The Chinn Farmhouse

The Chinn Place

People often called the farms of my Kansas childhood “places,” as in “just past the cemetery you’ll come to the Johnson place.” Novelist Wallace Stegner wrote that such a place “is not a place until people have been born in it, have grown up in it, lived in it, died in it…over more than one generation.”

         Four generations of Chinns have owned (and seven have known) a place, a small farm in Kansas. Many were born and grew up on that land, and some died there. In another confirmation of place, when my cousin Karen was a child, she addressed a letter to our grandparents:

Grammie and Grampie
Coats, Kansas

         And the letter was delivered.

A Hidden Place

The Chinn farm, located just off the Coats-Sun City road, is hard to find. If you plug the address into a GPS system, you’ll never find the place. It’s hidden. The heart of the farm—the old house, barn, windmill, garage, chicken coop, shed, and silo—lies down in a hollow, concealed about a hundred feet below the main road.

         That farm is ground zero for Chinns. My soul’s architecture folds over the undulant contours of the land, the ancient hum of ancestral voices rising from the soil; massive dark thunderheads boiling out of the western horizon; a wedding on the lawn, and the scents of saddles, alfalfa, and machinery.

The Chinn Farmhouse

         The house is a hodgepodge of parts hauled in by wagon, drug by horses, or rolled on logs and nailed together. Two of the parts cost my widowed great-grandmother forty dollars. That’s the only construction cost I can find. Yet that house, through various repairs, improvements, and expansions, has been home to Chinns since 1897.

         The barn emerged from a similar organic pattern. When a horse killed my great-grandfather in 1900, his four young children had to grow up fast. In 1910, my thirteen-year-old future grandfather, his twin, and their eighteen-year-old brother built the barn. It has now stood as a working barn for more than a century.

A Fertile Place

The farm gave abundantly over the decades; it was a fruitful place. Grandpa farmed it for sixty years (1917-1977) and Grandma gave birth to twelve children between 1919 and 1936. The fertile land gave generously, but Chinns also poured their sweat and blood on the ground to uphold their end of the deal.

         Now, after 136 years of continuous family ownership, the old Chinn place is for sale. These days I find myself walking the ridge between the eras of Chinn ownership and the future, considering the mystery of land and identity.

         Land, the most visible dimension on earth, hides in plain sight. Many people walk, drive, or fly over it without even seeing it. But when humans stop, look, and listen; when they take it seriously, that partnership produces wonders. Grass, gardens, and crops, but also houses, highways, workplaces, cathedrals, airports, and cities climb out of the dirt.  

A Sense Of Place

We often hear people announce their need “for space,” usually away from sources of pain or the demands of maturity. But, more than space, we need a sense of place. Space is infinite, but place is specific. Space is romantic; place is real as a hammer. We tumble through space, but we stand on a place. Space brings vertigo and disorientation. Place brings experience, confidence, and (eventually) wisdom.

         That’s because a place forms an altar where pride and illusions die.

         From that altar my grandparents helplessly watched their two-year-old daughter die, struggled with the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, got kicked in the guts by a wheat harvest of a bushel and a half per acre, and sent three sons to World War II. They spent most of the 20th Century wrestling with Heaven and earth just to pull life from the ground.

            “Humus,” the Latin word for soil or ground, is also the root for “humility.” We don’t ever find our place in the world without humbling ourselves. Humility commits. To a woman, to a man. To promises, to a purpose. To a place.

         The same story has unfurled in many places; God and a family walked together through a place, a pinpoint on earth. Because weighty things happened there, we have a hardy sense of place. More than that, we were formed by a soaring sense of God.

The Chinn Place (photo by Ashley Chinn Matos)

30 thoughts on “The Chinn Place”

  1. Ed, this is so good and put a lump in my throat more than once. Knowing this place for 58 years has been one of the highlights of my life.

    Such a “Special Place! ”

    Thanks for the memories.

    1. Ed, enjoyed your post. Norman Grubb has written much about “seeing through” circumstance to see Him who determines our path. We are His product, shaped by all we experience in this journey. The experiences and things of this world have been his unique tools to shape the Chinn’s and all of us who manifest Him in this life! So good to look back and feel natural and Spiritual roots!

  2. David Edgerton

    Sounds like my grandfathers farm. They lost one young son to lock jaw a little daughter. I plowed with grandpa , harvested corn , hay , melons, fat lighter wood for the fire place. I remember the louisanne coffee and chickory , butchering chickens hogs and the occasional deer. Grand ma always in her kitchen wearing an apron covered in flour dust. Grandpa with his bib overalls , sometimes swinging his leatherbarber strap when me and my cousins git into something we shouldnt. He never chased us he knew we would be back for supper.
    Thanks Ed great story God bless you all .
    David

    1. I have moved over 40 time in my lifetime so far. My place is the family cemetery on my Mother’s side. My great great grandfather bought the land after fighting a war. A young family came through in a wagon. Their child died and they needed a place to bury her. She was buried on the family’s land and so began the Gilliam Cemetery in the Palestine Community outside Greenwood, AR. My parents are buried there. I plan to be sprinkled there to hangout with all the relatives. When I stand next to the ancient cedars on the rise of the land, the wind stops blowing. All is silent. I feel whole.

      1. Oh, Beth, I love the view of how life emerged without a grand plan. They just did what had to be done. You make me want to visit the cemetery. I hope you don’t hang out there anytime soon!

    2. Thanks, David. I appreciate that view of your “place.” Interesting that so many can identify with those scenes from another person’s life.

