Sanctuary

I didn’t see the house or The Farm again for three years.  I got married and moved to Seattle where my husband and I had both been accepted to graduate school.   During weekly phone conversations, Mom told me about the plans they had for The Farm.  Dad bought a small tractor and they put in a garden.  They built an outhouse and started going to auctions and farm sales where they found a wood cook stove.  She sent me pictures:  an apple pie that was a mouth-watering brown on one side and totally charred on the other; a table set for two with a plate of unburned biscuits (her wood stove skills were improving) and a bowl of wild strawberries picked from the field behind the house; the house buried in snow drifts; the upstairs bedroom with the chamber pot beside the bed.  My parents bought books about raising livestock and talked about living there full time.

Mom and Dad had always dreamed of living off the land.  They bought the complete set of the Foxfire books and subscribed to Mother Earth News, the instruction manuals for the 60s and 70s back to the land movement.  They installed a woodstove in the basement of our house in Franklin and grew a garden in the back yard.  My mother canned tomatoes and pickles every summer, and we made apple sauce and cider from the apples that fell from the trees in our yard.  One spring we tapped the maple trees along the driveway and made syrup over an open fire.  That adventure wasn’t so successful–the syrup tasted like smoke.  My parents were thrilled to have acreage at last.

All of this made me achingly homesick.  I loved living in Seattle with the bookstores and movie theaters and coffee shops, but I couldn’t shake the images of The Farm.   My marriage didn’t last and seeking solace, I decided to fly home to Pennsylvania for a few weeks in the summer of 1983.  Seeing friends and family was great, but I needed to go somewhere comforting where I could be alone.  I borrowed my parents’ white boat of a station wagon and stopped and bought coffee and a few staples on the way to the Farm.  I pulled into the driveway, got out of the car with my backpack and groceries, and unlocked the padlock on the door.  Someone had written on the peeling, white paint above, “No rabbits—Mike.”

I carried the bags in and set them on the kitchen table.  The room was painted white with brown trim.  There were no counters or cupboards, but there was a porcelain sink with a pitcher pump and a wooden hutch on the opposite wall just to the left of the door.  The only light fixture in the room turned on and off with a pull chain and was located above a 1940s Hotpoint electric range complete with a soup well.

The tiny, two-bedroom house was cozy and welcoming, and I felt that I belonged there even though I’d never been inside before. I left my bags in the kitchen and opened the wooden door that lead into the living room.  This was a dark and gloomy space with two windows in the south wall that opened onto what was once a porch but was now enclosed to form another room.  The west wall of the living room was covered in dark-stained barn board; the wall opposite was covered with cedar shakes and the remaining walls had a rust-colored wall paper with a small design of trees and what looked like a Japanese temple in white.  The woodwork was painted the color of spicy brown mustard.  The living room had an overstuffed couch of a color not seen in nature—a kind of tannish mauve– and a couple of squishy armchairs.  The room that used to be a porch was painted white and all that was in it was the large, cabinet stereo I remembered from my parents’ house when I was a child.  So the décor was basically early American garage sale.

I continued up the stairs.  The two bedrooms were painted yellow with institutional green trim.  Uncle Cecil had worked for the railroad and he brought home odd and ends to use at The Farm:  the last bit of paint in a can, some old light switches, an assortment of used nails and screws.  Plaster was peeling off the walls in places.  There was no hallway and no bedroom doors, but each room had a window and the space was light and cheerful.  The room at the top of the stairs had two single beds and in the back room stood a metal bed painted brown, as well as a small table with a lamp and a black and white TV.  My mother said that when she and my dad were shown around the place by a neighbor, there had been a lovely, old wooden chest of drawers in the back bedroom.  On their first trip to The Farm after they bought it, the dresser was gone.

