This afternoon Oliver Wendell Hertzler was put into the earth he loved–all but his spirit, which was received in a place he loved even better.
With a few words and pictures, I celebrate the gifts he has shared with me and my family, especially in the last few years.
Even though we were of different generations, Oliver always called me cousin, short for double first cousin once removed. The story goes that Oliver’s mother Anna (Shenk) had displayed a photograph of her beautiful niece Nina. There was a nephew on the Hertzler side she called Hap because he was a happy kind of guy. Hap noticed the photo and managed to get himself invited to the Hertzler table when Nina’s family visited from Ohio. The rest is history—my history.
My father played all over the Hertzler farm as a boy, but I never had. Still, just driving past it had always given me a sense of place.
The 3-story white farmhouse was set among fenced pastures where you could see the sun set red over the Warwick River through bare black pecan branches.
In spring you could watch horses wade through buttercups and foxes and their kits frolic on earth mounds near the woods.
And then we got Tackett.
From that day on, Quarterfield Farm, Oliver and Tackett were a part of our morning and evening ritual. Our lives were warmed by the fragrance of fresh hay, the strong good smell of horses, and the lively community of other horse people.
We loved talking with Oliver outside his barn office or sitting with him on a bench by the horse gate. We became friends. He talked to me about the writing he did in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep, his Bible study, his deep thoughts. He told stories.
Oliver and my husband bonded over Mercedes diesel cars that could run on waste vegetable oil. My last conversation with Oliver a few weeks ago–he was still thrilled at how that burgundy 300D started up and purred all the way to church and back.
One day Oliver drove over to our front yard with a load of horse manure and flew around over the ground with his “black gold.”
To our grandchildren, the horse farm was an enchanted place. One of them, upon hearing about baby Jesus being laid in a manger full of hay, was sure that had happened at the horse barn. As well it might have.
They learned to muck out a stall
They learned to clean their shoes afterward.
It was a time of tenderness and beauty.
We have been missing the horse since two years ago.
Now we will also miss this farmer, who, in his own unique way, cared for a certain place for a certain time. In so doing, he honored the earth and blessed the people around him.
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].