Saturday, October 6, 2012
These Country Bones
Half of Jeremy's heritage is country. His maternal grandparents both were raised on farms in central Texas by German immigrants. Each has stories about rendering fat and separating cream from milk. Every year in February they still gather to make sausage in their garage using the same equipment from the farm decades ago - hand cranked gadgets and an assembly-line of family as staff for the job. Almost every link is hung from hooks in the smokehouse out back Gramps built years ago. The smoked sausage that comes from the smokehouse is consistently, intensely delicious. It tastes like a Texas working farm, circa 1930, and a small German village all at once. There's deep history in that food. Between us, the majority of our agricultural background comes almost entirely from Jeremy's side. Farming is a current in the veins of his family although no one farms any longer. We've heard stories of the tragic drought of the 1950's that convinced many small Texas farms to cut their losses and move into more stable income. I guess the climate played a role in the end of farming for this family, as did the lure of softer living. Last summer Granny told me, over a piece of her chilled strawberry pie, "Oh, we talked about a farm when we got married but, I don't know," and with a sigh that sent her gaze to the backyard just blocks from a major highway, "I was ready for an easier life."
Month's ago, Granny and Gramps came to the new house for the first time since we'd moved in. It was just during that time when all the new animals were babies. Chicks frolicked in the high weeds and the baby goats were still on the bottle. As Granny fed one of the baby goats I caught a slight mist cover her eyes, "I remember how to do this," she said - beaming. Later, I handed her a particularly fluffy baby chicken that she gently held close to her chest. Granny is always delightfully happy, but she was especially happy that day out in the field tending the animals. I sensed that tendrils of her past pulled her back in ever. so. slightly. Their stories about life on the farm are slow and calm, as if riding the mule 5 miles to school each day was as conventional as electricity is for us now. For them, there is absolutely nothing exotic about making golden balls of butter at the kitchen table and then walking to the general store down the road where they were sold for 5 cents/pound. Granny would tuck a hen under her arm to sell at the store too, if she had one to spare. It was an incredibly straightforward and industrious life. There's so much I want to ask them both about scenarios that haven't happened yet, or dilemmas that haven't occurred. I need them as my reference and guide. Soon, we will add a dairy cow and her baby and in the spring there will be goat births and the addition of milkings, then butter and cheesemaking. When I ask questions that start with "What did you do when (insert farm-related problem)?" they always respond with a shrug, "Oh. You figure it out. You'll figure it out. It's a hard life, but the food will taste a lot better."
Today the family came together and celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary (Think about that for a minute.). In addition to family, many friends were invited and, for the first time, I met one of Granny's oldest friends, Ruby. Like Granny, Ruby is a young 80+ year old who is bright and talkative. She told me all about her own family and upbringing - also on a working farm. "I was raised on a farm. I worked hard. I made milk into cream and I drank that unpasteurized milk. It made me strong. I've got good, country bones." Ruby giggled with a hiccup-y laugh. She touched my arm, "It's been a blessed life." I think about Granny and Gramps, so strong and vibrant in their golden years - both from farms where work was constant and raw, where they lived off what they grew. Jer and I are getting a late start out here, neither one of us having been raised off the land. But it's better late than never, and out on this sloped piece of land, maybe it's more than donkeys and tomatoes that grow from the dirt. We're developing our own set of country bones.