Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Farm; Part 3

Though the farm may remain the same, a time-warped scene from a 1940’s movie, the people that encounter it are not.  I’m not sure if it’s the land itself, or the people on it, or maybe even a combination of the two, but somehow they have a way of slowing things down and luring you into their ways.  The change is relatively slow, but definite and perceptive.  In fact, I’m not even sure when it began to occur in me.  It’s almost as if I suddenly awoke and found that my wardrobe had replaced itself with t-shirts, jeans, and mud-covered boots.  My pin-stripe suit is still there, but now it hibernates in the back of the closet under a gray cloak of dust.  My stylish shag has grown out and spends most days wrapped up in a miss-matched ponytail holder to keep the stray hairs out of my eyes.
It’s not just my appearance that the farm has altered.  My priorities and even ideas of fun have also been completely re-arranged.  Oh, how my friends of yesterday would gape to see me covered in dust climbing down from the tractor or gladly spending my days working on the house and playing with the kids.  I don’t think they would understand the pride I get from simple things, like having Chuck tell me that the blackberry cobbler that I just pulled from the oven (whose berries were picked not an hour before) was better than his mama’s.  They would probably laugh in my face when I tried to convince them that the best times are had with friends close by cooking some crawfish or saddling up the mules for an evening ride.
Instead of dreaming about traveling the world, or becoming a famous writer, I now want nothing more than to see my daughter raised up on this farm.  I want my daughter to learn the old-school ethics of hard work and keeping your word, not because she is told to but because she sees it every day.  I want her to want to carry on the traditions of the farm, to see the rightness in being content with what you have and trusting in God to sort out the rest.
In comparison with the thousand acre farms that surround us, our little haven stands out like a mom and pop craft shop on Rodeo Drive (that fancy one in Beverly Hills).  Still, I wouldn’t trade it for all the farms and their equipment combined.  It is more than dirt and plants and trees.  It is a symbol of contentment, pride, endurance and simplicity. It represents the ability to live, without lowering your standards.  It gives evidence to the power of determination, grit, and hard work.  It is my husband’s past, my daughter’s future, and all of our present lives.  It is me.  It is you.  It is anyone who chooses stand for what they believe in, or not give in to the latest trend just because it is the latest trend.  It is a return to family dinners and quality bonding time.  It is America, as it was intended and as it could be once again.
“It” is a small farm in the flatlands of the Arkansas Delta.  “It” is my home.

