It’s 4 a.m. and I’m staring at the ceiling. I cannot get my mind quiet. I had already spent about a half hour gazing at a spot above the bed thinking about how absolutely unrecognizable my life has become from what it was just a couple of years ago. Hazily my mind meandered to the progress of my book, the store, the move to start a real farm of my own. How did I get here? How did I manage to find myself in a place where people would think of me as someone worth getting advice from and spending their money to learn from? As I write, it blows my mind that anyone will read this. To be clear, I am not complaining. I’m just struggling with acceptance of it as reality.
I laid under my blankets with the warmth of cats at my feet thinking about some of the nasty things folks had been saying about me online. I haven’t lost much sleep over it, but it admittedly bothers me that anyone would think that I moved here some privileged brat and that I don’t deserve to be a resident of New York City. How ridiculous. I’ve worked myself to the point of near insanity for what little I have. I scrape by. I’m not getting rich and pricing people out. I’m fighting to keep my head above water like everyone else. When I’m broke, I work my way out of the financial hole I’ve dug myself. I sacrifice. No one has ever given me anything that I didn’t have to hustle for.
So let me explain to the world who I am and how any of this came to pass. By “this”, I mean someone like me being able to pay my way doing what I love. I don’t have a college degree, I’ve never been thought of as accomplished, but I’m here now living the life I’ve wanted. I’m hoping that by explaining this, those of you out their bursting at the seams to get out of your day-to-day rut might glean some insight into how you can live authentically too. Some of you might question my motives for a blog post like this, but articulating these thoughts is as much about the process of connecting to who I am as it is about connecting with my readers. I’m just trying to figure it all out. So humor me, let me work it out here.
I’m going to take a risk and start at the beginning. I was born nearly 32 years ago in Baltimore, Maryland. My father was a troubled guy who worked at Bethlehem Steel. My mother, who had just barely graduated from high school when she had me, her oldest child, worked a couple of low paying jobs while my grandparents and aunt looked my baby sister and I. My parents had a very tumultuous relationship. Without getting into to many details, I’ll just say that it was an unpleasant place for children to grow up and even more unpleasant for my mother. Things were pretty bad for the first decade of my childhood, but there were two constants in my life that always made me feel like everything would be alright: My great grandparents Myra and George and summer trips to the family farm in Virginia.
My great grandparents were both bootstrappers. They each came from humble beginnings, my grandma being raised on a farm just outside of Lynchburg, VA. She moved to Baltimore after a failed marriage with 3 kids and no savings. She was scared shitless but she made it work because she needed to. After demonstrating some serious hustle of her own, she ended up getting a fair paying job with the government. My grandfather was a plasterer with his own business. They met at a nightclub sometime in the 40’s, got married and George took over fathering Myra’s 3 children. He was a tough man, but fair with the kids. He liked to hunt for deer and rabbits and he loved to garden. He was hardworking and shrewd with money, even though he didn’t have a great deal of it.
When things at home were at their worst, my grandparents home became a sanctuary for us. My granddad would let us play in the garden, showing us the greenhouse he built to grow african violets and tomato starts. He liked building squirrel and bird houses and there were dozens of them in the trees around his yard. He liked watching critters go about their business and would sometimes feed the resident squirrel a chocolate kiss when he wanted to show off for us. He was a bit of a rascal and I loved him. My grandmother was an ornery devil at times, too. Between the two of them we got razzed a fair bit, but it was always a loving kind of teasing. My fondest memories are of staying at their place and waking to pancakes with faces made of strawberries and bacon.
When school was out for the summer, my grandmother would drive us 5 hours south to the place where she grew up. The old homeplace, nestled in a valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was one of the first places I remember feeling reverence for anything, or feeling a sense of awe. A sense of God. I’m not a religious woman. I never have been, but as I wandered alone on the worn paths made by the leisurely walks my uncles, aunts and cousins took often, I’d marvel at how many living things managed to exist in every square foot of soil. I was awestruck. I was also shocked by the quiet. I’d wake panicked by the sound of a mouse crawling on the floorboards, a sound that resonated like a clap of thunder in dark quiet of my Aunt Joanne’s country home. As a city kid, it was a hard thing to get used to.
(me on a recent trip to the Old Homeplace)
Aunt Joanne is my grandmother’s younger sister and easily one of the most loving and kind people I’ve ever known. A religious woman, she liked to go to bluegrass revivals and would visit families she knew needed some help by bringing them some food or clothes. She’d look forward to our visits and as such, each morning she’d wake before sunrise to make an obscene breakfast for the whole family that included homemade buttermilk biscuits, peach preserves from her pantry, virginia ham, baked apples, fried eggs, fatty bacon (the more pork the better) and sliced salted tomatoes. Oh, and coffee. Lots of milky, sweet coffee. They never let me have any though until I was grown. Now I’m hooked.
We’d all sit around the table, the men would tease the kids and pile their plates high. When they had them adequately cleared of their portions, they’d go to tend to the things that needed doing. They’d check the tobacco drying in the cellar, for instance or to move the cattle to another bit of pasture. I got to ride in the pick up truck once when my Uncle Johnny would go out to move his herd to a different paddock. I remember him walking up to a big bull and patting him on the side like a dog (men in my family were show-offs) and I thought for sure he’d be killed. I knew little of livestock. I thought they were all deadly and would stop at nothing to avoid becoming hamburger. Needless to say, the man lived (for a while at least) and the bull presumably became hamburger.
To Be Continued…..