My dad wasn’t meant to be a farmer, anymore than I was meant to be a Confederate general. But life doesn’t always offer us a straight path.
The year was 1968. My dad was 24 years old and the new principal of Henry Elementary School.
It was to be a monumental year.
The Vietnam War was just beginning. The Green Bay Packers were Super Bowl Champions. Martin Luther King and later Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated. Richard Nixon had been elected. And the Rolling Stones and Lynard Skynard were just starting to make their mark on the music scene.
By the way, the year 1968 was also a leap year. And my parents were about to leap into a new adventure.
As virtual newlyweds, Jerry Stiles and his wife Judy had been searching for land on which to raise their growing family. I was a toddler, my sister Becky was still nursing, my brother John was about to be put “in the oven,” and our baby brother Benji was a surprise to come along several years later.
A 120-some-acre farm in the nearby village of Ferrum suddenly attracted the attention of my parents. The farmstead was priced at $7,500 but the local realtor accepted my Dad’s offer of $7,000.
The property involved a two-story farmhouse, a large barn, several wooden outbuildings (a smoke house, a pigpen and a chicken coop), and the aforementioned 120+ acres of tillable fields and thick forests along a mile-long driveway.
An elementary school principal with a degree in education rather than agriculture, my father nonetheless bought half a dozen cows to dine in our pastures, to slurp from our two creeks and to sleep rent-free in our barn.
Two little piggies were purchased, not to forever stay home but to eventually go to market.
Once the children were old enough to help with chores, our folks bought scores of chickens to replace the hogs, a goat to replace the cows, and two rabbits merely for entertainment.
Together with whatever our father and his three sons were able to bring home after an afternoon spent hunting and fishing and bonding — along with gathering fresh produce from a huge vegetable garden — the Stiles family was able to pretty much remain self-sufficient during those early years on a farm.
It was a simple life for which we were created and raised, whether or not we understood or appreciated it at the beginning.
Fast-forwarding longer than three decades, after years and years and years away, this old farmland continues to whisper our names.
As memories echo across these foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.