I spent several years on a corn and potato farm. It was an idyllic life – mostly because we weren’t the farmers, we were just renting a farmhouse, but the house was right in the middle of the fields, near the barn, and the planting, tending, growing, and harvest took place all around us. Tractors, farm wagons, the huge sprinklers that we’d stand under in the summertime. The potato beetles that we plucked from the plants, walking up and down the rows with large glass jars, filling them with the colorful, brown and yellow striped beetles. The corn fields – the corn taller than us – that we would run and hide in. On hot days, wandering down the rows, the muddy earth beneath my bare feet, the cool shade, and the soft leaves sliding against my legs and face. The smell of earth. In the fall, the potato harvest, and the mountains of potatos in the barn. Once, we clambored up to the top of the bumpy, muddy mountain and slid – rolled down, shrieking with laughter; only to be chased out of the barn by the irate farmhands. We sprinted across the lot, across our lawn, and up the stone staircase at our porch. That day, I caught my foot on the bottom step and catapulted into the middle step – the stairs were slate and cement, I still have the scar on my knee.
The seasons were observed through the plants that grew. Once, a man stopped his car in front of the potato fields and started taking photographs. In the sixties, taking pictures was expensive and so we stopped and asked why he was taking a photo of the potatoes. He replied that the whole field was dead – it was a scoop – the crops were failing. We shook out heads. No, my mother told him, potatos are root plants. The leaves die, then we harvest. They’re just fine. The tractor will come and plow them up in a couple days. Come back and see. The man was disappointed. Turns out he was a journalist and thought he had a front page story. We laughed about that for years. City folk sure were strange!
Our neighbors raised chickens. When they needed one to eat, they’d choose a pullet (for roasting or frying) or an old hen (for the stewpot). My sister and I watched with glee as the poor bird was captured (they were free range before that was chic), held to the chopping block, and beheaded. Then, with a flourish, the woman would drop the chicken to the ground where, if it landed on its feet, it would run madly for a few yeards before keeling over. The expression, “like a chicken without a head” was always very vivid for me.
And our garbage – we had no garbage trucks! We took everything to the back yard, behind the lilac bushes, and we burned it. There was a pile of old tin cans, and then there was the compost heap. And there was the burning ground, where everything else was reduced to ashes. I don’t remember what we did with the glass jars. I have a suspicion they got burned too – the glass melting after being on the burning ground long enough. The thing is, I don’t remember having as much trash as we have now. Groceries came in paper bags, and most of our produce was fresh. Meat was wrapped in pink paper. We had some canned goods. Some things, like cake mix and pancake mix, were in cardboard boxes. We saved egg cartons. We used bar soap, even for shampoo. I think plastic bottles and such started sneaking in by the seventies, and at first, they must have been cool. But how to get rid of them? I remember plastic burning sometimes and it smelled awful. When I go shopping now, I’m always amazed at how much plastic we buy, and how much plastic garbage we have to get rid of. I’ve started going to the serve-yourself part of the store. You can bring your own jars, cans, bags – and fill up from distributors. Excellent idea. Same at stores like Lush, that sell bar soaps and shampoos – which is what I prefer to use. I try to recycle my glass and plastic bottles and jars – keeping them, washing them, storing things in them.
We moved from the farm when I was about ten, and that was another page turned. No more huge sprinklers in the summer, battering you with heavy water then moving on in a lazy arc before drenching you once more. No more running through the green tunnels of the corn fields, hidden from view, hiding, striped with shade and sunlight, the dust from the long, furry leaves making you sneeze. No more potato bugs. No more burning ground, headless chickens, or lilac forests. No goats eating tulips. No walking through mud puddles. No more lazy summer nights catching lightning bugs, no more freezing winters glittering with snow and ice, and a quarter mile walk to the school bus in the dark. But I still feel like that farm is part of me, somehow, deep in my bones. I dream of it some nights – and I’m down at the brown creek, looking up the hill at the house in the woods. There is tender corn in the field. There are dogs running towards me, tails wagging, tongues lolling Those are the times I don’t want to wake up.