The Farm; Part 2

                Two doors open.  Gulp, gulp!  Two doors shut.  Thump-thump!  Two women, whom I’ve never met before, yet instantly knew, now stood before me.
                We all stood in silence, sizing each other up, I suppose.  My reflection in the back glass of that little red pickup gave the illusion that we were all side-by-side.  It was in that moment that the stark contrasts of our worlds merged.  In the image, I stood between them, his mother Fay on my right and sister Lisa on my left.  I saw, for a moment, what they must see: a woman out of her element.  My stylish pinstriped pantsuit, soft silk blouse, shiny, dangling jewelry and modern shag cut stood out in direct contrast to their comparative modest garden-working attire.  Never before, had I felt so utterly alone and out of my element.  I desperately clutched my only tie to Chuck, the credit card, and repeated my mantra (don’t say anything stupid, don’t say anything stupid) over and over in my head.
                My eyes focused on his mother and it was her that I addressed, though I gave his sister a nod of greeting, which she returned.  Fay hobbled a bit as she made her way towards me, her weathered skin breaking comfortably into an easy smile as she greeted me with, “Howdy!”  (Don’t say anything stupid, don’t say anything stupid…)
“Hi! I’m a ….uh…FRIEND of, uhm…Chuck’s?  He…..uh,….left his credit card in my car.  I was just, uh….gonna put it in his truck.” 
                And yes, I held the credit card up for validation.
                Hoping to somehow look less stupid, and since I was already next to Chuck’s truck, I turned and open his door and placed the card on his console (if he couldn’t find it I could always read off the numbers that were now imprinted in the palm of my hand).  I turned back, hoping they would have gone into the house so I could stop my incessant stammering.  Fat chance.  There they both stood, looking at me with mirrored expressions of an unreadable nature.  I’m sure they were wondering what kind of city-slicking dimwit that boy of theirs had drug up.  All I wanted was to get out of the situation with what little pride I had left.  Fay, apparently, hadn’t had enough yet and invited me in for a soda.  I politely declined, feigning a busy afternoon and thought I was in the clear when a rumbling from behind me caused Fay’s eyes to light up.
“Well, at least say hi to Chuck!” Fay insisted as she held up her “walking stick” (which I had just noticed was a sharpened garden hoe) signaling Chuck to stop.  The giant, orange (which I’m pretty sure at one point in time had been red) tractor gurgled and coughed as it sputtered to a stop and Chuck casually swung out of the cab onto the ground.  The dust vibrated off him as his imposing figure closed the distance between us.  I stepped out in front of Fay and Lisa, hoping to rush out a whispered explanation.  A devious twinkle gleamed in his eye as, without a word, he leaned down and kissed me.  Not a peck, mind you, but a “you are the love of my life” kiss.
I know that to many women this may have seemed like a romantic moment, however; all I could think about was that:
1.         I had introduced myself as his friend.
2.         His mother used a sharpened garden hoe for a walking stick.
The kiss was over before I had cleared my head.  Chuck placed his work-calloused finger under my chin, bringing my head up and eyes lined with his.  He said nothing, just looked into my eyes and smiled.  The butterflies went crazy.  After saying something to his mother, while still looking at me, he turned and strode back towards the waiting tractor.  A panicked lump formed in my throat, no words would come out and I tried to will him back with my glare.  With a pop and deep-throated gurgle, the tractor restarted and it was apparent that he was not coming back. 
I could feel Fay and Lisa watching my back.  I knew that by now my face would be thoroughly flushed and there would be no hiding the predicament.  I turned and gave a crooked smile.  Both women smiled back, theirs genuine smiles of victory.  Fay, once again, invited me in to “sit for a spell”.  This time I said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
That was six years ago.  Chuck and I are married with a baby girl of our own.  Still our world centers around that farm.  Each year my husband spends what little spare time he has trying to resuscitate the antique equipment so that he can continue the planting tradition that his father started so long ago.  Our humble farm seems mediocre nestled among the mega farmers with all their computerized gear, but its bygone ways have proven true.  Somehow, through all the years, and advances in technology, things are run pretty much the same as when Chuck’s father first stepped foot on the land and began clearing the trees by hand. 
Miss Fay still spends her days doing hair and evenings cooking up a meal that would make a five star chef envious.  She still wrestles the chickens into the coup each night and rises before all the stars are clear from the sky.  She welcomes the spring by tilling the garden and offering up her seeds saved from last year’s harvest, and spends the hot summer months on the guard for weeds and bugs.  In the early fall, before the air has even had time to cool, her kitchen is alive with vegetables and fruits of every kind.  The counters are lined with glass mason jars, and wonderful aromas make the stomach grumble as the annual canning begins.  She still attends the same church that her children were raised in, still whips up her famous fried pies to hand out if anyone needs a pick-me-up, and still says grace before every meal.
Chuck’s ways haven’t altered much either, still a reflection of his father.  That old orange tractor was finally upgraded to a not so old blue one.  While the other farmers’ use their futuristic green machines, with their built-in GPS that practically drive themselves, Chuck spends his spring tuning up ole’ blue and seeing if we can get one more season out of that old disc of ours.  The neighbors plant with relative ease, while we praise the Lord if we only have one breakdown that takes less than an hour to fix.  He spends his summers fretting over not enough water on the beans (or too much) and preparing the combine and “big truck” for the upcoming harvest.  There never seems to be enough time to actually get all things working, so I feel sorry for the thief who attempts to make away with any of our equipment.  Chuck is a natural “engineer” and often has unique ways for solving his mechanical problems that usually involve a weird combination of punching buttons and shifting gears.  For years, the “big truck” has needed an over-haul and brakes, but somehow (through God’s grace) we always seem to make it one more season. 
Before harvest begins, and the mosquitoes die off, Chuck heads into the woods to cut and haul the hickory and oak that will warm our houses during the winter.  His only respite comes on October 1, when hunting season begins.  Then he rises in the dark, deftly donning his camo and bow, and heads into the woods.  A couple of hours each Saturday morning, and a few hours in the evening, are the only breaks he takes (and even then, he’s scouting any trees that might need to be felled).  Despite the long, grueling hours and hard work, I know my husband wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The Farm; Part 1

