Tuesday, November 22, 2005

SusieQ's "Life On The Farm" Series - Introduction

It was the early 70's. My husband and I had moved from upstate to Southern Illinois. He worked for the State of Illinois in vocational rehabilitation at the time. Our children were ages five, four, and two back then. We rented at first until we could get our bearings and decide where we wanted to buy.

We were drawn to country living, because both of us loved nature, and we liked the quietness and seclusion that country living would offer. Having spent much of his childhood living on a farm, my husband was a country boy at heart. He still is and, if I would agree to it, he would have us back out in the country today so that he could grow strawberries and try his hand at beekeeping.

I had never lived on a farm, but I was intrigued by the whole "Back to Nature" movement which had been unfolding as a consequence of the 60's. Mother Earth News and similar publications were like scripture to me. My high priestess was Adelle Davis the organic foods guru of those times. Her books with their emphasis on whole food cooking and organic gardening were central in my kitchen library. Organically grown produce was a rarity in grocery stores back then though. The idea was still in its infancy. Most people didn't know what organic meant. So, if you wanted organic produce, you had to grow it yourself, and I wanted organic produce. I wanted a big organic garden.

As far as our children were concerned, we were confident that living in the country, giving them a chance to become intimate with nature, would be a wonderful and wholesome experience for them. So when we were ready to buy, we went looking for a house on a small plot of land out in the country.

We found a piece of property, which we ended up buying, that went far beyond our expectations and dreams. It consisted of 40 acres of rolling land. Some of the land was tillable, some in pasture, and some wooded. The modest home, a bilevel with a walkout basement, was fairly new. It sat at the top of a hill under a large oak tree. There were several buildings on the property including a chicken coop and a small barn. The owner kept horses, so there was a corral. Fencing was in place for livestock, and a pond was in the pasture for watering them. The property even came with a complimentary goose named Charlie. He did not stay with us for long though, because he kept trying to take a plug out of me every time I approached the pond in the pasture. He had deemed that area his territory, and, for some reason, he did not like me in particular.

My husband's father had just retired. He and my husband's mother lived upstate, but they were from Southern Illinois originally. Most of their family was still in Southern Illinois. We asked them if they would consider buying some of the acreage and come and live on the property with us. The idea appealed to them. So, they sold their home upstate and bought a trailer which they set up behind our house. We became a real life version of the then popular TV family the Waltons.

After we moved onto our little farm, it wasn't long before we started to acquire an assortment of farm animals: chickens; rabbits; cattle; goats; a milk cow when the goats failed in the milk department; a pony; and the usual fanfare on farms of dogs and cats. Even though we did this mostly for the fun of it, each animal was expected to earn its keep.

We spent January each year pouring over the Burpee seed catalogue and planning our upcoming garden for the spring. We planted our garden in the spring and then we'd religiously go out every day, usually after supper, to see what had come up and how things were growing. During the hot summer months, we hoed and weeded our garden and watered it when rain didn't come. At harvest time, we canned green beans, corn, tomatoes, tomato juice and we filled our freezer to capacity nearly with more of our bounty from the garden. I made jellies and jams and apple pies from apples I bought at an orchard down the road from us.

We took leisurely walks along our meandering creek and in the wooded area at the back of the property with our dogs trailing close by. We went blackberry picking. We hunted for hickory nuts. We searched for wild greens such as lamb's quarter. We even stalked the wild asparagus. My husband taught our children how to tell an oak tree from a maple and an ash. He taught them how to recognize different birds and their songs.

The children got to witness kittens and puppies come into the world during this time on the farm. But the greatest birth miracle of all that they got to witness was when our milk cow Betsy had her calf Goliath and needed help from my husband and his father.

Our children attended a small grade school in a very small farming town about five miles away. The school had less than 100 students in all eight grades. But it had a good basketball team and one of the best history teachers in the world. My husband served as president of the school board for a while. Our son became the school's resident artist at a very early age. He would go on to make art his profession as an adult. Our older daughter may still hold the school record for throwing a baseball further than any other student in the school, boy or girl. She had an arm on her back then. Our younger daughter was a cheerleader there and one of the school's socialites.

On most summer days, our children could be heard working on their tree house. It was situated in a cluster of trees by the pond. Always a work in progress, it grew to be three stories high. I can still hear them happily hammering away. We organized a 4-H club in our area. I was a leader. At the county fair the children got to chase greased pigs and try to pin them down in the greased pig contest. I still have the blue ribbon I won at the county fair for my blackberry jam one year.

We didn't have much money back then. We lived from paycheck to paycheck for the most part. There was money enough to pay the bills and buy the basic necessities of life, but discretionary income was something we weren't very familiar with. I was a stay-at-home mom for several of those years. I tried to make up for the lost income in other ways. I did a lot of sewing for the children and myself. I cooked from scratch, clipped coupons, shopped for bargains, and looked for other ways to be frugal and make ends meet.

We worked hard on our little farm out in the country while my husband continued his civil service job with the state. But we were young and we had the energy. Although I tend to portray our time on the farm in Camelot terms, it really was not a bed of roses.