The only space left to explore was the basement.  There was no door at the top of the cement stairs, which descended from the enclosed side porch, but there was a door at the bottom.  A small, metal sign above the doorway said “Dressing Room No. 7.”  Another railroad left over?  Uncle Cecil’s sense of humor?  No one knows anymore.  The basement had three rooms.  According to family legend, when it was first built, the house had no basement.  At some point, the house was jacked up and a basement was dug out, forms put in, and concrete walls and floor poured.  The house also had no plumbing, so no bathroom,  but there was a toilet immediately to the right of the stairs in the main room of the basement. There were no walls around it; no attempts at privacy.  It was flushed by pouring a bucket of water into it.

Pittsburgh Potty

For many years, I assumed the exposed basement toilet was an aberration exclusive to my family, they are apparently common in older homes in Pittsburgh, and even known as “Pittsburgh Potties.”  The city model is hooked up to running water, however; and I think it makes the appearance of a basement potty in a house without plumbing even more bizarre.  Why wouldn’t you simply build an outhouse? (Photo is not of the actual basement toilet, but pretty close. Image from @theinclinepgh on Twitter.)

By the time I was finished poking around the basement, I was tired and it was getting dark, so I decided to go to bed.  I couldn’t get anything to come in on the television, no matter how much I messed with the rabbit ears, so I read until I fell asleep.  This took longer than usual.  After living in towns and cities for so long, I expected nights in the country to be dark and silent, and although they were dark, they were anything but silent.  The crickets chirped all night and when the crickets started to wind down around five a.m., the birds were just getting warmed up.

I don’t remember what I actually did for the rest of that weekend, reading and going for walks, would be my guess, but I do know that just being there made me feel safe and strong and my depression retreated.  I was able to fly back to Seattle feeling renewed.  I decided to return to The Farm as soon as I was finished with graduate school, but then I met Henrik Nordstrom.  Henrik was Finnish and very exotic to someone who grew up on the outskirts of a small town.  He was smart and funny and despite growing up in Helsinki, his dream was to get land in the country and become “self-sufficient.”  We read everything we could find about gardening and raising animals, and after we got married and bought a small house in the Ballard neighborhood, we dug up the front and back yards to plant vegetables much to the horror of our neighbors who all had closely cropped grass and camellia bushes.

We spent weekends driving around the countryside looking for land.  In the 1980s, undeveloped property within two hours of Seattle was running about $10,000 an acre, while I knew that an acre in northwestern Pennsylvania was $500 to $1,000.  We fell in love with two acres on Vashon Island, but the soil test came back positive for copper, lead, and cadmium, most likely from the smelter south of the island in Tacoma.

It was at about that time when my parents announced they were selling The Farm. Their dream of living off the land had degenerated during six years of ownership into mowing the grass every few weeks and it had become too much for them.  I couldn’t let them sell it to someone else.  Henrik was reluctant, but I convinced him to move east.  And then I found out I was pregnant.

 

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Hearth and Home

I’m never sure what to call this place where I live. A farm, a farmette, a hobby venture? I’ve been here almost 30 years and I’ve never come up with a description or name that was an exact fit. My family called it The Farm. My friends often refer to it as Maggie’s Farm, although that one’s clearly been taken. Mr. Badger dubbed it Snow Water Farm from the local name Conneaut, which is reported to mean very cold water. Whatever you call it, what I do know is that on an August afternoon in 1982, this land claimed me and I will belong to it until I die.

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The farm house when my parents purchased the property in 1982.

We were on our way to the mall that day when my mother decided to stop and show me some property my parents had just purchased from Dad’s Uncle Cecil’s estate.  My parents bought The Farm,  located in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on  May 10, 1982.  It wasn’t really a farm; it was thirty-three acres, twenty open and thirteen wooded, with a small, sway-backed house, several outbuildings that were home to litters of groundhog pups, and assorted apple, pear, peach, and cherry trees.  My dad remembered picnics and family reunions there with his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It belonged to my father’s uncle and aunt, Marcella and Cecil Schumacher, or as I knew them, Aunt Sallie and Uncle Cecil.

