Nine Generations

The Farm


In 1938, my paternal grandparents bought a 13-acre chicken farm in Toms River, New Jersey. After their deaths it passed to my father's sister Frances and her husband, Harry Leber.

The farm's importance, at least for my generation of our family, cannot be overstated. Boris and Eric Leber grew up there, of course. I lived on it for the first year of my life during my father’s bout with tuberculosis, and visited as often thereafter as possible. Indeed, some of my very earliest memories go back to the farm. The most vivid of these include my grandfather: I am sitting in a wheelbarrow atop a burlap sack of corn. Grandpa wheels me around the field while I throw handfuls of corn to the chickens. In another memory, he is repairing a small cast-iron airplane model that was a favorite toy of mine. These are very early memories; he died in 1942 when I was only three.

For my sister, too, the farm was an important place. Nancy and I both dearly loved Harry Leber, our uncle — he was a sweet and humorous man. Nancy still has some very funny letters he wrote her when she was a child.

For Boris and Eric, the farm was home, with many of the amenities of rural life — a creek in which to swim, livestock, but also, no doubt, chores, piano practice, and homework. But for us, their cousins, the place was paradise.

The farm prospered until the end of the Korean War. Uncle Harry had built a highly automated chicken coop, said to have been the largest coop in New Jersey. After his death in 1954, Frances, Boris and Eric tried to keep the enterprise afloat, but the post-war combination of falling egg prices and rising feed costs — those were the days of federal agricultural subsidies — made it impossible to continue. The farm was sold in 1957 and became a suburban tract development, an inevitable form of vandalism which destroyed an important part of our childhood.