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Day at the farm

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 in farm

Sisters shelling peas
It takes a fair amount of planning for a city girl to go visit her relatives on the farm. First are the mental adjustments everyone has to make before seeing family. The farm is home to my sister, her husband, my sister’s oldest daughter, her husband, and their three kids. I don’t always see all of them when I visit. I never know who will be out putting up hay or something. It doesn’t take much emotional or mental adjustment to see the men since I never grew up with them or baby sat for them. They don’t know how to deploy any emotional strong holds or throw any sucker punches. They are basically in the background. The little kids are in the foreground demanding attention, but unless they cry, they are also emotional background noise. It is the physical noise I have to prepare myself for. And the constant interruptions. And the demand they make on my peripheral vision because there’s lot of stuff they can get in and I don’t ever want to hear “But I thought you were watching him!”

It’s the sister and niece I have to prepare myself for. I’ve never completely given up wanting my older sister to notice me and show an interest in me. We tend to communicate best by simply insulting each other, but I’ve tired of that game. And I’m out of practice. My niece I just don’t want to disappoint. Or be manipulated by. Or hurt. This is the child who will probably be taking care of me in my old age so I need to stay on her good side.

The next stage in preparation is choosing farm clothes. I have shoes, jeans, and shirts that are designated as either farm clothes or painting rags. But since I’m visiting my mother in her assisted living home first, I have to choose something else that I can wear both places. And it’s frequently the first few minutes that are the most dangerous in terms of dirt. Thankfully their dog does not jump up on people, but sometimes my great-nephews like to take me to the barns right away. Or I have to enter a barn to locate an adult. Packing for the farm is sort of like packing for camping. But instead of rain gear I pack garden gear, barn gear, and baby-sitting gear. And since I’m going out to help set up for a garage sale, I’ll need clothes for sitting at the sales table, too.

I even think about what to pack in the car or truck. It’s best to take the truck, but the car gets better gas mileage so I’m taking it this trip. I try to have a box in back in case I decide to bring home something for the garden or something that’s just messy. Taking the car means that I won’t be bringing back any manure for my compost pile. But a plastic bag is always good to have. And some coffee and my iPod for the long drive. I always really need to pee when I get there.

And the bathroom is a good place to begin at the farm. On this visit there is no one to greet me when I arrive. I don’t think I’ve ever knocked at a farm door. I’ve always just entered the back door and assumed that the dog or geese or the sound of my car has notified the residents that I’m there. I enter the bathroom and scan it for clues as to how hectic the day has been so far. I see swimming clothes in the sink and some sort of paper-making project on the counter. These are signs that the family has had some time to play lately, but not enough time to clean. There’s no child seat on the stool so that means the Comrade, my younger great-nephew, is still not interested in potty training.

I hear a TV and go to the living room to find the Cowboy, my older great-nephew, watching a show. He informs me that his mother is doing chores. So that means she’s either in the CSA garden or in the barn. Coming at chore time is always dangerous because you can be put to work immediately. Once my husband was with me when they were putting up hay and he ended up with welts all over and in great need of an antihistamine. But I’m here to work on the garage sale so I’ll probably not be asked to do anything else. Besides, I’m not a good milker.

Toggenburg goat

I enjoy walking out to the barn. I scan the garden to see how it’s doing and if there are any adults out there. Seeing none I pass through the fowl. If it’s time for them to eat, I’ll be surrounded by chickens, ducks, and guinea hens. But they must have been fed because they all ignore me. I try to start up a crowing contest but only have one unenthusiastic competitor.

The barn cats all watch me approach from their spots in the sun. Only a couple are tame and they come up and demand attention. I wish the little kids were a little older and more interested in locating and taming the barn kittens. There are some very cute ones but they all race away. I’m left with an older calico who I give a quick pat on the head. I’d offer more, but he has the ubiquitous barn cat cold. I do not like runny noses.

Once I enter the barn, I immediately know where my family is. We are all loud talkers. And we all talk at once. So I hear my niece, my brother-in-law, and the Comrade. I do not hear Baby-Girl, but I do see her wagon. The chickens I scare away and a few of the goats also call out. I add my voice to the cacophony saying, “Hey there. Are those boxes in the spare bedroom for the sale or to keep?”

