Living the dream. Five years ago I was a street musician in Seattle playing my cello in the freezing drizzle to get enough money to fly back to Kentucky to see my fiancé, and that’s what an enthusiastic man, in baggy grey sweatpants, filming a documentary on his iphone about street musicians, wanted me to say for his camera. “Living the dream.” Then he put two dollars in my tip jar and walked away.
Who dreams that!? That’s the sort of dream that wakes you up trembling and leaves you thinking “maybe I should get a masters degree.” I didn’t want to be a street musician playing in the rain on a low traffic corner across from a strip club. I wanted 320 dollars for a plane ticket.
Now I suppose I am living my dream, but I’m living it, not basking in it. I wanted to live in the country, work my land, deliver a few babies now and again, and that’s what I do. But like being a street musician the pretty picture you see from the outside doesn’t show the whole story. There’s more to being country than sweet tea, and verandas.
Firstly, there’s poop. A whole lot of poop. Every single living thing on the farm is pooping, and some of them aren’t doing it where you told them to. There are the chickens, they’re pooping everywhere. Especially on the front porch, the porch you’re supposed to be sipping sweet tea on. I think they award each other extra chicken points for hitting the porch swing.
Then there are the goats, and they don’t care if they’re walking, being milked, or have escaped and are standing on the front porch too. They can poop anywhere. And their poop is round and marble like, so that’s a lot of fun to try eat if you’re a baby.
The horse poops, shouldn’t be a problem since she stays in her pasture. Except something about it is irresistible to the dogs, so they eat it, and then throw up, inside.
The pigs can somehow poop more than they eat, and when they’re not on pasture we have them in an old horse trailer, so it oozes out the sides, and goes plop on the ground in a thick jiggly puddle. For whatever reason it smells like really dead deer guts, and the smell never quite clears up. Long after the pigs are gone the smell remains.
Finally there are the children. Specifically Della, who is thinking, albeit abstractly, about potty training. The other day she was sitting in my crockpot and said “Look, I peeing Mama.” To which I, in my distraction, replied “Good job honey!”. I thought we were playing pretend. It wasn’t pretend.
So there’s the poop, but then there’s the blood. Being country, is really bloody. It’s supposed to just be hogs, rabbits, chickens, animal blood. Butchering day blood. And usually that’s all it is. Of course there are those days when your neighbor brings you a deer on his way to work, and the husband and men have to build a barn, so you have to do the deer all on your own for the first time, and you’re standing there with an axe trying to decide is it better to try to be precise or just hack at the head as hard as you can until it comes off. I didn’t chose precise.
Turkey day my husband cut off a turkey head right as I walked up with the hot water, and sprayed me full in the face with fresh turkey blood. I forgot and went to town with blood all over my dress and hat.
But it’s not just butchering day, sometimes you look at what used to be a chicken and just have to say “don’t know, I guess it exploded.” Or your german shepherd gets flat on the road while you shake him and scream “Get up Sarge! Get up!”, but he doesn’t get up.
In short it’s a mess.
And the animals that are supposed to love you, occasionally try to kill you and your children. One of our roosters recently chased Della down, knocked her over, and flogged her as she lay face down screaming in terror, all because she picked up, what I guess was his, grapefruit out of the compost.
Eugene, our goat who never actually hurts anyone, likes to rear up on his hind legs and pretend he’s going to headbutt you. He never actually did it though. Until we had a little girl visiting the farm and she wanted to gather eggs. Why do the hens have to lay in Eugene’s pen? I don’t know. I told her how he bluffs, “but he won’t actually hurt you.” Why did I say that? I thought as I walked way. Sure enough, a day later he rammed her right in the chest up agains the barn wall. Her first words afterwards? “Audrey said he wouldn’t!”
There are a lot of ideas about what it means to be country. Of course country people are supposed to be up when the rooster crows. Do we get up when the rooster crows? Yeah, we’re up. It’s three in the morning and too dark to shoot him.
And of course a true country girl, can fry up the perfect crispy golden chicken. That’s nothing. Country is frying hog testes. They call them mountain oysters but that only makes the people looking at them on the plate feel better. It does nothing for the woman in the kitchen who has to skin them. Yes, you have have to skin them. And don’t salt them when you fry them up, they’re naturally salty. Try not to think about that. Really just try not to think. In particular don’t think about the pigs still out oinking in the yard. Fried chicken, cute.
And the spiders! You just can’t believe the spiders. Even when you’re standing there in your nightgown watching it jump four inches in the air, and the click it makes as it lands on the plywood floor of the bedroom practically echoes, you still just can’t believe it. When our daughter was born my husband made me stop shooting them in the house. Outside, it’s still open season.
It sort of sounds terrible when all you’re looking at are the spiders, blood, and pig dangles, but it’s not. I don’t have a veranda, but I’ve got a front porch big enough for some good friends, a mess of children, a few dogs, and of course there’s always plenty of sweet tea for everyone. I can take honest joy in my work, and I truly see the fruits of my own labor. It can be hard, tiring, sad, and messy, but I can now say with confidence and pride that I really am “living the dream”.