  3. Thank you for writing this Ed. It sure put a lump in my throat like Joanne said. Deana and I lived there our first several months of our life together. I have been all over those hills as I know you, Vernon and many others have. I struggle with seeing our place become someone else’s place. But I know we have another place even better.

    1. You’re right. You can’t go through such historic change without it tearing your own heart. It’s like losing a loved one. Eventually, you just have to move on. I think we will always visit the place…and that’s probably all I should say about that. 🙂

  4. I so enjoyed reading this! I could see how special that place is to you & your family. For me that place is more my hometown than an actual single address. Although my grandfather & grandmother’s home held great memories, it was torn down years ago. I returned there this past fall for my 50th high school reunion and was flooded with memories as I visited as many places as I could in the short time I had.
    Thank you for sharing your family place and history with us.

    1. Thanks, Dot. Yes, a whole town can be such a “place.” I remember flying over Pratt on a Los Angeles-Washington flight several years ago. Later I wondered why I was so glued to the window…just to catch a glimpse of a place I’d known all my life.

  5. Ed,
    This is so good! Even though I walk the place each week, your words took me back over it. Very good!

    1. Thanks, Vernon. Walking that land together with you and others gives it much of its value. We’ll always remember standing right here with Dad, Grandpa, Harold, Wiley, our kids, and our grandkids.

  6. Ed,
    Although I have never felt I had “a place”, I feel privileged to have been able to share yours through your moving depiction of your family’s. Your ability to caress the soul of thoughts is such a privilege to share. I find myself grieving your family’s loss of such a sacred place. Our society has changed so dramatically in this generation. I believe future generations will be less fortunate, having lost a sense of “place”.

    Roger

    1. Thanks, Roger. I appreciate your view and I grieve that loss too. I think that’s why I think of you every time I pass through Nevada, Missouri or Meade, Kansas.

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful piece, Ed. After I was out on my own, I remember the emotions I felt when I learned my mother vacated the place where I grew up, because it was too much for her to carry by herself. Something died within me. There would never be a going back to that place.

    1. What a painful reality. Places really do carry great emotional and relational weight. Sometimes people don’t realize what the sale of such a place can mean to younger generations. I’ve always been surprised at how much my kids have been drawn to the Chinn farm. Thank you, Tim.

  8. Ed,
    Enjoyed your piece. I’ll bet your decision to sell was a challenge. But the process evoked a flood of memories and deep feelings and emotions you could share. Which then in turn did the same for us.

    My folks had a couple of residences over the years that have a measure of a sense of place for me; places where I spent formative years and have rich family memories. Going back always brings those memories to mind. They’re special times.

    In 2016, and again a year ago, I visited Totarp (“tootarp” – said with a Swedish lilt) in Sweden, the farm my grandfather emigrated from in 1902 when he was 20. That little red farm house has for me the generational depth you describe. The farm goes back to the 1600’s; my family moved there much later, but walking over the ground where my grandfather and his father were born, where my dad and mom walked 40 years ago, was “special” – that word doesn’t do it justice.

    My great-grandparents are buried a few miles from Totarp, at the little church at Krakshult, the parish that was the school, church, community… the place. On their tombstone is inscribed “John 11:25-26”. They are part of my cloud of witnesses.

    Reflecting on the Chinn place, on Totarp, makes me want to go back and visit there again, one more time.

  9. Thanks Ed. Made me think of our old farm where I grew up. Toni and I still drive past it and it brings up great memories of attending the small country school and seeing my mom and dad working hard but also enjoying family and country people. Happy times. I’m sure there were sad times too but I cannot remember them.

  10. Dudley harris

    Thanks for this, Ed. I hate that “place” has been mis-placed or re-placed in our current culture. Your words brought back so many precious memories of Stouts Mountain, the “place” of my forefathers. Most of my childhood memories are there. Pure, uncluttered, unhurried. Simpler times. Blessings to the Chinns as you make this transition with the sale of the property. It has certainly produced a crop that has touched the world, or at least mine. Thank you!

  11. Since I never lived in one place longer than 3 years until 1976 when we moved back “home” to Texas, my Granny’s was my “sense of place” (the term I was never familiar with until Josh wrote an article on it for some journal.) When her family (my mother’s family) made the decision to tear down her house, which was literally about to fall down, my parents saved some of the wood from the Smoke House and my Dad built an out building on their property. I loved going in there because the wood never lost it’s “seasoned” smell.

    Now my sense of place is where we’ve lived for over 30 years. There’s been a lot of life happen here and I cannot imagine ever moving anywhere else. Our children and our grandchildren are all rooted in love for these two places as well. The great-grandchildren are still a little young to have developed that emotion, but I think they will.

    I trust I will never need to move from here until I’m called to my true home — to discover the “place” we’ve only read about in The Revelation.

    Your article has provoked many memories in many people. While we have our anchor of hope in Jesus, we all seem to have that sense of being somewhat anchored to our memories, as well. It is a good thing, I believe. Thank you, Ed.

    1. This is so very good, Sue. Love the thought of wood from the smokehouse being reconfigured into another building. That would certainly extend the memories. Your home is one of those clear “places” in my life. Blessings on you both.

  12. Thank you, Ed, for an eloquent story taking us to your place and your family’s place. I had so much to say, but you brought me into the wormhole of my own time and place, and now I’m caught there, and sliding into it.

    1. Come back, Craig! 🙂

      Thank you for this. So interesting that we can all hear a ring from our own identity when reading about a place we’ve never seen.

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