Friday, March 26, 2010

The Story of Virgil Farley

Farley Mill, 2003

Virgil Farley's father built a peanut mill just after 1900. At its peak, the mill employed more than a hundred workers. After his father died Virgil took over and continued in his father's footsteps as a responsible community steward. When there was a compelling community need—say, a repair to the steeple of the Episcopal Church, a new piece of equipment for the rural free clinic, or school supplies for the children of migrant workers—the Farley Mill could be counted on to help.

Virgil’s greatest dream was that his son Rabe would take over the mill. But when Rabe returned from World War II, it was clear that his intentions did not include spending the rest of his life monitoring the purchase, processing and shipment of peanuts. He had no interest in the local Chamber of Commerce, town politics or the needs of the less fortunate. He appeared occasionally at church, mostly to please his mother. He ran with a fast crowd, popping between the state capital city and the family’s summer retreat at the beach.

In 1945, Rabe married the daughter of a prominent tobacco grower. Their first child, a daughter, was determined to be mentally ill when she was still a child. Rabe had the daughter secreted away to an institution in another state without notifying his wife, plunging her into a depression that never really lifted. When Virgil died, shortly thereafter, Rabe closed the mill as fast as was socially acceptable in a town where a goodly number of local people would be put out of work and many noble community causes would be deprived of their largest benefactor. He would have sold the mill, but the market was soft and his lack of business skills prevented him from recognizing opportunities when they did emerge. In the years that followed, it was said in this small town where there are few secrets that Rabe regularly brought a woman who was not his wife for afternoon trysts in his father’s old office at the mill.

Toward the end of the Century, Rabe’s son, Ben, kept an office at the mill, from which he did his best to restore the wealth that his grandfather had worked so hard to amass and his father had just as diligently nearly depleted.

One day, Rabe visited his son at the mill. No one really knows what they discussed, though family members insist it had to do, like all of their conversations, with the father’s need for money and the son’s desire to preserve it. All that is known is that at some point Rabe died when he fell down the elevator shaft of the mill, but not before Ben fell, or was pushed, before him.


  1. OMG! Great story. I love the names, too--Virgil, Rabe, Ben...classics.

  2. That's so sad. I agree with Brush with Color - the names are so alive. me - you know where I live.