Jack had been born on the farm, just seventeen summers ago. His family had been poor but happy on their farm. Until his seventh birthday everything had been pretty perfect.
Like a lot of people at that time the whole extended family had lived together. Not just his father and mother and his brothers and sisters but also his Grandmother and his Uncle Jack, who he’d been named for, and his wife and two sons.
It was a fine balance between having more hands to carry out the work on the farm, but also more mouths to feed. Old Granny Mabel didn’t work in the fields but she used to wash and mend clothes and he always remembered her sitting in the parlour spinning wool or knitting with the wool she had spun. He still remembered those itchy pullovers she used to give him at Christmas. They were warm though.
His Mother and sisters would clean and cook and also come harvest time they would all help gather the crops in.
They had a flock of sheep and a herd of cows. Uncle Jack and his family used to look after the cows while his Dad and his brothers would look after the sheep. He remembered well feeding the lambs in spring.
He also remembered his Aunt Catherine sitting on the stool next to the kitchen door churning the milk into butter. Everyone had their jobs to do and although it was hard work. They had felt safe and secure.
That was until the war had come. They had never experienced anything like that before. They had been at the mercy of the weather, like all who lived off the land. Some years had been plentiful with mild winters and good wet springs that watered the crops. Other years had been harsh and the winter storms seemed never-ending, they had struggled to produce enough to eat. The war was like a winter storm that didn’t end. In months the raging war had deprived them of everything. First the fighting men had taken their livestock and then the fighting itself had churned up their fields and destroyed their crops.
Granny Mabel had died in the middle of the war. She had been eating less and less to make sure the children had enough to eat and no one had been paying attention to how little she had been eating. She had been old, it was true, but it wasn’t old age that had finally claimed her but the hunger pains. We buried her behind the house near her favourite apple tree. The one she and Gramps had got married under all those years ago, when they had started the farm together.
Then the war was over. That was when the strangers came and turned them off their farm. Uncle Jack and two of his sons had already died fighting in the war and so had one of his brothers. His father hadn’t believed in fighting. When they came with their strange weapons his family had no choice but to leave, with nothing more than they could carry on their backs. Not that the war had left them with much at all.
They had travelled west for weeks before they had finally found a place that would take them in. The war had affected everything and everywhere so many places wouldn’t or couldn’t take in any more people. Finally, they had come to a small town that needed a hard-working family who had farming skills.
Gradually they began to rebuild their lives, but forever scarred by the events of that war. Then, against all belief and understanding there had come another war. This time his father had changed his mind. He now believed that whilst war was never good, sometimes you had to fight.
The strangers that had come and taken their land had begun to get sick. Many of them were dying of a mysterious illness. The religious men said that it was divine wrath. Others said it was because they had used special weapons that had carried diseases and this had poisoned the land they were now living on.
The strangers had finally been swept back to the east and the war was over. Hopefully for ever, but now no one trusted this to be true. Once you have tasted war, it forever clings to your tongue.
Now here he stood on the path to the farm that he’d once called home.
The wooden fence posts still stood to mark the edge of their land, although not much of the fence itself remained. It had been ten years, after all.
He walked slowly up the path that had wound its way to the house. The house was gone. Not a stone of it remained. Part of the cow shed was still there, to give some bearing on where the house should have been.
Then he caught a glimpse of something wooden lying in the long grass.
He walked over and the sight of it took him back again. Tears, that he thought he would never shed again, not after all he had gone through, came streaming down his face and brought him to his knees in grief for the past.
It was the old butter churn.
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 04/April/2018