In an age where technology wars race all around and companies are vying to have the next “it” product, it seems impossible to believe that there are still places where modern life seems to come to a halt as if one has walked through a portal to the yester-year way of life and living:  where things like honesty, integrity and faith in God are the norm and not an occasion to stand and gape.   By the grace of God, I have managed to find such a place hidden among the flat back roads of The Natural State.
                In my early twenties, failures in life, and family illnesses, brought me once again to my parents’ doorstep.  After having spent the past several years living in relative hotspots like Cape Cod and Atlanta, coming back to the mosquito-ridden flatlands seemed like a bit of a downgrade to me.  I wasn’t there long before I started craving the bright lights and constant flow of city life.  In order to distract myself from my new reality, I busied myself finishing my college degree and concentrated on little else.  For several years, I plodded along, enviously remembering the “fun” of yesterday and studying for that next test.
                I met “him” during my final year of college.  My father had been called to preach at a small country church and, after a few months, I too began to attend.  Our romance was not immediate, both of us having been severely burnt before, though our interest in each other was.  We would, perhaps, still be playing that stolen glances game of early lovers had not some friends of ours nosed in.
                The odds were immediately against us.  He was country and I a city girl trapped in a small town.  He spent his time working on his family farm and hunting, I spent mine studying and reading.  He had three girls; I had a fish, a cat, and a dog.  He was eighteen years my elder, I was living at my parents’ house (again). Despite the odds, a romance began.
                We’d been dating several months before I ventured out to “the farm”.  The night before Chuck had forgotten his credit card in my car.  I was sure that it would be several more days before I saw him again, so I decided to take the card to him.  I knew that he was on the tractor, busily preparing for planting season, and thought it might be funny to mess with him by having his card suddenly appear in his truck.  After getting directions from a friend, I hopped in my gray, coupe sized sedan and nervously headed in what I hoped was the right direction. 
                In the years since my return, I had learned to appreciate the beauty that the Delta has to offer.  It might not be the flashy mountains of our neighbors, but it is impressive in its own way.  This time of day, this time of spring, the flatlands are bursting with life.  The trees are once again clothed in various shades of green and if you look closely, you might spy some deer venturing out from their canopied shelter for a bite of fresh greenery.  Massive tractors trek back and forth across the fields in the marathon that is planting season; soft, dark trails of freshly turned soil give testament to the paths they’ve taken.
                I became a bit apprehensive as to the accuracy of my hand-drawn map when the dirt road I was traveling on seemed to take me back in the direction I had originally come, past the same tractors I had just admired only now on the other ends of their fields.  In the distance, at the end of the field, splashes of red could be seen through the trees.  A redbrick home came into sight and my faith was fully restored when I spied a familiar green truck.  I quickly began to second-guess my brilliant plan when I saw a small, white SUV parked outside the brick home.  I had given no thought to how I would introduce myself to his mother and sister, and to tell the truth I wasn’t sure if they even knew that I existed.  Since I was more than halfway down their drive I had no choice but to continue on my chosen path.  I dreaded meeting them like this.  I had always imagined us meeting under more inviting circumstances rather than me awkwardly blurting out, “Hi! I’m a ….uh…FRIEND of, uhm…Chuck’s?  He…..uh,….left his credit card in my car (at which point I would suddenly throw my arm into the air, holding up the clenched card to add validity to my story).  I was just, uh….gonna put it in his truck.”  Yea, that would work out great.  First impression = MORON!
                I took a deep breath for added bravery, climbed from my car and knocked on the door.  My hopes began to rise when no one came.  Before I got too excited, I knocked again.  Still there was nothing.  Then it dawned on me.  Besides Chuck's truck, there was only one other vehicle here, not two!  His mom and sister must be at the garden!  Relief flooded through me as I bounded down the cement steps and quickly walked to Chuck’s truck.  As I reached the cab of his truck, I paused a moment to take in the sights around me. 
The houses and buildings formed an almost perfect semi-circle from my left to my right.  Small trees and flowering shrubs framed the quaint, redbrick house and the aged, wooden porch that jetted off the back somehow reminded me of my grandmother’s mountain home.  A massive picnic table of weathered wood and metal pipes rested in the shade of an old, oak tree.  The rutted driveway continued directly in front of me leading to a workshop of sorts.  The roofline sagged like an old man’s shoulders at the end of a long day and the large, tired doors were wide open as if inviting me to come on in and work for a bit. 
Colorful chickens lazily pecked around, slowly meandering from one promising spot to the next.  With a flurry of feathers, and a loud BAWK my attention snapped towards the patriarch of the buildings.  An old, wooden house stood, still holding its prideful place among the conglomerate of aged farm equipment and rusted vehicles.  A screened porch with a dangling door stood testament to the barrage of laughing children who had abused it through the years.  The once shiny metal roof still did its best to protect its charge, but the harsh Arkansas weather and old man time were finally starting to wear it down.
Through the screen I could see pieces of Chuck’s heritage.  An old beautician’s chair shared space with a high-backed wheelchair.  A wooden WWII airplane propeller leaned against a gray metal cooler.  My curiosity began to win me over and I found myself involuntarily stepping towards the old homestead.  I paused, shaking my head as if waking from a dream and turned my attention to the last building.  This one was still very much in use.  Its yellow-chipped wooden siding gave it a charming appeal.  Hanging baskets overflowing with greenery invitingly dangled from the small covered porch.  Monkey grass, with its purple spring blooms, lined both sides of the steps inviting one to enter.  Through the window, and sheer panel curtains, the round head of the dryer gave evidence to my guess that this was his mother’s beauty shop.
Before I had occasion to revel any more, I heard a sound that sent my heart racing and had me cursing myself for my wasted time.  I froze in fear.  Since I could see Chuck’s tractor slowly crawling at the far end of the field, I knew that the crunching gravel behind me meant one thing:  his mom and sister were back!  My heart began to race as I tried to figure out what to do.  My back was still to them as the vehicle passed behind me and came to a stop in front of the brick house.  What do I say?  What do I do?  Come on, Mel!  Pull it together!  Whatever you do, don’t say anything stupid!  Finally, I turned; facing the small, dust-red pickup with what I hoped was not a stupid smile.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lessons from the Farm

