Century farms. Marriage vows. Each of them bound by bands of nothing (1)00. Both of them held together by the daily decision to stay in one place, no matter what.
For the Century Farms, the land is more powerful than the individuals trying to submit it to their wills, as the land will never be completely tamed by the stewardship of those owning it. The land must possess the farmers, as the land has remained, but the people toiling on it have disappeared over time. And even if their bodies aren’t buried on the land, their sweat mixed in with blood and love have been tilled into the sweet, black earth, and they will either poison or fortify the crops, based on the farmer’s skill and life’s luck.
In Iowa, a Century Farm cannot be a plot of garden like in the neighbor’s backyard. Instead, a Century Farm must dramatically encompass a chunk of the countryside, at least 40 acres, or nearly one square mile. And the only bond the farm owners must have from the first to the last generation is that there be a piece of paper documenting their relationship through legal agreement to a common name. No inquiry is made into whether an emotional connectedness exists, either in their opinions of each other or of that piece of land. The Century Farm is homesteaded by a clan of people who, for whatever motives, have agreed to combine their diverse stories into a singularity of history as it is symbolized by a sign on a wooden post at the entrance to the farm lane. Despite the laudable effort of their time to that piece of earth, the land has no judgment of the work of these disparate people; it only absorbs what they give to it. But in the end, the land ultimately will decide whether the family can continue its commitment by either allowing them to reap more bountiful harvests, or evicting them through the sheer poverty of what the family has contributed. The pioneering farmer plants his stake on this piece of land, ignorant of all that could pass to his and to the future generation’s way from the infinitesimal universe—drought, flood, tornado, fire. Succeeding blood lines look back at what has been conquered but also forward to the always potential rich bounty that this family’s patch of golden green foliage and coal-black soil will produce. The 100 sign stands sentry at the entrance as symbol to this family’s devotion to the work of this land.
A married couple looks across the wide expanse of virginal years and declares their stake in each other’s future. For better, for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health. The fertility of their dedication looms larger on the horizon than the external calamities that may beset them. Those are blurred by love’s lushness.
Love conquers all.
Yet with no other options available, the potential of their lives is prostituted by the demands of daily living. Grand love is condensed into the moments of singular sameness—same job, same car, same bed, same family reunions.
There was no romance or efficiency of work for the pioneering farmer who turned the earth with a hand shovel—just sheer determination to cultivate what would grow to make a living and a life.
It’s not the plentiful harvest that divines the character of a Century Farm family; instead what gives the Family its sense of Century (1)00 are the very disasters everyone hoped to avoid, but didn’t, and stayed put anyway. It’s not the drudgery of everyday living that determines whether the couple will be among the 50 percent who stay put, no matter what. The “story of them” is authored through the commemorations and crises—births, deaths, house purchases, job changes—obscured on the distant horizon by their love’s lushness, but culminating into a frenzy of staying put, no matter the conflict the unexpected common experiences create.
Yet the significance of these events fades away:
during the momentary rectitude of quiet conversation;
sitting on the patio;
hearing the wind chimes;
watching the setting summer sun; and
brushing with bare feet the dog that lies beside both of you.
No obligation to keep you together except the two bands of nothing (00).