Thirty years ago and a continent away we had a real farm. My heart would jump as that beautiful young girl pulled up to my combine during grain harvest to bring me sandwiches and lemonade for lunch. She would pay the price with hay fever all night long. During potato harvest, I could watch her all day long as she picked the clods and vines out of the potatoes on the harvester I pulled with my tractor. When the machine was clogged with a lava rock, she was down there with me trying to free it. A sharp corner piece of metal tore a nasty gash in the flesh of her back. She cried but she didn’t quit. She encouraged and comforted me through many sleepless nights after the farm failed.
In Ithaca and College Park our farms were sparse – a couple of tomato and squash plants. We hadn’t caught the vision of backyard farming. For 12 years we hoped and prayed for a real hobby farm. She wanted horses and I wanted chickens. We both wanted to raise our six children in a big garden. The Lord heard our prayers and we have been living our dream for 14 years. The “children in the garden” part didn’t quite work out. They don’t catch the vision of backyard farming until they are adults with their own families but it’s happening now.
At Antietam Glen, my farming companion has never baulked at anything. We fenced the farm and raised a barn. She can drive nails and build rock walls. I split the firewood and she stacks it. She works a shovel better than I do. (I have an aversion to shovels from my early days of setting canvas dams that always washed out and the associated humiliation from a father and brother) She hands me the tools as I repair the tractor or mower. I have seen her late at night with her up arm up the birth canal of a bleating goat, trying to pull a dead kid out. It was as ugly as it sounds and she never flinched at the task. She was at the side of our dog Cinder and our pony Peaches when the vet put them down. I couldn’t bear it. But I can kill a chicken and dress it. I clean the chicken manure out of the coop but she has done her share. We both love picking strawberries and raspberries. She looks beautiful as she works the horses or on her knees as she plants lettuce seeds. She never paints her fingernails. I much prefer dirt under them. Her hair turns frizzy from the steam of canning tomatoes. We have both gained weight from our bountiful harvests but I love trying to walk it off with her on our strolls through the Antietam battlefield which is near our farm.
I look forward to growing old together on our farm. I want to watch her coach our granddaughters as they begin to canter and jump the horses. I want to teach our grandsons to drive the riding lawnmower which we will get some day after the last of our children have left home. I hope for a retirement where I can take a breakfast omelet (courtesy of our layers) with her on the terrace we built overlooking the farm before we begin the day’s work. I imagine resting at lunch to eat a garden salad and lemonade with her in the shade of our wisteria ladened arbor that we built. After a long day of work, we will grill one of our chickens for dinner on the back portico (no, we did not build it). In the cool of the evening, we will eat a piece of her strawberry rhubarb pie and homemade ice cream as we rock in the porch swing of the veranda which we built on the front of our house. At dusk we will read books by lantern light (her novels and my biographies) in the rocking chairs on the porch of the cabin that we built overlooking the Antietam Creek. The cicadas and pond frogs will serenade us as we bed down in the cabin bunks for the night. The dance of the fireflies above the cabin skylight will mesmerize us as we drift off to sleep.
Is our backyard farm as bucolic an idyllic as it sounds? Pretty much so. Will she continue the farm when I am gone or will I continue if she passes first? I pray we have many more years of backyard farming together before one of us has to make that decision. But for now, I will not hesitate like Tevye and Golde in proclaiming my love for my farming companion.