Something Lost, Something Gained
Reflections of a former city girl.
by Patricia Pfitsch
As a little girl living in the suburbs of St. Louis I wanted to live on a farm. It was my all-consuming passion. My favorite books were about children who lived on farms, who were lucky enough to be able to spend their summers jumping into fragrant haystacks, riding dusty work horses to the fields, scattering the yellow corn for the busy chickens, hunting for warm, just-laid eggs. I longed for the taste of warm milk just out of a cow I’d milked myself, leaning up against her warm body, listening to the hiss of the foaming whiteness squirting into the metal pail. I wanted to find newborn kittens in the hayloft, to feel the sloppy sucking of a calf’s tongue on my fingers, to watch lambs jumping and twisting in the pasture.
We were taken on vacation to the Great Lakes, to the mountains, to the oceans, and my favorite part was riding through the rolling farm land. I sat glued to the window, watching the cornfields and pastures slide by. I gazed longingly at the farmhouses; the wash was billowing gently in the breeze; the gardens were lush with rows of staked tomato plants, bush beans, carrots, potatoes, and turnips.
Occasionally I would see a child, perhaps walking down a long drive to a mailbox, and I would imagine that I was that child, my bare feet kicking up the dust in the sun-warmed road. A pile of wood, stacked neatly behind a house, would evoke images of men in plaid flannel shirts and suspenders swinging axes, and bitter cold evenings with families sitting around crackling wood fires eating popcorn.
Now I am grown, and I do live on a farm. My children and I have jumped into the stacks of fresh cut alfalfa; we’ve ridden and driven the work horses; we feed the hens and find the eggs. I haven’t milked the cow, yet, but I’ve tasted the warm milk. I’ve found the kittens, and let the calves suck my fingers. I can chop and split the wood, make a fire that warms the house, and winter mornings find me blissfully baking biscuits in our hundred year old wood cookstove. I’ve lived my childhood fantasy and I can say that the ecstasy of those imagined experiences is not any greater than the joy I take in the real ones.
But now when I drive through the countryside I can no longer gaze naively out the window thinking only about how wonderful it all is. I know how those fields get planted. I’ve seen the farmer, sweat and dirt caked on his face, go out again after chores and supper to finish planting the corn before the rain. I’ve seen the worry in his eyes as he contemplates the clouds, full of potential hail. I know how long it takes to weed the garden and mow the grass and have felt that sense of discouragement as, with my back aching, I finish my work only to see the weeds reappear like magic. I’ve lived the cycles of work which turn a piece of wilderness into those green, rolling fields, big, red barn, trim, white farmhouse, neat, little garden.
This loss of innocence is painful. I can never recapture the rosy picture of farm life I imagined as I rode through the farm land on my way to the seashore because now I know more about what farming is really like. But the pain involved in gathering this knowledge has increased my appreciation for farms and farm people one hundred fold. A neat, carefully tended farm, the grass cut, the tools stored, the fields planted in strips, the corn cultivated, the animals contented and cared for, this represents not just beauty but hard work, discipline and sacrifice.
Respect is the element I’ve added to my life long obsession with farm life. Respect, and love for the land that I know and touch, that accepts my seeds and gives me tomatoes. Respect and love for the rural people who live with the seasons and know the earth so intimately.
My son and I walk barefoot down the dusty road to get the mail, and sometimes cars pass. The children in those cars stare and wave, and we wave back. We don’t know where they’re going, but I’m glad to be the one standing in the dust, living on the farm. I’d never choose to be anywhere else.