As we pulled in the driveway that afternoon, my mother promised we wouldn’t stay long.  She just wanted me to see the place.  Feeling put upon, I opened the car door and went to get out, and as my foot made contact with the grass in the driveway, I felt what I thought was an electric current shoot up my leg.  I pulled my foot back into the car.  I thought for a moment that I had actually been shocked somehow.  Mom didn’t notice.  She was already out of the car and standing in the back yard talking about apple and pear trees and where they were going to put the garden.   “It looks really nice,” I said through the open car window, “but we need to get going.”

I didn’t know that what I had felt was energy; I wouldn’t learn about grounding or energy flow for another ten years, but I felt it just the same.   This land and I forged a bond that day, and though I’ve tried to break it off a couple of times, it’s been my longest-running personal relationship. It has seen me through the heart break of miscarriages and the joy of births, two and four-legged.  It has thrown up road blocks and then steered me in the right direction.  It has sustained me and healed the depression that dominated my young adult life.  Living here has been endlessly fascinating, frustrating, and humbling.  This land has saved my life.

Seeing Red

16650273_10203018475378520_631000387_nI was working the phones in the eastern Crawford County Democratic Headquarters on Election Day 2008 making last minute, get-out-the-vote calls and arranging rides to the polls. Around mid-day, I walked down the street to the Quality Market to get some food. I was wandering around the produce section when I overheard two elderly women talking. The first one greeted the other and asked how she was. “Oh, I’m so frightened,” the second woman said. The first one looked concerned and asked her why she was afraid. “I’m afraid of the dark one,” she said. “What will become of us if the dark one wins?” The first woman patted her friend’s arm and reassured her that everything would be fine. I purchased my lunch and walked back to the headquarters, but I was in shock. I couldn’t get my head around someone being afraid of Barack Obama.

Fast forward eight years to Election Day 2016. The people in this area vote in the local township building, a metal structure that is mostly a large garage with a small office attached. In all the previous elections I’ve voted in since moving here in 1989, the experience has consisted of going into the office, signing your name in the book and going to one of three or four voting booths. There is rarely a line at 10 a.m. because most people are at work at this time. This year was different. The line went into the garage and snaked all along the walls before entering the office. There were hundreds of people in line by the time I got there. As you would expect, most of them looked to be, like myself, over fifty. There were probably twenty to thirty people ahead of me who hadn’t even reached the door yet. I pulled out my phone and started reading a book.

Then my attention was caught by a woman two or three people in front of me. She turned to the person next to her and said in a voice quivering with fear, “She’s a Mooslim, you know.” Her companion looked startled.

“What?”

“She’s a Mooslim.”

“I’m pretty sure she’s a Methodist,” the companion said.

“She was raised Methodist, but then she became a witch, and now she’s a Mooslim. Her girlfriend is one, too.”

I looked around to see how the crowd was taking this. A few people snickered quietly and some others looked at her wide-eyed, but there were some who were nodding their heads. This woman looked to be in her mid to late seventies, like my mother, and she was clearly terrified of what this modern-day Medusa would do if she got into office. I went back to my book, again unable to comprehend how our world views could be so completely different.

You know what happened next. Thousands of my fellow Pennsylvanians helped give Donald Trump the electoral votes he needed to win the White House, and we are still dissecting the results. Did these people feel that the government had ignored them for long enough and they decided to get to the polls to voice their displeasure? I’m sure some of them did. Were many of them life-long Republicans who had decided to hold their collective noses and vote for Trump even if they found him personally repugnant? I know many of those. But many of them voted for Trump out of fear.

They were actually afraid of and threatened by Hillary Clinton, and keeping this monster out of the White House became a passion with them. This was not simply a case of a difference of political opinion. In their eyes, Clinton truly was a monster. They had been conditioned to believe outrageous and horrible things about a woman who had made a career out of standing up for the rights of children and people who couldn’t afford medical care, who had worked for equality for women and to improve life for families. They swallowed whole the fake news reports that Clinton had ordered people to be killed, that she was running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant in D.C., and that she and some Jewish bankers were using a private e-mail server to plot world domination.

