The other day, a friend tagged me in a Facebook video about farming.
“This is how I think Melissa Bienvenu lives,” she wrote. “I am so jealous!”
My reaction was astonishment.
It startles me when friends in the city ooh and ah over farm life. Maybe it’s just because I remember how I felt when I was a city girl. Before I fell in love with a farmer, I never had the slightest desire to live in a place where the country fair was the social zenith of the year. If anything, I envied friends who had the guts to move to really big cities like Los Angeles or New York. So I’m surprised, albeit pleasantly, when city friends admire our life on the farm.
But popular perceptions are often too rosy. Take last year’s popular Super Bowl commercial. I – along with millions of other viewers – was moved to tears by the photos of majestic farm scenes, accompanied by Paul Harvey’s lump-in-the-throat radio broadcast, “So God Made a Farmer.” Although I appreciated the stirring tribute, I’m aware that the reality is not always so poetic.
How so? Let’s start with financial security. While most folks receive regular, paychecks, a farmer’s standard of living rises and falls with nature’s capricious whims, and that is a stress most folks don’t understand. You realize just how blissfully unaffected the rest of the world is when you hear the meteorologist crowing about yet another dry, sunny week while your parched crop is slowing dying. Nor does the general public comprehend the worry, work and money that goes into keeping a farm running. They’d be speechless if they knew what some of those cute little green tractor parts cost.
Farm living is not all cherry pie, either. Simply acquiring the household items most Americans pick up on their lunch hour can be a major hassle requiring an all-day trip to another town. Inconvenient geography explains why I haven’t been up on the latest movies since my city days. (But wasn’t Jodie Foster amazing in “Silence of the Lambs?” ) Out here, we lack cable TV, DSL, municipal sewer service or any kind of food delivery. My poor, deprived farm children talk about Domino’s pizza the way some people talk about Beluga caviar. And I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that sometimes this farm can feel like the loneliest, dullest, most forgotten spot in the whole world.
However, every once in a while, somebody comes along like my Facebook friend to make me take stock of everything I take for granted about farm life. Here are just a few things I’m giving thanks for this season:
A Nice Place to Work
On just a regular old workday, farmers see the kind of scenery most people only see on vacation. Fingers of steam curling over a pond at sunrise. Reams of sunlight filtering through the forest canopy. Stars brighter and more numerous than you’ll ever see in a city sky. Fiery orange sunsets. A rippling river. Sweeping vistas of waving grass.
In recent years, a flock of Canadian geese have adopted us. At first there were only two, and Harvey and I saw them as our good luck charm. Since then we have figured out that they are permanent residents of the area. Now 20 or 30 at a time come to visit. They hang around scarfing up the grass or pilfering the white perch we released into the pond for our sons to catch. Their mystique has become slightly tarnished, but all is forgiven when they make their grand exodus at dusk. Silhouetted against the sunset, they fly off in a cacophonous, honking V-formation. Every time I see it, I’m privileged to be witnessing a sight most people never will. I’m thankful for that.
I’m also thankful to live in a place where traffic is a breeze, and fellow drivers don’t destroy your faith in the human race. My friends in the city may have access to all the best shopping, but they also have to put up with gridlock and more inconsiderate jerks. Small-town drivers tend to be more polite. We let you pull out into traffic or turn left at a busy intersection. We don’t lay on the horn if you linger a millisecond too long after the light changes. Unfortunately, I tend to take such basic decency for granted until I go somewhere like Baton Rouge or Mandeville, where ruthless-looking housewives in workout clothes look the other way and gun it when you try to merge into their lane. I am always grateful to get back.
I’ve only heard about those suburban mega-churches with their rock bands and Jumbotrons. I’m sure they meet a need and attract many souls who otherwise might fall away. But I’ll take a small church any day. I figured this out about myself mine a few years ago while attending Mass at a large, Northshore church. It was a new, architectural wonder with gleaming white marble and a gigantic crucifix overlooking rows and rows of pews. After being so accustomed to our little church, walking into that sanctuary was kind of a shock. It was like finding out that my pal is really a celebrity. I prefer the more approachable, little-church Jesus.
A Real, Live Paper
I interned at a community newspaper, so I have the highest respect for what it takes to publish one. Plus, now that I’ve lived here 20 years, I know most of the people in it. I can’t wait to read our weekly paper cover-to-cover – from what happened at the town hall meeting to what color the bridesmaids wore to who won the Rotary Club scholarship. These days, even big cities are lucky to have a local newspaper, much less a little bitty town. You gotta be thankful for that.
Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors. I would add that a couple of hundred acres don’t hurt, either. We only have a few neighbors, and the nearest ones are probably a thousand feet away. However, all of them are close enough ( in every sense of the word) that we don’t hesitate to ask for help – whether it’s a cup of sugar or watching our kids for us during a late night trip to the emergency room. Ironically, I know people in subdivisions who don’t enjoy this kind of relationship with their neighbors. Half the time they don’t even know or don’t get along with them. Country neighbors are close without being too close.
Finally, I can’t forget to be thankful for the technology that has made farm life more like city life. Without the Internet, I would not be able to have pillow shams and camera batteries delivered right to my door – far more quickly, cheaply and easily than it would be to purchase them in person. It would be challenging, at best, to live here and write for publications in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. And it would be downright impossible to read city friends’ Facebook posts, reminding me to be thankful.