My husband and I both grew up in the city, so our move to our own hundred acre paradise was a lot like the old TV series, Green Acres. Dreamer that I am, I had a vision of a bountiful garden, horses, chickens, maybe a cow or two.
My husband did not share this vision.
The kids bought into the animals, but not the garden part. But, by using the art of friendly persuasion, bribes, I got them all to pitch in and with the help of neighbors with a tractor and plow, we put in a half acre garden that first spring living in the wilds.
It turned out that all those delightful forest animals the children enjoyed finding and watching, are not a gardener’s friends. We began to learn the fine art of warring with nature. Reading magazines on being earth friendly, I fought the potato slugs with jar lids filled with beer. Humans are not the only creatures led to their downfall by alcohol. Evil though it may seem, since the beer actually dissolves the slugs, I convinced myself that they died happy.
Unfortunately, since we had an early drought and our garden was not near a water source, the only vegetables to survive were the potatoes. Go figure, my maiden name was O’Leary. We had mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, baked potatoes, boiled potatoes, hash-brown potatoes, and eventually smelly rotten potatoes. So the next spring we put in a garden about half that size , closer to a water source.
We did not plant potatoes.
This time we lost most of the lettuce and carrots to rabbits, but when the drought came, my visiting apartment bred brother got into the back to nature spirit and hauled buckets of water to save the tomatoes. The deer greatly appreciated his efforts.
The third year, I planted a tiny garden right outside our master bedroom’s sliding glass doors next to a hose bib. I added shiny tin pie plates and wind chimes to discourage nature’s predators lurking in the surrounding woods. I figured that I could stand in my bedroom door in my robe holding a hose to water the cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots. Still reading my nature friendly magazines, I used their recipe for a free safe fertilizer called manure tea, which I made by steeping fresh horse manure in buckets of water.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think about our house having huge attic fans and walls of sliding glass doors instead of air conditioning. Fermented manure tea spread all around outside our bedroom quickly made rotting potatoes seem like perfume.
Though our tiny garden produced gigantic cucumbers and tomatoes and enough of everything for us, our neighbors, city friends, and all the deer and rabbits within miles, a week of sleeping in midsummer heat with all the windows and doors closed, also fermented a rebellion among my family. My husband and five children took a vote. Their unaminous decision was that it wasn’t going to be our hundred acre farm. It was going to be our hundred acre weed and rock sanctuary.
I gave in graciously, since I had finally figured out that when all our farmer neighbors got tired of canning and freezing, they were exceptionally generous with their surplus.
I need to start with a disclaimer of sorts. Our five children not only survived my weird mothering style, but have all become basically good, reasonably happy, creative and productive people. This is the miracle. I dragged our family out of a comfortable suburban ghetto to live in the middle of nowhere, six miles down a dirt road from the nearest small town. We were the first outsiders to move into this particular back in the woods “holler” since before the civil war. It was a different world. After a couple of months, our first grader said to me, “You were right, Mom. We are going to learn a lot from living in the country. Before we rode the school bus out here we didn’t know any cuss words.”
When our preschooler and I spent days exploring the land collecting weeds and rocks for making nature crafts, we weren’t close to a bathroom. And frankly, I never really did very well with the whole toilet training thing anyway. So he just targeted the closest tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to teach him a protocol for trips to town where to my chagrin, he dealt creatively with the lack of trees by using car tires instead.
Another of our sons was by nature both incredibly kind and extremely private. For some reason this combination brought out my dark side. One Easter, I put money for each child in a large plastic egg and painted lovely flowers and scenes on them. For reasons known only to God, and maybe Satan, I cement glued this son’s egg together. I knew that of all our children, he would be the only one that wouldn’t destroy the art work to get the money, but he also wouldn’t let anyone know about his problem. Sure enough, there he was surreptitiously grappling with his egg as the others were happily counting their money. He finally quietly slipped away to his room, where fortunately he couldn’t hear his mother’s evil laugh. I finally did weaken and help him break the egg open while promising to paint him another one.
Siblings are going to fight. It’s a law of nature. Having been ten years older than my only sibling, I was not used to family infighting. It drives me over the edge. Our kids fought furiously every single morning. So as soon as they got old enough to pour milk on their cereal and get themselves dressed for school, I simply put the pillow over my head and slept until they left. One morning our oldest came in saying he was sick. Could he stay home? He still claims I was awake and said yes. That day, I was busy with a project and never got over to the kids’ side of the house. When I had finished my project by lunch, I began to regret that I had told him yesterday I wouldn’t be able come after school to take him to a friend’s house. So I called the school to ask them to tell him I would pick him up. I doubt if they ever believed he didn’t skip school, even though I tried to explain why I didn’t remember that my child was home sick.
I was an equal opportunity embarrassment for all my children. I variously humiliated: one by attending her elementary school’s Halloween Open House dressed as a witch, another child by gathering pine cones in his Junior High School yard while his classmates watched from the bus, and also the first musician in our family by running with tears of pride all the way down main street along-side his marching band. And I pretty much humiliated all of them by playing the senile fairy godmother when the local theater group put on a warped version of Cinderella at their schools. The list could go on.
Surprisingly, the only time they actually rebelled as a group was when I put our garden near the faucet right outside our sliding glass doors. In spite of my pressing all my children into forced labor, previous attempts at gardens had failed due to droughts and lack of accessible water. I now read that I could get a tremendous yield from a very small garden by making an environmentally friendly fertilizer using horse manure soaked in buckets of water. Unfortunately, our house was cooled by attic fans and lots of open sliding glass doors. Once spread, the manure tea was horrifically pungent. We had to choose between everyone gagging for days or dripping with sweat from closed doors. My lynch mob family threatened to either set fire to the land or run away from home en masse if I ever attempted another garden. My fantasy of a bountiful farm had to be traded for the creative possibilities of a weed and rock sanctuary.
Another memory resurrected.