I don’t know what we can do about this societal brainwashing, but I see it happening again. For the last thirty-six hours, my Facebook newsfeed has been full of photos, memes and cartoons with the hashtag #Nevertheless, she persisted. The GOP is demonizing Senator Elizabeth Warren just like they did Barack Obama, but especially Hillary Clinton. They can see that Warren is an intelligent, talented, powerful woman who is not afraid to speak out or to challenge the Republicans and their CEO who thinks he is king. We need to keep our eyes open and remember their actions, so that we may spread the truth and oppose them when we hear their lies. In four years, I hope there will be a crowd of little old ladies in pink pussyhats standing in line to kick out Trump (or possibly Pence, by that time) and finally shatter that glass ceiling.

 

Country Cottage Journal ~Truth and Lies

Chick Update

Another Greenhouse

Writing on Windows


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I was chugging along doing errands yesterday when I pulled up behind a Chevy truck at a red light. The back window was covered by what I assumed was a memorial decal. I couldn’t make out the full name, because the font was very curly and difficult to read, but I saw that the young man had been 21 when he died. It reminded me of another “memorial window” experience I had a few years back.

We live on a dirt road, which means that in the summer the back window of my station wagon is usually covered with a layer of dust. I do wash my car occasionally, but not often, because it’s only going to get covered in fresh dust on the drive home from the car wash. My nod to visibility is to wash the back window when I stop to get gas. The accumulation of dust makes a perfect canvas for my daughter, Emily, who loves to draw designs and leave me messages.

I was on my way to work one morning and I passed a car on the interstate. Then I noticed the same car tailgating me. This  made me nervous, but I was almost at my exit. I put on my turn signal and got off to get gas, and the car followed me right into the gas station this made me nervous.  I pulled up to a pump and the car pulled in right behind me. A woman got out and walked toward my window. She apologized for making me nervous, but she said she wanted to thank me for what was on the back window.

I got out of the car and walked around to the back. In the dust, Emily, who was four at the time, had written “I <heart> U MI MI.” The heart was a drawing of a large heart, and I assumed MI was her attempt to spell ‘me’. As she got older, she started to write “Wash Me,” but at four it was still okay to make public statements of affection. I was at a loss as to what this could mean to a stranger, but the woman told me.

“My grandson died a few years ago, and he always called me Mimi.,” she said. She had been having a rough morning and feeling sad, and when I passed her on the highway, she noticed the message on the back window. She had to speed up to make sure she wasn’t seeing things, and then she decided to follow me to the gas station to let me know how much it meant to her. “I feel like my grandson sent me a message, and that made my day.”

It made my day, too, and I didn’t wash the back window that time. I left it on until the rain washed it off. I thought about that when I saw the decal on that truck window yesterday. I hope it helps the driver feel connected to his or her lost child.

Getting Ready

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get by without many of the things we consider essential in our early 21st century lives. The most obvious of these things is electricity. I found this article by Anita Evangelista in Backwoods Home Magazine, http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/evangelista73.html, on how to live without electricity. She isn’t talking about moving beyond the grid, although she has lived that way before, but rather what to do when the power goes out because of a natural disaster or other sudden, unanticipated event.

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Evangelista covers the basic information for how to prepare for a power outage, and that is an important point. You have to get ready before it happens, because if you wait until the electric goes out, you are pretty much stuck. The author makes another interesting point when she says that you should try to keep your family’s routine as normal as possible during these times. It is easy for people to give in to fear and paranoia when their surroundings are altered suddenly and beyond their control. However, if you have prepared for that occurrence, it can be less disruptive. We have a habit at our house: when the power goes out, we light candles, break out the dice, and play Yahtzee.

Autumn 2012: Day Fourteen

This may be the peak of the color.  Dark clouds coming and weather forecast calling for rain all weekend.  If that is true, the rains may bring down many of the leaves, and the show will be over.

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Autumn 2012: Day Thirteen

Running errands today.  Managed to grab a couple of pictures before the sun went down.

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