Elias Moses Philbrick’s Farm

Dateline: 26 January 2008
My stepfather gave me yet another box of my deceased mother’s personal papers. There are numerous notebooks, and in one notebook she wrote out something her brother, Jim, had written to her sister, Irene, in response to her wanting to know something about their grandmother. Jim was a much older brother and he lived with his grandparents. I’ll give you a little background before I get to the point of all this...

My mother was born, Mary Ann Philbrick. She was the daughter of Percy and Gertrude Philbrick of Fort Fairfield, Maine. My grandparents were potato farmers. I have written about them some in my book Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. On the cover of the book is a picture of me (at two years old) with Percy.

Percy's father was Elias Moses Philbrick (1869-1953) of Easton, Maine. Seeing as I was born in 1958, I never knew my great Grandfather Elias. I have seen one photo of him in his later years. He looks like you might imagine an old farmer with the name, Elias Moses, to look.

Elias married Myrtle Francis Bean in 1895. They had five children. My grandfather, Percy, born in 1896 was their first child. Myrtle was pregnant with child number six when she died in 1907. she was killed in a carriage accident. The horse pulling the carriage was frightened by a car. It was the first car the horse had ever seen.

Family lore has it that Elias placed an advertisement in a large downstate newspaper for a woman to help take care of his children. He wanted a teacher with some nursing experience. A woman by the name of Lillian Rose Dow from Charlestown, Maine met the requirements, answered the ad, and was hired. Elias and Lillian married in 1909.

My grandfather, Percy, established his farmstead a short ways from his father's place on the Forest Avenue Road, over the town border in Fort Fairfield. He married Gladys Louise Sawyer from Presque Isle, Maine in 1917. They had three children, Jim, Lillian, & Phil. Then, in 1922 Gladys died. Once again, I think the death was due to a horse & carriage accident.

Percy’s children from his first wife went to live with Elias and Lillian. Percy married my grandmother, Gertrude Alena Lang (1902-1999) in New Brunswick, Canada in 1923. They had eight children (Ellen, Dawn, Irene, Nathan, Dorothy, Lorraine,Jean, and Mary). You'll notice that was seven girls and one boy.

My mother had fond remembrances of Elias and “Grammie Dow” and their farm. Being so close, they were frequent visitors. When the girls got older and started having boyfriends. They would bring them to meet Grammie and Grampie. Family lore again has it that Elias would meet his granddaughter’s suitors at the door with his shotgun in hand. Maybe it only happened once. But my mother told me that Elias got real cantankerous when he got older.

One summer, early in the 1970s, when I was visiting my grandparents, my mother and another aunt and some cousins went up to Elias’s farmhouse. Elias had been dead for years. Grammie Dow had passed on. The farm was owned by someone else. The house was abandoned and wide open. The grass and trees about the place had not been cared for in a long time. I remember thinking how big the old house was. And, though I was young, without an understanding of architectural beauty, it registered in my mind that the white clapboard farmhouse was once beautiful. 

We walked in and the rooms were large. My mother and aunt were walking through, remembering the way it once was, where things had once been, what things had once taken place in the old house. I had the sense that this was a very special place. It was certainly more special than the little ranch house in the suburban subdivision outside Syracuse, New York, where I lived at the time.

After wandering our way through the house, we started to explore the grounds. In the back was a derelict outbuilding. We looked inside and discovered old beds with dirty mattresses and clothing and such. It looked lived-in. My aunt said that migrant workers or Indians were probably living there. That's when I felt like I wanted to be leaving.

In later years, when I asked my mother about the old place, she told me that sometime after we had been there, the owners burnt it down. She said my grandfather Percy, an old man, stood in his house, looking out the window, watching the smoke in the distance billow to the sky, and he wept.

My mother transcribed in one of her notebooks what her older, half-brother, Jim (born, 1918), wrote about Elias’s farm:

“When we were growing up in our younger years we never wanted for food or clothing. We never had any money so we didn’t miss it. Grandmother [Grammie Dow] saw to it that our clothes were clean as well as ourselves. Grandfather [Elias] had the first car in our neighborhood, the first indoor plumbing and the first lights. He planted more grain of all kinds and raised more potatoes than anyone else. He had more horses, cows, sheep, hogs, hens, & turkeys. We had all the meat we needed—-chicken, turkey, pork and beef, our own eggs and milk. We had lots of apples, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, and choke cherries. We even had our own honey. We were very fortunate.

Grandma sure did a good job of raising us three and having some of you little ones visit once in awhile. She always said, “Poor Nate, with all those girls.”

Isn’t it wonderful to consider a farm with such diversification, productivity and independence? That sort of thing was once the norm in rural areas of this nation, back when we were an Agrarian Nation. I strive to achieve a small measure of that kind of life here on my little homestead, and it is satisfying. But it is so far removed from what once was.


Further thoughts....

Time passes. People come and people go. Things change. Few people living today remember my great grandfather, Elias Moses Philbrick. Those who do will be gone from this earth shortly. We will all go the way of our fathers. We will all slip into obscurity as they have. One hundred years from now, who will remember you? The prosperity that Elias knew means nothing now. It is all gone.

Those are the kinds of thoughts that pass through my mind when I look at very old pictures of people now long dead. In recent weeks, I have been studying old almanacs. They are farm almanacs that were once owned by men such as my great grandfather Elias. They are fascinating relics of a bygone era.

Reflecting on the past always brings me to the present, to myself, to my own life, to my purpose and goal for being. There is much confusion in the world about purpose, but as a Christian I see my purpose clearly. It is not to become great by the world’s standards. It is not to build a fortune. It is not to make a name for myself. All of that, in itself, is vainglory. The thing of primary importance is that I live a life that glorifies God. That is my purpose. That is the only thing that brings substantial meaning to life. It’s not about me. It’s about Him.

How can we glorify God within our personal lives? We read His word. We delve into its meaning and its practical application for our lives. We pray, seeking God’s help and guidance in all that we do. We love our families. We care for our children and grandchildren and lead them into the faith. We forgive those who do us wrong or harm. We love our neighbors. We give freely as the Lord leads us. We testify to God’s redemptive grace and his incredible mercy towards us. We trust him completely. We give Him all the credit for the blessings we enjoy in this life, no matter how small. We humbly accept His chastisements. In so doing, God is honored. In so doing, He is glorified.

Our modern culture looks at such thinking as strange and foolish. It flies in the face of “conventional thinking.” Well, of course it does. Modernity is at war with Christianity. That is why Christians are called to be sanctified; to be set apart from the worldly ways of thinking and living.

And that means we who call ourselves Christians should distance ourselves from the dependencies we have on the modern, industrialized world. We need to get back to basics. We need to get back to faith, family, and simplicity of life. It all ties together. 

End of sermon.


TnFullQuiver said...

Thank you for telling your family's story. You are a wonderful story teller, and I could almost visualize the farm itself. I believe you hit the nail on the head once again when you said, "It's not about me. It's about Him". That has been one of the themes of our family for many years now. When those two simple sentences are in my mind and heart, everything in my day to day living changes. No longer am I motivated to serve myself...only Him. This isn't to say that we always get it right, but it sure does help to keep those two sentences flowing in my heart and mind!
grace and peace,

TNfarmgirl said...

What a wonderful Sunday sermon to wake up to :) What you have said is so true. Not only does this lifestyle bless families but it can bless our neighbors, our communities and our nation.