November 2010 Issue
My Ohio: 50 Acres and a Tin Roof
A small house in rural Darke County looms large in a young family’s return to Ohio.
I vaguely remember the day my wife Krista walked me through the unassuming two-story dwelling across the highway from her parents’ home in southern Darke County. They had just purchased the house and the 50 acres of farmland that accompanied it, and Krista was beginning a not-so-subtle process of persuading me to return to western Ohio, where she grew up and where her entire family still resided.
“Isn’t it cute and cozy, Tim?! What do you think?” she asked, inviting me to agree.
“Hmmm … yeah. Great,” I offered, noticing immediately how small and outdated it was compared to our house in Kansas City, where I was an associate at a large law firm. “Did you see the tin roof? I bet there’s a real racket during a hard rain,” I added, sensing her agenda.
Krista prevailed, of course. I landed a job at the University of Dayton a few months later and we moved into the farmhouse a couple of weeks after that, despite my concerns that we’d be underwhelmed by whatever rustic charms it might possess.
“Tim, it makes sense to stay here in the short term, doesn’t it, while we get our bearings?” my wife asked as we unpacked boxes upstairs. “And Abby and Daniel can get to know their grandparents better! Not to mention little Luke,” she added, patting her stomach, where Luke would reside for another month, and shamelessly employing our three children as pawns in her argument. I resisted inquiring how she defined “short term,” nodded, and continued unpacking.
Soon a few of my fears were realized: A cadre of ants took up residence in the kitchen, the well water needed to be treated before it was fit to consume, and field mice found the warmth and steady supply of crumbs deposited by toddlers too tempting to resist. Moreover, the house was half as large as our old house, and as any parent of three children under the age of three can attest, “family togetherness” imposed by space limitations is inversely related to adult mental health.
Eventually, though, the property’s virtues and my wife’s nesting efforts beguiled me. Krista vanquished the foolhardy ants, precisely arranged furnishings to take advantage of each square inch of space and decorated the kids’ rooms with a keen eye for both form and function.
Our children also adjusted nicely. They turned somersaults down the gentle hill in the back and explored the arcane contents of the adjoining barn. They spied hummingbirds on our front porch and listened with fascination to the rooster crowing or the donkey braying from the farm immediately to our north.
Once, we watched a coyote from our dining room window as he stalked an unseen prey hiding in the tall grass. In a flash he pounced, nimbly capturing a hapless rodent with his front paws, and devoured it in seconds. On another occasion, a snow-swept Saturday morning in December, we were upstairs playing when Abby excitedly pointed out her bedroom window. “Look,” she whispered. “It’s Bambi and his muvver!” We peered out and followed a doe and fawn gamboling across our barren cornfield, seeking food and staying alert for foes.
Eventually we decided to move a few miles to the north, into a house that provided twice the interior space and easier access to shopping, Krista’s optometry practice and the children’s schools. Crowing roosters and braying donkeys have been replaced by squawking ducks and geese. Our “short-term” stay at the farmhouse turned into three challenging and glorious years, filled with many other moments ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
We grew closer to my father-in-law, who died toward the end of our tenure there. We witnessed Luke, our thrill-seeking youngest, narrowly escape severe injury as he surfed down the stairs on a piece of particle board, nurtured Abby’s blossoming interest in animals, and exulted when Daniel, our autistic middle child, told me for the first time, “Love you, daddy.”
We wiped tears, issued belly laughs and continued the arduous, graceful work of becoming a family. And I even grew to appreciate the peaceful percussive sound of rain on a tin roof.
Timothy Swensen lives with his wife and three young children in Greenville. He is an assistant dean at the University of Dayton School of Law.