Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Can Take the Girl Out of the City...

...but you can't take the city out of the girl. Here is the story of my brief time as a country girl, as promised in a previous post. Back in 1998, my ex-husband and I moved out to the country so that we could be close to our Chevron convenience store.

We lived in a single-wide, 30-year-old trailer on about five acres of land that we shared with our landlady. For the most part, I enjoyed living there because it felt like camping--except with real beds. To reach this rural hideaway, you followed a winding two-lane road about 25 miles off the interstate, and then you bumped along a pothole-ridden, one-lane dirt road for another mile. At that point, you opened a wide metal gate, crossed a cattle guard, and drove down a long, unpaved drive.

The trailer was situated next to a small stock tank in a large clearing filled with long, green grass that swayed like ocean waves. What I loved most about this place was the utter silence. We were so far out that there was no traffic noise, not even airplanes flying overhead; the only sound was the wind in the trees and the whisper of the undulating grass. The silence permeated my being and quieted my anxious mind.

We shared these cramped quarters with my mom and dad, who worked with us in the store all week and then went home to LaGrange on the weekends. The master bedroom and bath were spacious, if dilapidated, but Ethan's bedroom was the size of a large closet. Weeknights, Byron and I slept on a futon crammed in that tiny room. When the futon was unfolded, it was impossible to walk in there.

At night, the only light came from the brilliant stars and the moon. I don't think I've ever slept so soundly as I did there, lumpy futon notwithstanding. Of course, this might also have been due to sheer exhaustion.

The small kitchen had an eat-in dining area and no dishwasher. Surprisingly, this was one of my favorite things about living there. At times, our landlady allowed a neighbor's cows to graze on her property, and I loved watching them drink from the pond while I washed the dishes. Somehow, watching cows while my hands splashed in warm, soapy water made me feel connected with generations of women.

I have to admit, though, that my love for cows was more in the abstract. The reality of cows was not so pleasant. When I loaded Ethan into the car at 5:30 in the morning for the daily trek to my job in the city, the cows occasionally blocked the drive. Placidly grazing, they were oblivious to the car horn, and there was nothing else to do but to get out of the car and holler at them.

One morning, I stepped out onto the gravelly drive in my high heels and shouted, "Hey! Move, cows!" The two cows standing in the drive didn't even deign to look in my direction. I gingerly took a few steps toward them, ever watchful for cow patties in the early morning darkness. I found a stick and waved it halfheartedly at them.

"Go on! Get out of the way!" I ordered. They cast a disinterested glance my way before they returned to their grazing. I figured if I could just muster up enough authority, they'd move out of the way; I'd heard that cows were timid creatures. Maybe I needed to whack them on the rump with my stick.

I crept a bit closer and held my stick in front of me, my arm trembling violently. "I mean it!" I squeaked. "You've gotta move. I can't be late for work."

We all knew I wasn't going to use that stick. They'd already dismissed me as a potential threat, and they were completely ignoring me.

I was seriously starting to worry about being late, and it finally occurred to me to pray for a little help here. After a moment, I knew what to do. I climbed back into the car and drove straight at the cows, inching forward slowly but steadily. When I was within a foot of the closest cow, they both lumbered off the drive, and I gratefully drove past.

Like me, 18-month-old Ethan thought he loved cows...

Cows and Chickens - Excerpt From Ethan's Journal
Behind the trailer, just over the property line, there were usually cows grazing. You weren't so sure about the cows. You knew the word "cow," and you got excited when you first realized that those big creatures on the other side of the fence were COWS! You bounced up and down on my hip and pointed, and you said "Cow!" plain as day.

So I walked over to the fence, with you laughing and pointing all the way. When we got right up to the fence, you reached out, trying to touch the cow. Suddenly, she said, "MOOO-OO-OO!" I jumped, and you screamed in terror. You screamed all the way back to the house. Your dad and I laughed and laughed when I told him the story.

We also had chickens. Your dad and grandpa bought a dozen baby chicks from the school fair. They were such cute little things!

Your father and I were so busy with the store that Grandpa mainly took care of the chickens. He fed and watered them twice a day. They got so excited when he came out. They would line up behind him and follow him around the coop. I think they thought he was their mother.

