Dogs and cows and chickens…oh my!

"What are you lookin' at?"

Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Charlotte, NC lies a small family farm that is cared for by my friend Jim and his wife Susie.  Their sons, both grown and with families of their own, swing by when time allows to help out Dad and get in some good ol’ fashioned manual labor.  Not sure they need to be reminded of their roots, but they say it helps them stay grounded.  Aside from the help of Susie and the boys,  the daily tasks of keeping the farm up and running fall on Jim’s shoulders.  Luckily, Jim is no stranger to work. He was raised to appreciate a hard day’s work, and spent most of his professional life working as a welder, in addition to taking care of the family farm.  These years of hard work are vividly apparent in the deep-creased lines of his hands, the dirt beneath his fingernails that never seems to wash away completely, and the experience in his eyes.  When you meet a person like this, you take every opportunity to listen and learn, not only from him, but from those who know him well.

I recently had the chance to visit with Jim and Susie on their farm and learn a little bit about how much time and effort goes in to keeping things in working order.  For over 30 years, Jim and his family have lived on this 60+ acre plot of land.  As the family grew and changed, so did the landscape of their home.  Whether it was the addition of a garage on the house or an apartment atop Jim’s work room, each of these projects were modest and carefully crafted to fit the family’s needs.  Although they had plenty of space for these additions to be over the top or ostentatious, they were designed with simplicity  and usefulness in mind.  These are themes that permeate their family’s past, present and undoubtedly future story.

Beside the house stands a weather-beaten but beautiful old barn that is used to store hay bales and tools.  We climbed up to the barn loft to find one of their five cats taking an afternoon snooze in the hay.  “If you don’t have cats on a farm, you’ll be in a world of trouble,” Jim told me.  No cats leads to many-a-mouse roaming freely, which can be a nightmare for any farmer.  From the second story Jim called out with his deep southern voice into the wooded area below, “Daaaaaaisy!  Daaaaaaaaisy!”.  Slowly but surely a group of cows, black, brown, large and small, trotted up through the mud for some dinner.  We threw two bales down to the mud and watched them happily graze in groups.  A few of the smaller cows waited on the outskirts for their turn to feed.  While it was easy to throw the dried hay bales down from the loft, Jim informed me that when wet, these bales can weigh up to 60 lbs.  Needless to say, I was happy for the dry conditions that evening.  As we climbed down to visit the munching bovine, they happily greeted Jim with their big, brown, gentle eyes and wet noses.  Like giving encouraging words to his own kids, he patted his cows and sweetly said, “Yes, you are a very handsome!”  Their love for Papa Jim was quite apparent.

Jim, Susie and I walked down the dirt path to just outside the chicken coup.  Jessie, their Doberman Pinscher, weaved in and out, running circles around us and happily enjoying the last minutes of sunlight.  Multicolored chickens roamed freely around, pecking and prodding the ground for morsels of goodness.  It was obvious to me that these animals are very well cared for, which was something Jim expressed during our visit.  “If you are going to have animals, you have to take very good care of them.  There is just no other way to do it,” he said to me.  We continued down the path to the raised garden that his eldest son built last year, and chatted about how I should plan out my first attempt at a vegetable garden.  I learned how easy it is to plant and grow potatoes, and took mental notes as he and Susie discussed the various crops they have planted over the years.  We approached Jim’s work room to find an old beat-up banjo I had agreed to take off his hands, and came upon bins full of tomato seedlings, each individually planted in dixie cups and eagerly awaiting the last frost of the season.  Jim’s work room not only housed some major machinery (table saws and such), but off to the side he had an entire room filled with old country records, all arranged by artist and in mint condition.  He was very proud of his music collection, as music is a major part of their daily lives.  Beside the stacks of records stood one of  their eldest son’s oil paintings, a beautiful depiction of the crucifixion.  Jim and Susie’s kids are not only gifted musicians, but also gifted artists, and their pride is lovingly displayed throughout their home.

We continued our tour back to their hay field that opened up behind the house.  Tractors and old cars sat under the carport on the field’s perimeter.  There was a collection of Ford Galaxies (’63, ’65) and a ’67 Chevy Impala carefully parked under the carport canopy, just waiting for that first ignition of the Spring.  As I asked about the old cars, Jim lit up with joy and was eager to show me his pride and joy, and old ’57 Plymouth Cranbrook, that was tucked off in its own carport.  He opened the door and I hopped in, clutching the giant steering wheel and getting comfortable.  I have always wanted an old car to drive around, ever since my high school days of driving my dad’s ’67 Camaro (I still can’t believe he trusted me with that beauty!).  There is just something so beautiful and sturdy about an old car that was built to last.  Jim opened the back door and said, “Listen to this.”  As he slammed the door shut, the sound of sturdiness echoed through our ears…a solid car, built to withstand the test of time.  My opinion is that Jim and his family relish in anything like that…reliable and timeless, much like the fabric of their family.

Off in the distance beyond the treeline stood their eldest son’s new home, which was built on land that Jim and Susie gifted to him.  Their youngest son lives just down the road in a sweet, white home with a gravel driveway and friendly front porch.  Simple and perfect.  While their daughter lives in the next state over, it’s immediately obvious to anyone just how important family is to Jim, Susie and their kids.  Their appreciation for family as the foundation to everything else is palpable when I am around them, and it makes me want to work for the same in my life.

My evening at the farm ended with a special tour of Jim’s music room, a small loft in their home where he goes to listen, play and write his own music.  While I could go on and on about music and their family, I will save that for another time.   We sat upstairs, surrounded by 60+ guitar and banjo cases, each with its own story of how it came to be in his collection.  Jim told me, “I never golfed or gambled, so I spent my money on collecting these guitars.  I don’t collect them to sell and make money.  When I am gone from this earth, whoever is in charge of taking care of my things can come up here and know their story.”  He took out one of his guitars and played me a few songs, including his own beautiful version of Jim Reeves’, “Welcome to my World”.   As our visit came to a close, I listened intently as he seamlessly weaved storytelling with his singing and picking.  I left the farm that night with a delicious gift of a dozen fresh eggs from their hens, and a greater appreciation and knowledge of life, music, and the importance of family.


March 16, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Friends, Life.


  1. erin replied:

    I love it. Makes me miss NC even more than I do…
    You are an excellent writer!

    • phdubs3 replied:

      Thanks Erin! While I know you are familiar with some farms in NC, all of the little details are new to me, so I just try to soak it all up like a sponge 🙂 I hope to see you the next time you are back in the States.

  2. susie avett replied:

    Thank you ! We have both read your beautiful description of our life and surroundings. It was our pleasure to have you here and show you around. Please come back soon as you and Danny are always welcome.

    • phdubs3 replied:

      Glad you both enjoyed it! Danny and I are excited to visit again soon 🙂

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