“Oh hi! Both I think. Move Joe! Dad, can you take her?” replies my niece. I tease out the words that were directed at me and somehow acknowledge the others there. I’m sure everyone else said something to me and I probably said something, too. I grab Baby-Girl and see how far away from her mother I can get her. As long as she is walking or getting to see animals, I can expect to get a few minutes out of sight with her. But I didn’t come to play with the kids, I came to work. So back she goes and I head towards the garage.

My niece’s husband and I begin to clean the garage. Somehow the Comrade and Baby-Girl end up with us. I’m sweeping the dust, feathers, straw and various manures out towards the kids. The Comrade wants me to sweep right at him and Baby-Girl is trying to stand up on her bare feet in the gravel driveway. Her nose is dripping and I hate snot. But I always have a tissue on me so I wipe her face. I feel very magnanimous and womanly.

I set up tables my niece borrowed from her church and others start putting out boxes of items. My sister eventually returns from some other county where she was judging a 4-H show or some other event. I get to listen to the normal bickering of the two families living on this one farm. It’s rather comforting to me to know that they are voicing the same opinions and frustrations as every other time I’ve visited. I’m not sure that I could live with my parents or with my kids and grandkids, but it seems to work out for them. As long as they aren’t coming up with new and larger issues, I think they’ll do just fine. After all, much of our family identity comes from what we argue about.

Later I have dinner with my niece’s family and I try to listen as both boys talk at once and try to explain something to me. I’m not really very good at this. Baby-Girl cries and I get myself a plate and locate the food and settle down to eat. I ask about my nephew-in-law’s new job. I’m very pleased to feel the air conditioning. It’s not something I expected from their old farm house. It’s a large unit that sits in the dining room and has a couple of hoses running to a window. I love it.

I sleep that night on the mattress of my mother’s that we have just moved in. Mom has a new single mattress at the home. I decide to use Mom’s pillows, too. They’re old, but at least I know the woman and cat who used them. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to replace your pillows every few years, but I think the ones that were previously on the bed had to have been over 20 years old. I fall asleep to the sound of crickets and the wind, and to the smell of goats.

I wake to the sound of roosters and a progression of TVs. I think the first one I hear is from my sister’s. The wall of her house and of the house I’m in are shared. There’s a closet that joins the two houses and that closet opens to the bedroom I’m in. Eventually I give up and get dressed. I make myself coffee and sit for a bit with my niece and her two youngest who are up.

Then I’m back to pricing items. My sister comes by and pulls a few items off the table. I’ve gone through a box that came from their basement and apparently it’s going back into their basement. I pull off a few items that were my mothers because I fear that she’ll remember that she had them and ask about them. I don’t really want to tell her about selling off her stuff. And then the kids come out and start trying to bargain with me about which toys should really be kept. I try to stay out of that conflict. But it’s impossible to keep the toys on the tables. I help take a few items to my sister’s and twist my ankle on the way back.

My sister and niece pick veggies and pack them for a few of their CSA customers while I continue to price. I pick up a large sign we’ve made from scrap wood and painted to put out at the end of the drive. I get black paint all over my shirt. Luckily I’ve packed well and am able to put on another one.

No customers yet. So I go in a get a banana and sit and eat it while watching the boys ride their trike and bike. When I head for the compost pile to throw away my peel, the oldest one comes with me. We both spot a goat skull next to the pile and he gallantly crawls under the fence to bring it to me. I have lots of skulls in my garden and love to take whatever bones get picked clean behind the barn.

Before lunch time we get two customers. My niece chats them up. I’m not sure if the men have come for the sale or simply to see the farm. They both knew the previous owners. Later my niece’s husband comes home for lunch and lets me know that our signs have blown down. So I go out and put them back up. We eventually get two women who stop by and make several purchases.

I need to leave by 2 p.m. so I can avoid all the traffic on the way home. By the time I leave, we’ve made $1.65 total. I think this pretty much sums up farming. Put in a lot of work, get screwed by the weather, and earn a pittance. I take the squash my sister gives me and head for home, thankful that there are people willing to work this hard. I plan go home, put my foot up, have a glass of ice tea, and go to bed early.

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