Knowing (and even understanding) this fact has never kept me from succumbing intermittently to fantasies about country living and its imagined simplicity, or peace and quiet. But my reveries inevitably give way to the realities country living would necessarily entail, at which point I circle back to square one: I’m not particularly suited for country life. I guess I’ve spent too many years learning how to thrive while living “amongst”, rather than “dispersed”.
My two-year stint of quasi-rural life in the northern Great Plains during the mid-70’s only reinforced what I had already figured out. We lived in a town of about 10,000, which was the fourth largest town in the entire state. When you drove beyond the city limits in any direction, you had to drive at least fifteen miles before reaching the nearest town. The surrounding towns were s – m – a – double – l, as in fewer than 300 residents. To dine at a restaurant a step up from the local Country Kitchen required a sixty mile drive; a shopping mall, twice that distance. Such realities clashed with my more urban sensibilities. It seemed entirely possible that civilization could be spread too thin. I just wasn’t cut out for living in a rural context.
But living in the country and visiting the country are two very different things. I have discovered that I’m quite well suited for visiting the country.
My very first visit was in early adolescence. My parents had joined a church to which several farm families also belonged. A couple of these families had girls very close to my age with whom I became friends. When summer rolled around, I was invited to spend a week at a time on their farms. This could have put me in hog heaven, but alas, they raised Angus and Holstein.
I swapped out the more typical camp experience for these wonderful visits. While I may not have slept in bunks in a cabin, learned archery/water sports/campfire songs, or pulled pranks on the counselor, thanks to my country friends, I could anticipate an annual week or two of farm festivities, right up to the time I left home. And I rather preferred the enrichment of these excursions into country life.
After all, a city girl could learn a lot on a farm. Such as:
1. Sheets hung out on the line in the country smell incredible. Our family’s laundry was regularly hung on the line to dry, but when I made the beds at night, our sheets didn’t smell nearly as good as the country sheets.
2. Though you will see lots of cats, you are unlikely to make contact with even one of them. Since my mom insisted that all things feline remain outdoors, any mice we encountered were dealt with by mousetrap. Which meant that these farm visits were my introduction to a) the idea of “cats as mousers”, b) the need to keep the rodent population at bay in barns, and c) the benefit of having a sizable cat population. (The central theme of all those Tom and Jerry cartoons must have gone right over my head.)
While I understood their personal mission statements incorporated “Devour rodents in barn”, I couldn’t get my mind around these farm cats being completely indifferent to my presence. I think I took it personally.
3. 4-H is way cool. From time to time, my visits would coincide with 4-H functions and I would get to tag along. I was always amazed by the achievements, accomplishments and accolades of my rural age peers. Since I, too, had an interest in sewing and dressmaking, some of the intricate projects these kids undertook pretty much knocked my socks off.
4. It’s imperative to watch where you’re stepping. Enough said?
5. A calf’s tongue = sandpaper. I was startled the first time one poked her head through a fence and latched onto my finger. My utter deficit of farm critter savvy meant I would mindlessly allow this scenario to occur more than once. (Get it?…utter/udder…heh heh.)
6. Putting up hay = boys. Since the farm families I knew had mostly girls (only one son among a combined total of ten children!), they hired local teenage boys to help with the mowing, baling, and storing of the hay. My friends tried to time my visits during the hay season. (Good friends, indeed.) Sometimes I got to ride shotgun on the tractor fender while one of my friends drove the Deere, other times I helped get meals ready. After a long and sweltering Midwest summer’s day spent man handling hay bales, everyone headed for the pond to cool off, which took some of the sting out of the mandatory sunburn.
7. You will never get your swimsuit looking clean again after swimming in the pond. Period.
8. Homemade ice cream is fantastic. Where had it been all my life? This farm-fresh, frozen wonderfulness was the perfect finale to a day of putting up hay. The bale-toting guys each took a turn at hand cranking the ice cream freezer until cranking the dasher reached the desired level of difficulty, at which point the contraption yielded it’s extraordinarily delicious contents.
Curious, but this was the only time the cats actually came around…
9. Having a 500-gallon gasoline tank on your property and being able to fill your car for free is great. Okay, so the gas isn’t exactly free, but that’s how it seemed to me at the time, given the absence of a commercial gas pump clicking off the gallons by tenths, along with the corresponding price in dollars. No driving out of your way to find a service station, no jockeying for an open pump, no waiting in line to pay — opulence befitting a sultan, I’d say.
10. The night sky in the country is dazzling. The ambient light of the city ruled out such splendor, but away from the city — the stars, the moonlight… amazingly brilliant against the inky blackness. Now, a girl could get used to that.