23 June 2008

April Isn't Completely Crazy

Those of you who know Russ know he's a farm boy at heart. He knew what N, P, and K stood for before he knew what money was. (Really!) Moving to a farm is, perhaps, an extreme reversion from the life he's led... but not out of keeping with his personal history.

Those of you who know April would rightly think I've lost my head. Here are my two major disqualifications for the life of a farmer, however mini that farm might be!

A: At a young age I became a city dweller. The Tucson metro area was half a million people when we arrived, it'll soon top a million. I grew up thinking that shopping at 10 pm was a right that all people enjoyed. "Fresh" food came from Mexico.

B: My garden nickname is Plantkiller.

I also have another cross to bear if I am to live down south... I am a Yankee. I don't mean a north of the Mason-Dixon / west of the Mississippi small-letters yankee. I mean New England, ancestors on the Mayflower, dour, stinting Yankee roots. My great grandfather was a three-services-a-week Methodist who thought smiling was a sin. My parents- though long removed from the northeast- don't count Massachusetts or Connecticut as 'real' New England.

This does not make for a pretty picture for a Virginia Planter's wife, now does it?

But, I too have agricultural roots. That dour ancestor grew all his church-day baking beans and his son-in-law grew all the other vegetables the family ate. My mother's grandparents were farmers of the newly immigrated Old MacDonald's Farm type. My early female role models all sewed for practical purposes, canned, gardened, and "put things away." This wasn't some hobby but just what people did. Every one of those now-deceased people would call my urban, buy it at midnight, grocery store fed upbringing a great success of the plans they laid nearly a century ago.

But, like a grafted rose, roots are roots. They're necessary for nourishment and when the bit you grafted onto them starts to wither in the heat and drought then the real plant begins to emerge. My great grandmother might have desired a hybrid tea but the part she put into the ground was a plain old Rosa Rugosa.

All my hobbies point to a more traditional life. I am an opinionated and traditional cook. I know how to preserve things in jars. I could sew all my clothes if I wanted to. I try to garden and I'm fairly good with animals. I even had a pet goat as a wee child! The whole agricultural side will be a difficult thing for me... no doubt there will be amusing blunders... but I have one other secret weapon in my old-fashioned repertoire: I can read.

Look to the sidebar and you'll see what I've been reading over the last few months. Books like My Weeds have no value as instructionals on growing particular plants but they do explain a lot of "why" plants die or misbehave. (After reading this particular book I suddenly became less of a plant killer!)

So, my sanity more or less accounted for, let us go on the the other big hurdle. Yankeeism. It's OK. I know we have a rotten reputation outside of our own boundaries. There's good reason for all the stories about us being cold and stingy. Those Puritans went to a cold and uncomfortable part of the world for a reason... it felt good to be miserable. Jived with their theology. All the people who liked a good party and didn't feel guilty about it went south.

The rules are actually very similar:

For instance, there is a definitive way to answer a social question in both cultures. A Yank wants your honest opinion no matter what (otherwise he wouldn't ask) and a Southerner wants a polite answer to keep the conversation going. There are a few exceptions, of course, but the rule holds.

The serving of a meal is an unbreachable ritual. Plates, cutlery, serving dishes are set out, passed, or otherwise used in defined ways. Neither way is incorrect, but it's best not to forget which home you're in that day. So too is the use of a kitchen. You see more kitchen visiting in places that are very, very cold most of the year.

Clothing is everything. Northern New Englanders consider practicality of the utmost importance. Winter teaches us young that flannel is a unisex fabric. We aren't elegant, but we're dressed for what needs to be done. The South gives elegance the higher regard. People who don't feel guilty about having a party also don't feel guilty about putting on the style. I'll don a new hat to that idea but I'd never wear a floral dress to anything but a major life event in Maine. What would the neighbors think?

Actually, there is one rule that is exactly the same. "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." Storytelling is important in both cultures. (Unless you were raised by Scandinavian immigrants. Listen to A Prairie Home Companion if you don't understand why.)

Living in Virginia will be a little like living in Scotland or even like my recent visit to the Republic of Georgia. I'll adapt to their ways and their forms of speech. There's no use in insulting or arguing with the people I live around, after all, I might need their help sooner or later. Their customs aren't what I was raised with but they might prove interesting, useful, and pleasant. What I won't do is stop being who I am... a New Englander raised out West. There's no use in trying to pretend otherwise... I have no family native to the South, let alone western Virginia... and my new neighbors are unlikely to forget that I'm an incomer. The good thing is... a Southerner is polite enough to invite the new folks around for a piece of pie.

Which is why I'd be insane to do this... if we were going to live up north.

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