Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life Often Turns Out Differently Than You Imagine It Will Be

Shocking, huh? I bet you didn't know that.

I was just thinking about my experiences as a homeschooled teenager on our family...hmm, what did we call it? Not a farm. Not a homestead. Just, "The Property". Ten acres to build our modest home on, clear of trees and scrub, raise chickens (and occasionally butcher them), garden, and do other farm-ish things.

My sister Mara and I were recently talking and laughing about our former idealistic selves. There was Before, and there was After
Before we got a batch of chicks, we knew we would love the little yellow fuzz balls and raise them tenderly to feed from our hand. Sure, it was okay if we had to start them in a box inside the house.

They were adorable for the first two hours.

Then they started to smell. They were quite loud. And however did they manage to hop out of that tall box? The heat light nearly fell on them 100 times. The babies kept giving them enthusiastic squeezes, and we quickly caught on to the, "I'm being loved to death by a toddler" cheeps. I was never so happy than when they were safely settled in the chicken house.

Until I had to start collecting eggs, that is. The chicken house smelled like...ammonia. And how come the eggs weren't clean? They were in the store. These eggs were sometimes (usually) poopy, and guess who had to wash them? Guess, guess! Yep, Me. And cleaning out the chicken house was another matter entirely, which I do not wish to discuss at present.

Moving on to the Cow.

Before we got our milk cow, Molly, I pictured myself in a gingham dress, barefoot, and singing arias while milking a contented cow surrounded by nice, clean hay. Oh, and my hair would always look good, too, sort of milkmaid-ish; possibly with two braids down my back. It was a lovely mental image.

When Molly arrived, I was enamored with her. She became my special project. And someday in the future, I would enjoy having a milk cow. But again, we come to After. As in, that hay did NOT stay clean. Her stall had to be emptied and refreshed each day. I learned how to use a pitchfork and shovel real well.

Milking took a little time getting used to, at first. My hands tired fast! Plus, I had to clean her udder off with a soapy bleach and water combination before I even began to milk. Seriously, how did that poop get everywhere? Also, did you know that cows do not necessarily stand perfectly still while being milked? Sometimes they knock the bucket over. Or step in it. Or swat you with their tail. Right in your eyes. So then you are bleary and can't see anything. It wasn't long before I began tying up her tail before commencing the milking process. A cow won't kick when her tail is tied up, in my experience. She probably feels indecent.

Before, I was excited at the prospect of using all that delicious, creamy jersey milk. But gallons of it every day were another matter. Something had to be done! I made butter, cheeses, ice-cream, pudding, and all manner of dairy products. I really did love it, but I hadn't expected the commitment and planning it would take to manage it all.

Oh, something is coming back. A fuzzy memory...standing in a puddle after a morning rain, while holding onto the metal milk bucket with one hand and accidentally grabbing our hot electric fence with the other. Yes, the memory is quite vivid now. I can almost feel again the sensation of getting zapped, as we called it. I think I screamed. Did this happen to other milkmaids, too?

Back to Poultry. I had no idea that roosters could be so mean. And they WILL NOT be trained. Sometimes, I didn't want to turn my back on them while hanging laundry on the clothesline. Evil creatures would fly up at you and try to peck. Out of frustration, and concern they would attack one of the little ones, Dad butchered several. Usually on short notice. We'd be inside, working in the kitchen, and someone would glance out the window just in time to see Dad quickly chop a head off. Whew, one less mean rooster. Time to process a bird!

The turkeys were funny. Before, I pictured them as grand, austere birds. They are, but they can be quite lovable, too, in their ugly way. What I hadn't bargained on was the way they would follow me on walks down the county road. Yes, a big turkey. Like a loyal doggie. Actually, it was quite an entourage. Not only was I accompanied by a turkey (always keeping a respectable though helpful distance), but the family dogs, cats, chickens, and guineas would follow. I'm sure the cow would have joined us, too, if she weren't fenced in. Really, it was a little embarrassing to have all these stragglers. One could never slip away unnoticed. They always found you.

Daddy enjoyed gardening, and Mom was an expert at canning, freezing, and dehydrating whatever he grew. So between them both, we always had plenty to keep us busy. My journals during those years were full of such things as, "We put up a bushel of peaches today"; "I canned spaghetti sauce from the last of the romas"; "We're slicing apples to dehydrate", etc. I was probably more helpful in the kitchen, but I did try my hand at gardening, too.

One year I decided to start my own personal flower bed, in addition to Daddy and Mara's successful ones. In my mind, Before, it was going to be an oasis of color and fragrance second to none. I had some flower seeds on hand, and I carefully nurtured my little little rock garden with great excitement. Mara claimed that some of my plants-the dear little growing things-were weeds. Weeds? Whatever! These were flowers, soon to bloom into spectacular colors!

Fast-forward to After. Most of my tenderly cared for plants were weeds. I finally believed Mara when I found some identical plants, uh, weeds, growing in the woods. I also ended up with a scrawny, lone cornstalk. No idea how that got there. Besides a few limp cosmos, I ended up with a garden full of thriving weeds. That ended my gardening career!

Oh my, I have so many great memories. Those character-building moments taught me much about personal responsibility, flexibility, dealing with challenges, and so on. On the educational side, well, there's nothing quite like first-hand experiences! Sometimes reality is harsh, but I wouldn't have had the opportunity to grow as a person in quite the same way if everything was as rosy as my "Before" mentality.

"After" was definitely a lot funnier, in the long run. :)


  1. Rachel, I love this post! Thanks so much for sharing a few of your childhood memories. It was a wonderful break for me in the midst of packing.

  2. Yes, this post was great! I never write much on my own posts, mainly just pics for the family, but I love to read others!

  3. haha!! So true. I can relate you know, not as much as you of course.

    I remember dad mercilessly beheading a rooster that had tried pecking one of the little kids.
    So funny now that I look back on it.