I'm blessed that my husband grew up on a farm. Land that was cleared by hand, and tilled at the expensive of his parents sweat and backs. His mother still lives there, and still runs things pretty much the same as she did back in the "old-days".

She rises early in the mornings to let the chickens out, spends her days doing hair (there's a small beauty shop right there on the farm for her) and keeping things going. She does most things by hand and is a no-nonsense kinda gal. Every spring she plants a garden, and every fall cans its productions. She can whip up a fried pie that'll have grown men fighting and quilt a blanket so pretty it'll bring tears to your eyes; all while threatening Chuck within an inch of his life if he don't get his butt down off that roof. Ole Miss Fay is the toughest, kindest, fiestiest woman I know--and I am blessed to have her as my teacher!

Her methods absolutely fascinate me! She can stretch a dollar further than anyone I know, yet one NEVER walks away from her table hungry. She believes in the old-time philosophies (like a man's only as good as his word and that Jesus is the Word) that modern society tends to shun and she isn't afraid to tell you so!

It is that lifestyle and way of thinking that I so desperately yearn to pass on to Hila Fay. However, in order to do that I must first learn them. That is where the adventure will begin since I have never been especially known for my home-making skills (I can, however, read 1,750 words a minute!). In fact, I'm more known for my unusual predicaments that I get myself into than anything else (hence my nickname of 2%). I know I'll never reach the level of Miss Fay, but if I can pass on just portion of it then I'll have succeeded in giving Hila Fay an immeasurable gift....and if nothing else, my attempts will be an interesting read!
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

30 Days Facebook Free: Day 1

Has anyone else noticed how impersonal our world has become?  Wall posts replace birthday cards and the News Feed a confessional.  When did it become appropriate to voice our every thoughts, whether personal or about a person, in a room with hundreds of people?  Would you really go up to the pulpit on Sunday morning, or grab the microphone during half-time, and tell everyone your innermost secrets?  Then why do we feel so compelled to do it on Facebook?

