This post is oatmeal: warm and mushy. I write a lot of extremely emotional posts, but I don’t usually post them. This one, as you can see, is an exception.
At the 4th of July parade in the tiny former logging town in which my mother and Matt’s mother were raised, I was told that Uncle Ken had passed away. Uncle Ken and Auntie Char were among the last of their generation in my family. My paternal grandfather, the star of the anecdote for which we named this blog, died when I was a child. His wife, my paternal grandmother, died a few years later. My favorite great-aunt, Norine, the source of both my SCA name and my unparalleled vintage costume jewelry collection, died when I was at the end of elementary school. My maternal grandparents both died when I was in Middle School. Each death hurt me more than the last – although to be honest it was not because I consciously realized that the population of that stratum of the family was becoming extinct, but simply because I was more emotionally mature each time and therefore more aware of the enormous concept of death.
Uncle Ken and Auntie Char were my great-uncle and aunt and lived several hundred miles away in the agricultural gem that is the Willamette valley of Oregon. I only remember visiting a few times, but they are the kind of Technicolor memories that have serious staying power. I recall an extremely tidy and well-designed chicken coop and run, Uncle Ken’s softball-sized peaches that were too juicy to be eaten out of hand while wearing one’s Sunday best, Auntie Char’s dozens of museum-quality hand-stitched quilts layered on a guest bed upstairs, and an enormous and lovely fully-tiled bathroom (larger than the infamously tiny room I grew up in, likely because it had been converted at the advent of indoor plumbing from a room with a different original purpose).
Still among the living members of my grandparents’ generation is my “half-grandmother” Agnes. Although my older brothers had a different father, making us half-siblings, I didn’t really do the math on that until I was in elementary school and still can’t really think of them as anything but simply my brothers. (I was raised with them and they both harassed the crap out of me and dutifully baby-sat me, so even if they were originally from another species they’d still be my brothers when it comes right down to it.) So even though I am technically, biologically, not related to “Granny” as we persist in calling her (against her objections) I count her firmly in my pantheon of parentage. Agnes has survived her husband Jorgen, who built a farm just as beautiful as Uncle Ken and Auntie Char’s – but because it was much closer to home, I spent more time there than at the little orchard in Oregon. Their dairy farm at the foot of one of the tallest and loveliest mountains my evergreen state has to offer, was an ideal setting for childhood memories – and thanks to the times in which I was raised it also served as an ideal setting for hours and hours of home video, which helps to account for the persistence of the memories I made there. Years later, in the midst of our shared mania for all things agricultural, Matt and I see Granny’s farm as just about as close to heaven as would-be-homesteaders could hope to get. Hundreds of acres, flat and fertile, bisected by sturdy fencing and a year-round creek, a handsome house and well-built outbuildings. Unlike so many modern farmers, Jorgen never overgrazed; he carefully rotated his fields, and all the fodder his herd could hope for was harvested from his own land. Even if I didn’t miss the place so much (it’s since passed out of the family) it would still make me misty to contemplate such a tidy system in such a picturesque place.
When I heard that Uncle Ken had followed Auntie Char, who died just a few months prior, I was doubly crushed: firstly because I had such fond memories of the two, who in my mind’s eye remain perpetually pioneer-like in stature and vigor, and secondly because we have one less farmer in our now almost entirely suburban family. A few of us down here in my generation dabble in the agricultural – Matt and I have our mini-farm, my oldest brother has a very similar venture (always a step ahead of us, but with less fanfare), and the youngest of my older brothers aspires to livestock as well, but none of us is really a farmer. Between us we have some fairly robust vegetable gardens, a few young but well-tended miniature orchards, a dozen or so chickens and, depending on the time of year, four or five feeder pigs, but none of us does more than supplement our diets – we aren’t feeding ourselves outright or paying any bills with these hobbies.
Not long ago, an ideal possible homestead showed up in my monthly real-estate e-mail, triggering me to make a flurry of exploratory phone calls to our bank about the possibility of renting out our currently unsellable home and purchasing the 110 year-old spread on the other side of town. It ended in the disappointing news that even though we could have afforded the “new” place easily we can neither sell nor rent this one right now (long story). I was crushed, but Matt, Viking that he is, would not lie down. “I’m gonna have a farm before I’m forty, dammit!” he declared unequivocally. (Quite a few oath-laden oaths followed, actually.) When I would have had a drink, a quart of ice cream, and a nice long cry, he sat me down at the kitchen table, pried the numbers out of me, and set forth a financial plan to get the problem fixed. The house that got away was Matt’s wake-up call. I think that this news was mine. I like the mini-farm and all, but I’d rather be really farming. Given all the reading that I do of other homesteaders’ stories of failure due to over-reach I am very glad that we have taken the “baby-steps” approach to self-sufficiency, but I don’t want to step so slowly that we never reach our destination. If Jenna Woginrich can realize her dream all by herself then surely Matt and I can realize ours hand in hand.
Someday I’ll be the great-aunt with the great farm that someone remembers fondly. (Dammit!)
P.S. There is a tattoo on my arm that says “never give up”. Bite fight skratjh oar steel, Eye keep klawing away until Eye git what Eye want… Matt