Celebrate National History Month!

31 01 2011

Today officially kicks off National History Month and there is a lot to celebrate! A few generations back, in 1930, my family could provide for 10 people (according to Crop Life Ambassador Network) and today my dad could feed 130 people (I’m not sure how many cows that equals). However, this month is not just about celebrating where we are today but celebrating where we come from.

I come from Benjaminville, Illinois-founded by my great-great-great grandfather John R. Benjamin. While Benjaminville, known today as Bentown, is an important part of my family’s history-it does not define our history.

My family’s history is defined by their beliefs. Benjaminville was founded as a Quaker Community. Quakers do not believe in war. They also believe in equality for different races and women, even at a time when this was a rarity. Therefore, black people lived in Bentown because they knew they would be treated well. Women were respected leaders within the Quaker church. These are important values that my family has preserved to pass down to me.

My family’s history is defined by kindness. A poor gypsy family buried their son on our land because they could not afford a burial plot at the cemetery. My great-grandfather would adopt an orphan boy from the community. My grandmother would call a widower across the way each morning to keep him company and have him over for Sunday dinner each week.

Ingenuity is also an important part of my agrarian heritage. John R. Benjamin, the founder of Benjaminville-regardless of what Wikipedia says, once got lost coming home in the sea of prairie grass (or perhaps it was just dark). He found his way home by following the familiar bark of his dog and later would plow a “road” to Bloomington, Ill. so that it wouldn’t happen again…. as family legend goes t this was essentially the Oakland Ave. Bloomington knows and loves today. Also, my grandfather was an early adapter of terraces and contour plowing. My dad can remember the USDA hosting a tour from Washington DC to see his farming practices.

And yes, my family even has small claims to fame: John R. hired a German immigrant to work for him and in return gave him a tract of land. One day this land would be farmed by his nephew-George J. Mecherle, founder of State Farm. John R’s brother, Rubin, was given his bar exam (to practice law in Illinois after the family relocated) by none other than Abraham Lincoln! The local history museum states that Rubin Benjamin was instrumental to antitrust legislation that limited the power of railroads. Bentown also was home to a semi-pro baseball player at one time.

This list is just a small cross section of the values and stories that make me proud of my family’s agrarian history. I also posted some of the pictures of the last two generations of Benjaminville. I hope to post other pictures throughout the month as well.

This is a picture of my dad, George Benjamin, in front of our old combine. It might not be the newest or shiniest but it gets the job done and there is something to be said for that. There is also something to be said for worn out blue jeans and dirty shirts that represent a hard days work.

This is our tractor, in the back you can see some of our outbuildings on the original farm. We call the red building pictured the shop building. My brother and I used to explore it to see what family treasures we could find, including an old fashioned horse drawn sleigh!

Two generations of Benjamin siblings at Napa Valley.


Flashback Fridays: Winter Wonderlands

21 01 2011

So I thought Friday was the perfect day of the week to relax the content of this blog and just share some of my personal rural flashbacks (I got the idea from this great blog). Yesterday was a winter wonderland in Central Illinois… and I was one of the lucky few who did not wipe out on the ice. But it got me thinking about some of the times that I had unfortunately fallen on the ice.

There is nothing like ice-booting on a frozen pond with a life jacket on. Ice-booting is the four-year-old version of ice skating where one wears snow boots to slide around on the ice instead of skates. Which makes me wonder what is the smallest size of ice skates one could get? Life jackets are not only a summer necessity but also a winter one in case the ice isn’t thick enough to support you. Luckily, we never had any incidents of falling through the ice but I’m sure my entire extended family looked pretty silly out there on the ice with out life jackets on (better safe than sorry!). Unfortunately, my ice-booting experience never prepared me for ice skating because I am terrible at legitimate ice skating to this day.

My other favorite winter activity is sledding. I still go every single year. Last year was incredible after an ice storm struck and covered our road in two-three inches of ice. To get to the intersection over a mile away (our stretch of road is two miles long) one simply had to put the car in neutral and it would literally slide the whole way there! While it may not be ideal driving conditions, it is ideal sledding conditions! My dad wets down the metal runners of our sled, that is probably older than both of us, and lets the water freeze so we have ice to ice contact. We begin at the top of our short, steep driveway that is perpendicular to the road and try to make the hard turn onto the road keeping up our momentum…. and then continue all the way down the road as far as possible. Our part of Central Illinois doesn’t have amazing hills to sled on so we resort to using the road.

One interesting impact on our sledding has been the installation of wind turbines in the area. They removed the road that couldn’t support the weight of the turbines and put down gravel during the installation process. However, when they repaved the road they leveled it out at some point so our little hill is even less of a hill today. We still make the best out of it though and I can’t wait for all the sledding years (and ice-booting years) ahead of my family and I.


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