What is it that pulls us in, making us forget our manners and upbringing? When did I stop calling people to see how they felt, wish them congratulations or just say "Hi"? I see the changes that FB has brought upon us, and I'm not sure I like it.  Sure, there are benefits to the social network.  It gives on a sense of importance, like even though your home alone others are there, and care what you are going through (which is a good thing); and, it is a WONDERFUL way to keep up with friends and family that are spread out. But, it also tends to de-personalize relationships and opens doors for hurt feelings and damaged testimonies.

I've seen, more than once, (and unfortunately been guilty of myself) people's feelings hurt because of comments innocently (and sometimes intentionally) wrote, even though the author did their best to be vague.  I've seen "church-going" people rant and rave and "like" apps and pages that leave me questioning their standing.  I've seen families battle, rumors both started and fueled and relationships mangled all as direct results of things done and/or said on there.

As I contemplated all this I worried about how many times I may have contributed to anther's pain, or had MY testimony questioned because I posted something (or commented on something) when I was in a bad mood.  Then I delved deeper.  If I took the time that I spent checking fb, updating my status, "playing" around there or gossiping about others that were mentioned on there...if I took that time and spent it in prayer where would my relationship with God be?  I posed this question to a friend and her reply stuck with me.  She said, "Why, our faces would shine like Moses'!"  Huh, that'll make ya think. Or, what if instead of posting on someone's wall I *gulp* called them, or sent them a card? Would that not go make them feel even more special or loved than spending five seconds typing a quick message?

So, as a result of my pondering I've decided to take a 30-Day sabbatical.  I've come to the conclusion that I am happy being naive and gullible. I would much rather fall for it when the guys at work convince me that mental patients have been let loose in Wynne, than to have my respect lowered in those I love.

I've contemplated my relationship with fb for a while now; we're not broke up, we're just on a break (it's not fb, it's me); however you want to phrase it, the result is the same. For the next thirty days I'm going to be Facebook free (PLEASE don't call, text or email me asking if I know what so-and-so posted) and going to blog how it impacts my life.  I'll go through and update my calendar with birthdays and anniversaries, and contact information with up-to-date details and then it'll be no more until at least March 26th. So if your phone rings, or you get an email/snail mail from me in the next month don't panic! I don't want/need anything I'm just going old-school.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2% vs. The Van

Yesterday started out pleasantly warm, but by noon a definite chill had crept into the air. By 5 o'clock, when the work bell rang and announced we could begin our trek home, it was FREEZING!!! (literally) It was then that my battle with the van began.

As usual on cold/hot days, I went out and started the van early so that Hila would have comfortable ride home. I unlocked the door, started the engine, then attempted to open the rear driver's side door. I pushed the "open" button (it's a fancy van), and I could hear the motor whirring as it tried to open, but the door stayed shut. I'd had some problems with the doors before, so I didn't fret too much and just tried to open it manually. No luck.

I figured maybe it just needed some time to wake up, so I shut the driver's door and walked away for a minute or two before trying again. This time I shut the engine off and restarted the engine first (Josh is always telling me to restart the computer when I have problems so I thought maybe this would work). As soon as the engine restarted an annoying beeping noise filled the van and a message "rear driver's door open" flashed on the dash. I pushed the button again, nothing. I tugged on the handle, nothing.

Great. It was then that a thought hit me, does the rear passenger door open? If not I couldn't put Hila in her car-seat and we would be trapped at the office! I held my breath for a second and pushed the button for the passenger door. I heard the same whirring of the motor, and then the same beeping and warning only this time for the other door. Really???

At this point there was nothing left to do but call Chuck. He had just left the shop and was headed towards the farm to drop off a trailer and feed the mules and horse when he answered the phone. One of the things I love most about my husband is how he NEVER panics. He always responds to everything in his slow, southern drawl: "It'll be awlright." and I always believe him. He took the situation in in his usual calm manner and told me he'd be up in just "a bit".

I killed the engine and returned inside the warm office to wait for my prince to come rescue us. I was telling one of the techs about the van and as he laughed at my predicament he asked, "Are you sure all the doors were unlocked?" "Yess!"

Then it hit me. I only hit the unlock button on my remote once, not twice. I tried my best to look as if I hadn't just made an idiot of myself panicking over my broken van as I went back out to give it "one more try". I aimed the remote, hit the unlock button TWICE, then opened the driver's door and pressed the button to open the rear doors. As both doors opened wide, without any problem, I called Chuck back to tell him that the van had miraculously fixed itself!