The Rural Life
As a child, growing up, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s garden. Her yard was so very large I thought it was a farm. She had a cold cellar full of apples, potatoes and the fruits, vegetables and pickles she put up herself. Granny came from a family of farmers in her native Poland. When she came over here as young married woman, she continued with the traditions of her family and tilled the earth and grew good things to eat. She grew roses, peonies, azaleas and rhododendron for beauty and pleasure. One could never go hungry at my grandmother’s house. She loved the company of her grandchildren as she worked in her garden. She happily and lovingly shared the wealth of her knowledge as she allowed us to help pull weeds or harvest the fruits of her labors. She taught respect for the land, how to read the weather and an appreciation for the seasons. She promised to teach me to can vegetables when I got older.
My father, in his turn, grew vegetables in his yard, more for his puttering pleasure and an absolute adoration of beefsteak tomatoes and fresh Jersey corn. As a young woman I did as my predecessors did and had my own gardens. I grew tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, eggplant, peppers, green beans, rhubarb, cucumbers and strawberries, but never had any luck at all with corn. My kids helped me with the digging and turning and getting rid of rocks that seemed arrive as a bumper crop at the end of the winter. They helped me with the planting of the seedlings we nurtured from early spring until Mother’s Day when we would spend the day putting everything in the ground. All summer long I used the hoe to get rid of weeds and a lot of the stress that came with four children and multiple jobs.
My grandmother never did teach me how to can, but I discovered there are lots of books available for anyone who wishes to learn. I did learn and discovered it is not nearly as much fun as childhood imaginings led me to believe. Perhaps there is something about working alongside other women and having assistance with the peeling, pitting, blanching and sealing that would have made the tasks less onerous. I imagine the conversations and laughter that might accompany the work would be far more enjoyable. I learned some expensive lessons along the way too. One harvest was destroyed by bad seals on the jars and saved me no money at all. The jams and jellies I made would never set. There is nothing more disheartening than a kind of strawberry goo, not quite juice but definitely not jam on a freshly baked loaf of bread. It was disappointing to the psyche as well as the palate, and it was after several of these disasters that I switched to freezing my garden’s bounty.
I always longed for life in the country and one day hoped to have a small farm with room for kids, dogs, vegetables and chickens. I was never able to make it happen, but for many years I did rent a patch of ground in a park on which to raise my produce when I didn’t have a yard. Being a “pragmatic idealist” I deemed that like many other things in life, there are dreams of which one lets go with some regret so that others may be pursued.
My friend, Susan, recently gifted me the book, The Rural Life, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. It was a book she thought I’d enjoy. And I am enjoying it—enormously. This is a gentle look at a year in the country and the kind of rural living that Mr. Klinkenborg lives. It has been an astonishingly idyllic and peaceful read. I love seeing each month of the year unfold through this gentleman’s eyes. The view from the windows of his soul is honest and accepting, pragmatic and hopeful. It is a book that has made me think deeply as I read his erudite references to his own reading during the course of the year and understand the joy in his artful observations of life and its rhythms and cycles.
In fact, when I first started reading it, I was so enamored with the poetry of Mr. Klinkenborg’s prose that I was reminded of my long-ago dream of owning a small farm.
My husband, Steve, and I are at the point in our lives where we are at the exit ramp of middle age and staring down the intimidating barrel of senior citizenship. Downsizing, retirement, the future and getting old are the realities we are facing and must now consider. The course of our conversations over the past months as we ponder the future and how we would like to spend our retirement years has run the gamut. Steve thinks of condo living playing golf, or having a small suburban home with a workshop where he can putter and invent to his heart’s content. I think of a lakeside cottage where my hubby can drown a few worms every now and again for food or just to think, and I can have a small greenhouse for my orchids and Christmas cactus to grow and thrive.
We’ve talked about a place in the country with some acreage. We both find it appealing. At least we did until we thought about all the grass that would have to be mowed. Since mowing sounds like too much work these days, we gleefully considered getting goats or cows to keep the grass trimmed. That didn’t last long once we realized that having animals of that sort—the kind we would not be able to put into a kennel if we want to visit kids and grandkids many states away—was not the best idea. They are not the type animals that are portable or housebroken should we decide that RV’ing is the way to spend our golden years, either. (Going on poop-patrol for two dogs is bad enough in our yard. Dealing with a herd of something else put a damper on our enthusiasm for the prospect of a small farm.)
There is plenty of time before those decisions must be carved in stone. Steve and I have passed many interesting hours ruminating on the subject and our many choices. We spend lazy weekends driving out to the country, venturing into RV parks, golfing communities and out by the water trying to decide. We have concluded that clay pots, window boxes and oak barrels make good places to grow things and be in touch with nature. In the meantime, I’ve taken to re-reading Klinkenborg’s book one month at a time and comparing his world to mine. The contrast is enlightening and gratifying, and is a lot like those visits to my grandmother’s garden and her simple philosophy on life.
I think you’ll enjoy The Rural Life from your favorite chair anywhere you live. It truly is good for the heart and the spirit.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at