1930s project, the Civilian Conservation Corps, had planted the cedar windbreak on the northwest corner of our plot.
Two giant sentinel pines stood, and still stand, just north of our house. Three tall spreading Entish maples shaded the house, and more out by the concrete block pump house with its unpotable water. In all, there were 43 trees, a prime number deemed lucky by Marquette ’68 Honors Program brats like us for reasons too stupid to go into here.
During my first visit, I asked Joe Esposito, the guy who was moving out, what he rented it for.
“$80,” he said.
“What’re the landlords like?” I queried.
“Salt of the earth, Mennonite farmers,” he said, and so they were.
Our Peoria house was about to be too small because our second daughter Megan was due to be born mid-summer. Moreover, the rent was about to go from $160 to $180.
I came out to look it over again by myself on a gorgeous summer Saturday.
It seemed perfect. I’d always wanted to live in the country. Jo hadn’t, but she told me she’d let me get it out of my system.
I dropped to my knees by the eastern edge of the bean-fields and prayed, “Lord, if it would be good for our family to live here, let it be.”
We met the cattle farmer brothers, Don and Harold Grove, who farmed around it whose uncle’d owned the house, known as “the old Ben Grove place.”
Jo was great with child, Megan Hope, our younger daughter who was born one month to the day, on July 27, 1974, after we moved in here at June’s end. Our older daughter Martha’s autism had begun to manifest itself and we wanted a place where she could be safe at home.
The rent was $100.
We moved in. The Foster Farm Feral Feline Incest began project soon thereafter.
Six years later, the owner, old uncle Ben Grove, died. The farm house we lived in and the three 80-acre parcels of land went up for auction in April, 1980. We could only get Metamora Bank financing for a bid of $37,000 for our two-acre parcel.
By owner’s mandate, we had to have a day-long Saturday open house. Because our basement drain was inadequate, Jo made sure to do several loads of laundry so the floor was slick with soapsuds and scum. One middle-aged farm wife slipped and would’ve sat down suddenly and been soaked if her husband had not caught her.
Jo apologized insincerely.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s always like this. It’s worse when it rains and worse still when the snow and ice thaw.”
We did everything but bring in the two sheep and a few roosters and rabbits to Dogpatch the place.
Our elder daughter Martha was ten years old; Megan was only five.
So on the designated morning, we went to the bank for the auction.
The bidding started at $38,000.
I looked over at the banker.
He silently shook his head “no.”
Our hearts and our hopes fell like dead leaves.
Jo leaned on my shoulder and we hugged. We loved our house, our gardens, our livestock, our 43 trees.
It’d been our home for nearly six years.
(To be continued)