Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Where have I been? The Essay

I haven't posted since Septemper, and that's because we were buying a new house! It's lovely. It's bigger, in the country, came with a CHICKEN, has tons of character and a million little projects to keep me busy for the length of my 30-year-mortgage. But what prompted me to give up my city house and move to the country? It was actually an essay contest. This essay contest. http://www.rockspringfarm.org/

I did not win. I did not even get chosen as a finalist, but I knew that was going to happen. I just had to write it, because, you see, I had a plane trip to take. And I know, most people don't move because they have to get on a plane. But  I am crazy about planes. The only way to get me on one is to pump me full of pills and alcohol and then lead me, wobbling, to my seat.

Getting me on the plane is not the problem. There are drugs for that. It's the commitment. The time between clicking, "Purchase" on my plane ticket until the moment I'm prepping myself in the airport bar. As soon as I receive the confirmation email for my flight, I get this sinking feeling like my fate is sealed. I chose the one plane that's not going to make it. I only have two months left to live.

Believing you're going to die is a great way to make you take a hard look at your life, what's working and what isn't. I had been dragging my heels on moving out of the city. That is what old people do when they've given up on having friends and culture.

But then the Rock Spring Farm essay contest came along. I wasn't planning on entering. The entrance fee was $200! But the farm sounded so lovely, I just wanted to write an essay to see what I would write. Then I read it, and I felt hopeful, peaceful. I edited it down to the word count and read it again. I showed it to my husband and he said it was perfect. That was what we wanted. That. And if by some miracle, I survived this plane trip, things needed to change.

My entry essay is below.

Fifteen Seconds
I am a city girl. But I don’t want to be. Between our house and neighbor’s house, there is eight feet of grass. From my bedroom window, I see power lines and clusters of other houses. When I go to sleep, I listen to the cacophony of cars speeding down the highway and the train blaring its horn as it rickets down the tracks.

In the morning, it’s a mad dash to get everyone ready for the day. My three-year-old son doesn’t want to put on his shoes. I can’t find my pants. My husband doesn’t have time to shave…again. By the time everyone is packed into the cars, we’re exhausted, and it’s only eight-thirty. I sit in traffic and start cursing over the fifteen seconds I have to wait for the light to change. Fifteen seconds! I’ve timed it. It’s nothing, and yet in that moment, it’s everything.

Both of my parents grew up on farms, my mom in Tennessee, my dad on Long Island. My mom tells me stories about the clothes she used to sew for tobacco worms and Pet Chicken who followed her around the farm like a dog. When she starts telling me one of her “farm stories,” her southern accent grows deeper, and her hazel eyes take on a wistful sparkle. Mine do too. We spent almost every summer on that farm along with my Great Aunt’s cattle farm only a mile up the road.
I always told my mom, “I’m going to live here when I grow up.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s so green!”
Having grown up in Arizona, it felt alive when everything else around me was barren.
When my grandmother died, they divided up the land and sold it. After my Great Aunt lost her twin (my Granny) and her husband, she couldn’t work her farm anymore. Since she had no children of her own, only my mom who was already in her late sixties, they decided to sell her land and move her into an assisted living facility closer to my parents.

For a moment, I thought about raising my hand and saying, “I’ll take it!” But I was only in my twenties, newly married and couldn’t ask my husband to give up our city life and move onto a farm in Tennessee. However, after the farm was sold, I told him my crazy idea, and he said, “I would have liked that.”

My dad has a similar story. His father was a truck driver who dreamed of buying himself a little farm, which he eventually did and moved his family from Queens into the country. They started a chicken farm, and at my dad’s fiftieth high school reunion, he brought out his old high school yearbook and showed me the ad for their famous, thirteen egg dozen.

When I was six, my grandfather died, and shortly after, my grandmother sold the farm and moved into an adult community…not before I had a chance to visit and walk with my dad down the quiet road to the sound. I dug up my first clam there and tried my first grilled eel.

My husband and I dream of the day when we’ll have enough money to buy some land, move out of the city, get some chickens, and grow a garden. Somewhere I can write, and where he can build the furniture pieces he has scrawled out in his sketchbook, a place where our son and future children don’t have rush off to daycare. I want to live in a place where my son can be safe, where he can run barefoot, and where, when he is an old man, he can drive by the farm with his children and get that wistful look in his eyes, rehashing old stories.

My husband and I often talk about self-sustaining living, utilizing wind and solar power, and growing our own food. At Rock Spring, we would do that. We would do a little bit of everything, really. I’d love to have a few chickens, horses, goats and a vegetable garden. My husband would love to get his hands dirty, building hand-crafted furniture and bringing a classic car back to life.
I would also love to see my family for more than a couple of hours a day. I would love to go to sleep to the sound of crickets and wake up to chirping birds instead of sirens. I don’t want to waste my life sitting in traffic and being angry about it.

I’ll admit, I know very little about farming. I will need help. In the next few years, my parents will need help too. That’s part of my reason for writing this essay. I want them to spend their last few years back on a farm with their grandchildren, and I want my children to know their grandparents. Rock Spring is also fairly close to my sister. She lives in D.C. with her now fiancĂ©e. We see each other once, maybe twice a year.

On our last visit, we took a trip back to Tennessee with the whole family, and when we got home I asked my son, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” Without pause, he shouted my sister’s name. I’m glad he loves his aunt so much. I’m sad he can only see her every six months. At Rock Spring, I picture weekend family get-togethers, dining on home grown vegetables.

I’m a dreamer, admittedly, but I’m also an achiever, like my truck-driving grandfather turned farmer. My husband and I know we’ll have to learn, to work. We’ll have to sweat, bandage blisters, and build callouses. We’re willing to do it because we want a different life, and I can’t think of any better way to spend my inheritance from my Great Aunt’s farm than by investing in my own. I want fifteen seconds to be fifteen, blissful seconds, where I can pause, think about my day, and be eager to face it.

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