Jennifer Garner's Mom Tells the Touching Story of Her Family's Oklahoma Farm
My parents, Harvey Newton English and Violet Margaret Sayre English, purchased our family farm near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, in 1936. The time was the middle of the Great Depression. Dad was a laborer, and almost no one was hiring. He was a World War I veteran, and as such, he was given a veteran’s bonus. There is some disagreement about the amount, but $700 is what I remember. My parents, who had never been able to save any money, knew that if they were ever going to own their own place, they had to use this bonus to buy it.
Even though it was the 1930s, $700 was not much to buy a farm that had a house on it. My parents didn’t even have a car, so when they heard about the land that was for sale, they hired someone to drive them to the property. The farm consisted of a two-room house and 20 acres—minus 1 acre at the heart of the property, which was a Native American cemetery. Mother told me the story of Dad leaning on his heels and negotiating all day over $20. When they finally agreed on a price, the deal was sealed, and the land was purchased. It’s been in our family ever since.
Thinking about what the farm did not have is easy. In the beginning, there was no electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. Electricity was added in 1945, but we never had running water or indoor plumbing when I lived there. Thinking of what the farm did have, though, is far more beneficial. The land that could be cultivated was very rich, and Dad always planted a garden. The earliest crops were leaf lettuces and radishes, and then there were English peas and new potatoes. The summer crops included beets, green beans, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. There were dozens of native pecan trees, which were a source of income and delicious treats. There was enough space for chickens, cows, and pigs, which provided the majority of our meat.
Mother, along with her mother and three children, moved to the farm in 1936. Dad went to work in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp some distance away. I think they made the move in October in what proved to be an extremely wet year. Mother and Grandmother managed to buy a horse and grow a garden. I was born in 1938. After that, Dad left the CCC and came home to the farm.
My father died in the spring of 1962, and sometime after that, Mother sold the farm to my older brother James and his wife Helen. During the time that Mother and Dad owned the farm, they added about 35 acres by buying adjoining tax-title land. James built a barn and fenced the property, and he eventually sold the farm in 2008 to my brother Robert and his wife Janet,
who built a modern house there. In 2017, Jennifer bought the farm with the understanding that they could continue to live there and look after the land. And now she has plans to give our place a new life.