We had to make compromises, for instance, with our organic garden. There were disappointments and aggravations. We had bad experiences - frustrating experiences especially with a particular goat who, for want of any imagination at all, we named Nanny. Had our time on the farm been a bed of roses, I am sure Nanny would have eaten it. She thought our rose bushes were delicious. She wasn't truly happy unless she was chowing down on one of them. But that's another story.

We spent seven years living out in the country on that little farm making memories. A few years before we moved away, my husband changed careers and entered the private sector. He was offered a promotion eventually. We decided to leave the farm life behind and move. We moved to the suburbs of the big city of Chicago where we would suffer from culture shock for a long time. Nevertheless, it was the right decision. But we will always remember with fondness our life on the farm. We will always cherish those years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

First Snow

Originally uploaded by scott & angel.

Frigid wind swoops down

Scatters fall's colorful gems

Ushers in first snow


(Haiku: A Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Early Snow - An Oil Painting by SusieQ

I love this painting. I could get lost in it. I could walk right up to that cabin and go inside. I'd start a fire in the stone fireplace. I'd make myself some hot cocoa. Then I'd sit in front of the fire, sip my cocoa, and let the crackling fire talk to me against the backdrop of silence deepened by the snow. I'd watch only the dancing flames. I'd think of nothing. Ah! Peace.

This was my first painting. So far, it is my only painting. But someday. Maybe someday.

I am especially pleased with my interpretation of the trees with their delicate yet daring colors. I am pleased with my mountain stream that mirrors the gray sky above. But my cabin. Too orange.

My son is a gifted artist. His home looks like an art gallery. The walls in his two-story living room are filled with huge ambitious paintings that are alive with magnificent color. He makes his living in other ways, because being an artist is practically a non-profit profession. Maybe someday when he has time he can teach me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Grandpa Was A Cross Dresser

That's Grandpa and me to the left. I must have been about 3 years old at the time of this picture. He called me Peanut back then. I called him Pere Pere back then. He was of French descent. Pere Pere means grandpa in French. Well, it means grandpa in a sort of broken Canadian French anyway. His grandparents came down from Quebec to Illinois in roughly 1850.

I called him Pere Pere until I was seven or eight years old. Then I quit. I had begun to feel embarrassed about it, because none of my friends called their grandpas Pere Pere and probably somebody said to me in a snide way, "Why do you call your grandpa Pere Pere?" I caved in to peer pressure.

Yes, Grandpa was a cross dresser, but only at night which, I guess, made him a nocturnal cross dresser. Silky nightgowns! That's what he liked to slip into at night. Grandma's silky nightgowns. Grandma and Grandpa were about the same size. Grandma didn't mind. She thought he looked cute in her nightgowns. There was nothing kinky about actually. He said her nightgowns felt good to his skin and that was why he liked to wear them. So, I suppose that made him a tactile nocturnal cross dresser. And since he was French...never mind. I won't carry it out to that extent.

Grandpa wasn't kept hidden in the closet because of his eccentric preference in sleep wear. Although our family thought it was funny, we weren't ashamed of him. It would have been impossible to have kept him in the closet anyway.

You see, Grandma and Grandpa owned a huge brick home in my home town. They lived on the first floor which had somewhat of an open feel to it. Very little privacy. They rented out rooms on the second and third floor, and in the basement as well, to folks who had come up from Southern Illinois to take jobs at the nearby mental hospital.

With that many people flowing in and out of the house all hours of the day and night due to shift work, somebody was bound to catch Grandpa in Grandma's silky nightgown either on his way to bed at night or, in the morning, sipping a cup of coffee at the kitchen table which was visible from the front door.

Grandma and Grandpa didn't have any Las Vegas type house rule stating that what goes on here stays here. Consequently with that many people living under one roof and with so little privacy, word about Grandpa's eccentric preference in sleep wear was bound to get out to the community at large. Grandpa was such a likeable guy though that nobody in town appeared to mind what he wore to bed even if it was his wife's nightgown. Everybody liked Grandpa.

When he was in his early sixties, Grandpa took a job driving a school bus in town. He adored the children and the children adored him. About five months before he died at age 66, he was down on the floor playing with my first-born daughter, his first great-grandchild. I was pregnant with my second child at the time. We were talking and, out of the blue, he said to me that he hoped he would still be around to see my second child. I remember I was shocked. "Of course, you will still be here, Grandpa." I remember saying to him.

There was a big snow storm the night before he died. The next morning when he got to work, he struggled to put the chains on the tires of the school bus. He went on to make his rounds out in the rural area picking up children. He returned to town with his precious cargo of children and was driving down a street toward the school, when he suddenly slumped over the steering wheel. The bus slowed down, veered to the right and softly glided into a snow bank alongside the street where it came to a stop. No child was injured. The doc said Grandpa had died instantly from a heart attack.

Grandpa thought the world of me. As far as he was concerned, the sun rose and set in me. Although I undoubtedly deserved it from time to time, I never recall him saying even a cross word to me. I could do no wrong in his eyes.

How fortunate I was to have him in my life. My beloved Pere Pere!