Friday, August 15, 2014
“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
When we moved from the Phoenix Metro area to northeastern Arizona seven years ago, I didn't realize I would transform from City Girl back to my country roots. In fact, I didn't even realize I had country roots. Frankly, I had never thought to try to characterize the life I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Potts, up in Pottsville, all those years ago. I didn't think it was country life; I thought it was just life with some hard work mixed in.
I didn't even particularly like the hard work -- we did it because Mom told us to help Grandma. By and large, we were pretty obedient kids and we certainly did what Mom told us to. That's just how it worked. So, we gardened, and fed the cow, and strained the milk, and stirred the cottage cheese, and dumped eggshells in compost, and weeded, and put clothes through the wringer, and picked green beans, and canned, and washed dishes. And canned. And washed dishes. And canned. And canned.
I didn't know that one day, when I was fumbling through learning to can by myself --and feeding chickens, and scattering straw, and trying my hand at gardening -- that I would feel connected to my girlhood. That I would pause and stand as still as possible in my garden on summer mornings, because it was as if Grandma was right there with me, and I didn't want to even whisper and lose the feeling.
I had no idea I was so connected to that part of my past. I didn't know how I had loved those years with Grandma and Grandpa. I just happily experienced them at the time, as kids do, and grumbled with my sister Lynda and my cousins when I felt we had just too much to do.
As a grown up now, though, I know there is something about these "close to the earth" ways that make my spirit sing. When I started gardening and canning and keeping chickens and making homemade bread after grinding the wheat fresh, my Aunt Carol told me that my Uncle Rich said something about my practicing "the old ways." I was touched by that statement more than I can ever express. I felt something deep in me stir, and I felt...honored. Like somehow, I was part of some wonderful, respected old tradition of hard working people who knew and passed down "the old ways." I think I responded that way because I felt that Uncle Rich had meant it as a deep compliment (I don't know that for sure, and I don't think I'll ask, just in case he didn't mean much by it, in which case I'd feel foolish for tearing up every time I think of it, which would just rob the whole sentiment entirely, for heaven's sake.) The reason I suspect it was a compliment, though, is because it wasn't long after Aunt Carol told me that until Uncle Rich dropped by one day with a quart jar of multi-colored dry beans. My heart actually caught for a moment; I knew immediately what those beans were, and tears sprang to my eyes. These were heirloom beans ... beans Uncle Rich cared for and nurtured each year in his tiny garden, carefully collecting and storing them because they came from our family farm in Kentucky and had been passed down by generations of Fraleys. How many generations, we don't know. When I asked him how long they'd been passed down, he only shrugged and said, "I don't know. I know Daddy said they'd been gathered and saved for years and years, but I don't know how long."
It didn't matter.
What mattered was knowing Grandpa Fraley had collected, and stored, and reseeded the forebears of the beans in Kentucky for decades that were now right there in a quart jar in my front yard, decades later, in northern Arizona.
Uncle Rich and I sat right down on the ground in front of my house as he began sorting through the beans. He pushed them to and fro, nudging them into separate piles that made no sense to me, but I know made perfect sense to him. I kept mostly quiet, letting him decide which ones he'd pass on to me and which ones he'd keep. I knew this hadn't been an easy decision, to let any of these treasured living things go. I know because I'd asked about the beans a time or two over the past few years and he'd looked decidedly reluctant to share, so I didn't push. To have him there, then, willing to part with them...willing to entrust me with our family heirlooms...was a surprisingly sacred moment for me. I don't know if he has any idea how much that little bit of time we spent visiting and sorting beans that day meant to me.
But, what it affirmed to me, was that his assessment of my taking part in "the old ways" had merit in his eyes.
Uncle Rich called it "the old ways"; my sister took an entirely different tack. When I'd tell her of some new venture I was up to...making homemade laundry soap, sitting on a stump watching my chickens for hours, taking in a stubborn goat...she'd roll her eyes and say, "OK, Half Pint." Yep, she and my Mom had no desire to take part in any of my endeavors, with our industrious -- often messy -- country life having no appeal to them. And that's been just fine...I laugh at their disdain, and they laugh at me for my farminess and we all find each other ridiculous in our positions, which works well for us. There's not a lick of mean spiritedness about any of it.
Plus, for me, Half Pint isn't such a bad thing to be called. After all, it's what Pa called Laura Ingalls in her books, and I LOVED her books. When I read them as a little girl, I remember my tummy getting so excited reading about the bins of flours and dried goods in their pantry; hearing Laura detail all of the preparations they made for the winter -- the foods they would bottle, the meat they would hang to cure, the wood they would stack, their trips for salt and sugar...all of it enthralled me. It should have come as no surprise to me then, as an adult, that my happiest moments would be watching our pantry shelves fill up with the beautiful jars of tomatoes and apples and peaches we'd canned ourselves. Or seeing the rows of cans filled with wheat and flour and sugar and beans that provide security in our shed next to the house. Or knowing our eggs come from happy hens who are allowed to peck around our few acres; and that last year we got to the grapes for the first time, before the birds did. My delight at finding a tiny patch of asparagus left over from the old couple that had lived here, that I continue to nurture every year, should be no surprise at all; or my concern for keeping alive the lilac tree and honeysuckle bush that I believe must have brought Buelah, the old lady who lived here for decades, such joy.
I love that something of my past -- both of childhood and deep ancestry -- is stirred every time I take part in one of "the old ways" or share young Laura Ingalls' excitement at a well- stocked pantry. I'm grateful to be connected to the old traditions and practices and to remember my Grandma Potts here in Arizona, and Grandpa Fraley in Kentucky when I choose to walk in the old ways.
These "sweet, simple things of life" really are the real ones, after all.
Well said, Half Pint.
Love from the farm,