Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"We didn't know any better."

That's what mom would tell me every time I asked her how she and her family managed to eke out a living on the northern-ish prairie in post World War 2 Iowa.

I suppose you could interpret it to mean that these backward farmers were too stupid and unaware to realize they didn't have to raise livestock and can tomatoes in order to skimp through the winter, that they could get "real" jobs that didn't involve backbreaking labor and ridiculous hours. (What are those jobs again?) That they could go to college and lead lives of relative ease and leisure. (Some did go away to college; most came back even better well-read farmers.)

Or you could be more generous and conclude that that was simply their life, the one handed to them by their parents, and their parents before them; it's just who they were and what they did. They didn't really have a choice, as such.

Not me. The more I think about how brutal north central Iowa winters can be, and how pungent the poop of 2 dozen pigs and cows can be, and how the kitchen garden wasn't hidden behind the homestead but was planted as close to the road as possible, as large as possible, in order to show your pride and thrift in running a farmhouse to your neighbors -- the more I consider the notion, they really didn't know any better. What could be better than participating in a system of growing and sustaining things that in and of themselves begin not only to sustain themselves but also the small universe around them? Horses eat oats, horses poop, cows eat grass, cows poop, poop goes on the fields (and the garden) to grow vegetables and, well, oats, horses eat more oats and work the fields used to grow oats, corn, beans, tomatoes (obviously).

Chickens forage, lay eegs, get fat and delicious from the "wild" grasses and fruits and whatnot they come across, they brown up nicely in the oven or crisp in the shortening-laden frying pan, served with just-picked russets and asparagus (in April, of course).

You get the picture. I.e., poop really is a beautiful thing.

Hard to believe it's already been a year. Exactly a year yesterday evening at 5:50 PM. I think I miss her now more than I did a year ago.

Funny. It's all in the hands of some title company in Cincinnati, not exactly known for its, what, alacrity with regard to foreclosed properties. But I did promise her during her last breaths that I'd move up there and protect my nieces and nephews from their parents. And even in her compromised condition at the time, I'm convinced within myself that she of all people knew I was only half-joking.

Payback may be a bitch, but redemption is the bastard everybody pretends to like but forgets to talk to.

Not me. I'm all but yelling in its face. Go figure.

7 comments:

artandsoul said...

These are some tough days for some really good folks.... your words are inspiring to me both as a mother and as a person who still has her mother living down the road. So thanks.

Yell away ... you do a fine job of it.

Keifus said...

Not a bad preface.

The jobs that aren't backbreaking make up for it by being soulcrushing, but hey, it's a living. And the poop (bullshit) that permeates corporate life? Probably less sustaining.

You think you'll be getting up there before the ground thaws? Seems there are some logistics ahead of you.

LentenStuffe said...
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LentenStuffe said...
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Isonomist said...

Swit, I didn't realize our "anniversaries" were so close to each other. I'm glad you're working on growing things, including young relatives. Your mom was right to steer you in their direction. They need you, and they're lucky they have you.

bright said...

Thought of you today. Saw someone reading The $64 Tomato. He recommended it highly.

rundeep said...

I am so sadly out of it living deeply in my own head. I missed your Mom's passing, and this post. There's no better metaphor for human existence than spring and farming, and yes, poop. Speaking of which, I now own about 25 lbs a week of dog poop, the result of great organic food. Any ideas for using it? I truly hope you are well.