Friday, July 25, 2008

What to do first?

There are times, during this country life, when I become frozen with terror for just a moment. I gasp a strangled breath and think, oh my god, what are we doing? Sometimes I think the house is too big. (Stop! Stop building!) Sometimes I think we are crazy to even think about getting animals. (We’ll never be able to leave. The expense. We don’t know what we’re doing.) Sometimes I look at the fence falling down around the cabin yard, or the old barn listing to the side, or dead trees that have fallen near the driveway, or the eroding mud around the new construction that needs to be planted with something, soon, and I just go blank. I’m sure that my face has the deer-in-the-headlights look and old timers would laugh and shake their heads if they could see me. What was she thinking it would be like? Country Living magazine?

I can usually calm myself by taking slow, deep breaths and remembering the Alcoholics Anonymous saying—“One Day at a Time.” In fact, sometimes I break it down even further and think “One section of the day at a time.” I have big dreams is the problem. Or not even big dreams necessarily, but several dreams. Yesterday’s trip to the library proves it.

I returned a relatively benign batch of books—a novel, short story collection, and poems, and took out the following: The Backyard Orchardist: a complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden; Backyard Fruits & Berries: how to grow them better than ever; Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats: breeds, care, dairying; and Horse Housekeeping: everything you need to know to keep a horse at home. I’m not planning on doing all of this at once, mind you, but I wanted to get a head start on the subjects so that I can be planning ahead, keeping my eye out for things we might need, foreseeing potential problems.

Foreseeing potential problems? Are you kidding me?

For one thing, there is the problem of brute strength. I began digging out the small herb garden that Mary Lou Neff, the previous owner, had put in many years ago next to the cabin. It was ringed with sandstone rocks that have sunk into the ground over the years. I haven’t done a thing to it for the past six years, so sod was beginning to take over the rocks as well as the brick landing she laid between the garden and the porch. I found the shovel and started unearthing the stones. These big old sandstone rectangles that were used as foundation stones in barns are h.e.a.v.y. I struggled with the dolly and a shovel for close to an hour and had some success. I got to the place where the sod was thick and every place I stuck my shovel into the ground, it hit rock. Where are my eleven farm children to help me with this chore?
I walked down to the new house where John was scrubbing beams…yes, that’s right, scrubbing beams. Old barns have bird poop and other sundry things on them which you (I) want to clean off before living in them. “I can’t dig out those rocks. I can’t physically do it,” I complained. “I can move them around once they are set free, and I can work the soil with the small tiller and I can plant it, but I can’t get the rocks out.” John promised that he would dig the rocks out, not to worry. He said not to feel bad, it was hard to do. I felt a little less defeated and decided that the least I could do was go make dinner. It occurred to me then, that this is how cooking duties always fell to women. What do you want to do—extremely difficult physical labor, or go shell peas?

I am positive that any farm wife from half a century ago could beat me with a stick in a contest of physical strength. I press lots of buttons in my kitchen. No butter churns for me. But, the point was made. I wasn’t indignant about it, and neither was I then advocating that it should be the same way today. I was just willing to go make dinner if he would dig out those stones for me. And I was happy to have a strong, healthy husband to do it, in lieu of eleven children!

My Uncle Jack, who lives on the horse farm in Texas with my Aunt Lainey, says, “It’s just work. You have to do something everyday anyway. Just pick what you’re going to do today.” I used to remember that when I worked full time in my office job and things got overwhelming. It appears that things are the same everywhere. There are always a million things to be done if you are living a full life, whether in the city or the country.

And, as some old-timer John once met said, “It’ll get done. And if it doesn’t…oh well.”


Kathy said...

Hang tough lil sis. Next year you'll be posting pictures of boulders you single-handedly moved, all the while with a broken arm, or something as crazy!!

John said...

The spirit of the old-timer's comment is right on, but the exact quote, spoken in response to some repair that needed to be done on the farm, was: "If it get's done today, that's fine. And if it doesn't get done today, well, that's fine too."

Meg said...

Thank you, John. Stone digger AND editor--who could ask for more? : )

Shellmo said...

I had to laugh - I am always asking the question "what should I do next?!" - it gets overwhelming but just doing tasks 1 at a time can just relishing the satisfaction of that is worth it.