One weekend your father went on a hunting trip, and Grandpa was home in LaGrange. So I had to find the feed and fill the water dispenser myself. It was a hot, sunny day, and you followed along behind me and played. You laughed and pointed at the chickens.

It took me forever to figure out how to fill the water dispenser. I had to fill up a tin reservoir and somehow flip it over so it would empty slowly into the pan. A couple of times, I managed to spill the water all over myself. At last it was full, and I began to carry it to the coop, very carefully so as not to get my socks any wetter. Halfway there, I was attacked by bumblebees--well, not really attacked, but definitely terrorized. I dropped the water can and spilled most of the water, so I had to fill it again!

Finally, I opened the coop and stooped as I went through the door. The chickens didn't walk neatly in single file behind me. Instead, they all flew at me and flapped their wings excitedly. "Stupid chickens!" I grumbled nervously (as I was secretly afraid of chickens). You shrieked with laughter from outside the coop.

Next, I flung some feed on the ground. This got the chickens really riled up. I hurried to the door of the coop, relieved to be done with the ordeal--or so I thought!

For some reason, one of the chickens followed me out. She started to run in circles around the coop, which was quite large. Luckily, she stayed right up against the wire mesh wall of the coop. But it took me awhile to catch her. She would run, I'd run, and you'd run. I'd get close enough to grab her, but I'd hesitate too long. I'd never held a chicken before, and I was scared. Just as I'd reach for her, she'd take off and we would follow, as you roared with laughter.

At last I caught her. I held her wings tightly so she couldn't flap, and I extended my arms as far away from my body as I could. She struggled fiercely and kicked her legs, but I was stronger. I stuffed her unceremoniously through the small door and latched it triumphantly.

As you got older, you loved to gather the eggs. Often you would step on them, squeeze them, or drop them, but you loved this task so much that we didn't have the heart to take it away from you. You'd go into the coop with your dad or grandpa, and they'd let you find the eggs and pick them up. They were large, brown eggs with a delightful rich flavor. Grandpa was proud to give the extra eggs to family when they visited.

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Unwelcome House Guests
True to the camping experience, we shared our space with a few critters. First, there was the army of ants that continually marched across our kitchen table. We tried various poisons, but they always returned immediately. Fortunately, they weren't the biting kind, and we learned to ignore them.

Even worse was the family of skunks who took up residence under the trailer. It took us awhile to realize they were living there because, unless they'd sprayed recently, the smell was not that strong. Still, we were determined to get rid of them because we lived in fear of startling them and getting sprayed.

The skunk predicament provided hours of entertainment at the store, where old men sat around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze every morning. Everyone had a suggestion, and we were willing to try anything.

The first thing we did was throw a bunch of mothballs under the crawl space. We'd been assured that skunks can't stand the smell of mothballs, but these skunks apparently had less discriminating noses. Now we had to smell a mixture of the skunks' musky scent blended with the smell of musty old closets. This was not an improvement.

After Ethan and I had a stand-off with the skunk mama at dusk one evening--we sloww-ly backed away, and no one got hurt--we got serious about evicting the skunk family. Dad and Byron obtained a cage-style trap from one of the men at the store. Before bed that night, they put a tasty treat inside the cage (peanut butter, maybe?) and propped the door loosely.

In the morning, they rushed out to see if they'd had any luck. Sure enough, they had caught... the landlady's cat! They baited the trap again the next night, and caught the same (stupid) cat. Since then, I've wondered what they would have done had they actually caught the skunk. They certainly couldn't have carried it away in the cage. I guess they would have shot it from a safe distance.

In any case, we never did get rid of the skunks. We cohabited peacefully with them until we moved back to the city.

Though we only lived there about nine months, occasionally I still pine for that home in the sticks. Maybe someday I'll get to live out in the country again. Maybe I'll make friends with the cows and the chickens. (But not the skunks!)

1 comment:

Mindy said...

Love this post! I remember a lot of the memories of y'all living in the country once you said them. I totally forgot about Grandpa's chickens, those chickens loved him and I think he secretly loved them just as much. I don't think I could live so isolated from everything, every single time I go to the grocery store, I always forget a few things...every single time (and I make very detailed lists) so I'm always running to the store. The silence would be nice though, there's never silence in Austin. Or back home right by the airport. I'm coming home for Spring Break Wednesday or Thursday so maybe we could get the family together for a dinner or something.

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