Jesse Stuart’s short story, “This Farm for Sale”, tells the tale of a tired old farmer who decides to unload his acreage and move his family to town. The landowner hires a real estate broker to advertise his homestead in the local paper. The agent visits the farm and then publishes a beautiful description of the land. He details the warmth and nostalgic feel of the house, the history and usefulness of the barn, the life-giving beauty of the creek that winds through the bottom land, and the bountiful resources found in the farm’s orchard and berry thickets.
The story concludes with the old farmer reading the outsider’s glowing appraisal of his farm, and his deciding that it would be foolish to sell such a valuable treasure.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought quite a bit about that story. I’ve thought about how sometimes outsiders can see a value in a specific aspect of our life which we ourselves cannot realize. Perhaps we have become so determined in a decision that we cannot truly assess the situation.
But notice that I said sometimes.
Sometimes, it’s just the opposite. Sometimes an outsider’s sole purpose is to give an objective appraisal of the actual value of one of our possessions. To do his job, he cannot be concerned about family history or walking down sentimental pathways. He is simply concerned with facts, and the current condition of the object. Not what was or what may be in the future, but what is.
Several years ago, as a part of the process of obtaining a refinance loan, I had to hire a certified appraiser to assess the farm.
The appraiser noted the following on his assessment (paraphrased): “Located on the farm are a small house, an old tobacco barn, and a small operational dairy facility. Due to their size, age, and condition, and due to the current farm economy, none of these permanent structures adds to the value of the farm.”
This young man did his job professionally and accurately. His job was to determine a value for a piece of property based upon expert opinions and the opinions expressed by community members through their recent bidding and purchasing of similar pieces of property. He was correct in saying, the house, tobacco barn, and dairy barn would appear useless to most buyers in our community.
However, value, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
The house was built for my grandparents (on my mom’s side) shortly after they married. It was the place where a young love and family began to blossom. My Granny (on my Dad’s side) lived in the house for 35+ years beginning with my early childhood. Memories of her stories, habits, eccentricities, love, and care abound in that house. Many a night was spent sitting at her feet and listening to her read “This Farm for Sale” and other short stories.
The tobacco barn was built by my grandfather in the 1940’s. No, it would not hold a crop of tobacco now. But the ground it stands on holds the blood, sweat, and tears of several generations of family members who learned the meaning of cooperation, perseverance, and communication.
The milk barn was built by Daddy and Mama in 1976. At the time of the appraisal, that small dairy operation had and was providing a basic living for three generations. Through the years, it has provided the groundwork for Christian character to be instilled within all who have worked, played, visited, and written their names on the back wall.
Neither an appraiser, nor a buyer can appreciate the history of the three buildings. Truth be known, the next generation of Waddells will never fully be able to grasp the buildings’ importance in the shaping of that generation’s character and integrity. Only those who have sat at the feet of a loving grandmother as she read “A Penny’s Worth of Character” by Jessie Stuart; only those who have listened to their parents, aunts and uncles, and other close friends laugh and enjoy each other’s company as they passed sticks of tobacco from one to the other while sweat poured from their skin; only those who have trekked to the barn in the dark in order to milk cows or feed calves before heading to school, can really understand why size, age, and condition are not always a true indicator of value.
As I said, I have been thinking quite a bit lately about that fictional story and that factual real estate appraisal.
I am selling a portion of the family farm; the section on which the small house sits. Although the house is still structurally sound, and although it is filled with fond memories, in the eyes of the typical buyer, the house adds little or no value to the land. It is outdated and unsafe for the average American family with all its electrical and plumbing needs.
But I am not selling the land to an average American family. I am selling it to an Amish couple. And they will find value in the house; for they do not have the need for plumbing or electricity.
It saddens me to see that portion of our heritage leave the family. I have no doubt that all of us will grieve when it changes hands. But I am glad to know that someone else will be able use the land to begin filling their own treasure chest with valuable memories.
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