Coming from the background that I have has found me making some very interesting observations over the years.
Growing up here on this farm, I essentially grew up as if I were part of another generation. We were subsistence farmers; we basically grew enough to support ourselves and make a bit of money selling a few cows. When my father bought the farm from a family member, he upgraded from using horses to using tractors. There are very few people my age that actually took part in stooking and threshing, outside of Thresherman’s reunions. I can go into museums that feature pioneer displays and see tools and equipment I actually used. We grew, raised and processed most of our own food. It was, as I affectionately call it, a life two sticks ahead of the stone ages.
There is much that is positive about this upbringing. Many skills are learned – even for me, as the baby of the family, who missed out on a lot of it, simply because I had 4 older siblings my parents could rely on. A good work ethic is a necessity. You have an intimate knowledge of how food is produced, and how much work it entails. Of course, it’s also fun to entertain people with stories of how we made do when it came to living without running water or an indoor bathroom (wasp nests are a problem. Just sayin’). Or the extra steps we had to take when it was simply too cold to use the outhouse. What it was like to have a garden that was almost 2 acres in size. Milking cows by hand and using an old style cream separator. We even had a hand crank one for when the power went out. I remember helping my mother can produce, using parafin wax to seal the top of the jars, instead of lids and rings.
It was a valuable upbringing, but a lifestyle I was more than content to leave behind. It made me appreciate modern conveniences and things like not having to butcher our own cow or pig for food – though it took some getting used to seeing the tiny little chunks of meat that passed for “roasts” in grocery stores, compared to what we butchered ourselves for a family of seven.
The years went by and more and more people I encountered talked about going back to the land, with all these idyllic visions of how wonderful it was when everyone lived on their plots of land and grew their own food. They painted visions of a life free of pesticides and insecticides (clearly having never had to battle Colorado Potato Beetles threatening their 30 rows of potatoes, or needing to powder cows’ backs with poison so insects wouldn’t lay eggs in their skin, resulting in huge larvae growing all over their backs), and fresh, free range hens that apparently only eat vegetation (newsflash: chickens are omnivores. And they will kill off the weak ones. Then eat them) that they think taste better than hens raised in large numbers (I’ve never been able to taste the difference), and so on. It was a utopian illusion that I found kind of amusing, because they clearly had no idea what the reality of such a life was. Their hearts were in the right places, though, and they meant well, so it was never a big deal.
Over the years, however, things have changed when it came to these utopian visions. It became more militant and hostile. I saw it a lot among groups of certain political leanings, which was certainly curious, since the people I knew who actually lived like they were saying we all needed to do, tended to hold the opposite political leanings. At that point, I more frequently spoke up to point out the reality of such a life; that it wasn’t anywhere near the idyllic paradise they were envisioning.
I soon found myself no longer very popular among those groups.
I have always missed living on the farm, even if I didn’t miss many of the things that came with it. You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl, I used to say. In our many moves, the closest we came to coming back to it was by living in “town”, just a few miles from our family farm.
One reality I had no problem facing was that it simply wasn’t realistic – or even possible – for me to go back to that life. And I was okay with that.
When my mother first began asking us to move to the farm, she used a number of things to try and entice us. One of them was that we could grow a garden again, and not have to buy groceries anymore, so we’d save lots of money.
Well, of course, there are all sorts of holes in that, not least of which is that a garden, even one as large as she used to grow, isn’t enough to keep us from having to buy groceries. The other was, if we ever do have a garden, it’s going to have to be a raised bed garden, because we simply can’t do what we used to do.
Which brings me to that ever present companion we have to live with in our household.
My husband, of course, has debilitating, chronic back pain, but his back is hardly the only source of pain for him. It’s just the one that’s put him on long term disability. Though the medication can make it better, there is no escape from it. Even in his sleep, he spasms and twitches from it.
While it’s nothing compared to the level of pain he lives with, I deal with constant pain as well. Some is there so constantly, like a kind of background noise, I forget it’s there. Until a bone in my foot dislocates, or a knee suddenly tries to bend in a direction it was never intended to. Aside from post traumatic osteoarthritis in my feet and knees, coupled with bone spurs, I’ve got a mystery pain in my left side that no doctor or test has been able to find the source of. Basically, the whole left side of my body is hooped.
Arthritis, being what it is, knows no age, and now my elbows are added to the list. Especially in my right arm, which is actually not too bad, since I’m left handed. It is rather strange to have to use my left arm to pick up my right arm, simply because my elbow sometimes won’t work.
My daughters are not exempt. From injuries that continue to cause pain, to joints that dislocate too easily, to work related hip problems, they both have to deal with pain.
It is an ever present companion in our household. Something we deal with as we need to. It’s just there. As my father – someone who was no stranger to pain, himself – used to say, when anyone asked how he was, “Oh, can’t complain. It wouldn’t help, anyway.”
Simply put, pain itself will prevent us from doing a lot of the things people assume we will start doing, now that we live on the farm. Pain is that hobgoblin, forever hovering in the background. The one we have to consult any time some idea or possibility presents itself.
Which leaves us in a curious situation. We’re on the farm, certainly with ample opportunity to engage in “homesteading” types of lifestyle changes. As we get settled, we’re talking about everything from taking advantage of solar panel installation promotions through the electric company, to getting chickens, to getting our Firearms Acquisition License and maybe go hunting for meat to put in the freezer. Or just target shooting.
But to go “back to nature” or “off grid”? Nope. We like the grid. The grid keeps us warm. The grid provides reliable energy to power the CPAP machine that keeps my husband breathing as he sleeps. We like grocery stores, where you can buy fresh fruit, in the middle of winter. Where you can buy meat without having to raise an animal yourself, then kill and butcher it (or pay someone else to do it). We like not having to have a huge garden, with all the physical labour it entails.
There’s a lot of things we are looking forward to doing. I even started that sourdough I was talking about in my last post. I look forward to when we have apples and I can try my hand at making cider vinegar.
But I will never cease to appreciate that fact that we are doing these things because we want to, not because our survival depends on it, knowing that at any point when the pain becomes too much, we can step away, and still be okay.
That was something we didn’t really have when I was growing up here.