Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A few weeks after my miscarriage, I started having migraines again. 

They made me curl up in a ball and want to avoid everything. I hurt from the base of my spine to the top of my head and over into my eyeball. And they gave me a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach.

They came every 3 days and lasted a little over a day. Or sometimes they came for 3 weeks and then I was immune for another month or so.

It made it hard to be a good mom, to have any patience at all, to do chores, to weed the garden, to cook, to drive, to listen to anything or think about anything.

They were a hideous waste of time, and they wouldn't stop. I tried changing my diet but it didn't help. I couldn't make an appointment or set a date with friends or help out at school because I might not be able to show up. 

The pain, hideous as it was, and relentless as it was, was only part of the problem. Not being able to live was another. 

And there was nothing I could do about it because nothing worked.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Storm of stones

One pleasant June Saturday I was putting in a little extra time weeding the garden because the weeds were just as tall as the peas, close to my height. They had sprung up after a warm rain, and I was determined to find the plants we had intended to raise.

Instead of kneeling for hour after hour - or at least minute after minute - I took some newspaper with me and sat on it while I weeded. The cats brushed against me as I sat there beneath walls of vegetation that spread as far as the eye could see in all directions. It was a bit steamy down there out of the breeze, and even at the tops of the weed stalks there was little movement.

As I was plucking away, I was somewhat surprised to hear the sound of a vehicle close by and approaching but I thought the neighbors might be loading or unloading their pickup nearby.

Too true! 

As I sat there in the weeds, I heard a thud quite close to me, then several more. Rocks were falling nearby. 

I pushed myself to my feet and there before me was a shocking site: the neighbors' truck was backed up to the edge of our garden and their children were lobbing rocks into it. 

All I could think to say was HEY!

When they saw me, they jumped down from the truck and ran, and their dad, who was driving, stepped on the gas and zoomed back into their yard.

In reality the rocks were stones maybe the size of a fist or so, and they lay here and there around the garden, having knocked down as many weeds as vegetables. I picked them up and added them to our tidy pile, and little material harm was done.

But the hostility was disturbing. Clearly they hadn't seen me or expected anyone to be around when they launched their attack, and I don't know how many more rocks they might have tossed into the garden if I hadn't been there. The thought that someone would enlist his 12 and 10 year olds and his 3 year old to throw rocks into a neighbor's garden was seriously disturbing. Our kids played with theirs! How could anyone think of doing such a thing?

We did nothing. What could be done? I felt we were dealing with an irrational man, one capable of violent acts. It left me rattled, uncomprehending, confused...

Phone calls

We used to talk to Nana every week or two. She was my mom and while not much earth-shattering happened between calls, it was nice to check in and chat. So it was a little strange that she hadn't called for a while. And neither had I - we were busy and time just slid by.

We had a few calls but everything was as always, other than the big space between them.

In June she did call and mentioned that my father had had another treatment. They had drained excess fluid from his belly again. Not much was going on, a friend had died, my sister was expecting, just family chatter.

They lived about 180 miles away in Connecticut. It was awkward for them to visit because my father didn't like the outdoors very much, and he also smoked a great deal. They had come up in the late fall soon after we moved in, and he hadn't liked smoking out on the porch. 

And we really couldn't stand having smoke in the house, not just for the minutes it took to inhale a cigarette but for the months after when the smell lingered on and on. 

That combined with his dislike of leaving home and also of driving any distance meant that we didn't see either of them very often. 

Before the farm we had gone to Connecticut to see them a couple of times a year, and usually continued on to New Jersey to see the other grandparents. But the farm made leaving impossible.

So we hadn't seen them, but we'd talked on the phone. And now we were not doing that as much, but our chats were full of homey news and I always enjoyed them, and Nana did too. I knew we'd get back in the swing of it when we had the farm routine under our belts.

Dusty's other brother

Poor little Charlie, Dusty's littermate, had been killed by a car when he was still tiny, so Dusty was a lone dog except when he romped with Spanky next door. 

But then Dusty's breeder called and said that a third puppy from the litter needed a home. His family, she said, had small children and the young fellow was not good with them. On the other hand, since our children were older...

Of course we said yes.

So Dusty's long-lost brother, now full-grown, arrived. We were eager to see if he was as wonderful as Dusty.

He wasn't. He was snappish and sullen, and obviously had suffered through a lot of mishandling.

But we embraced him - from a distance - and made him part of the family.

Whatever Dusty's thoughts, he kept them to himself. And when evening came and he could smell delicious woodsy things on the air, he showed Sam how to go howling off into the woods in their pursuit. 

Two beagles howling in the woods is a formidable sound. We always knew where they were, but what did the suburbanites who surrounded us think was happening? Surely some poor animal was suffering...?

Indeed, later we found that the woman who lived all the way through our woods and hers and up the hill to the estate beyond had concluded just that and was contemplating sending her teen son out with a rifle to put an end to the agony of whatever poor beast was suffering so.

The dog boys couldn't be called home until they'd tired of sniffing and yodeling, but just before we went to bed we'd call them: Dusty! Sammy! and in they'd come, bolting up onto the porch and in the kitchen door, skidding across the floor, panting with hanging tongues, ready for a bowl of fresh water and a good scratch behind the ears from their beloved stay-at-home friends. 

After a few months of nightly forays, Sammy began to mellow out. He never did engage with us as Dusty did. But Dusty was exceptional, and Sammy was just a dog, and for that reason alone Dusty loved him. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

School's out!

What a relief it was when school was out! What fun we had together! It's not so much that we - mom and kids - hung out together all day long, but that the kitchen was homebase, where the young adventurers would come back several times during the day from their forays into the neighborhood. 

Once chores were done, their time was their own. They had long hours with friends, and also we made frequent trips to the little library in the tiny village of South Natick, just less than 3 miles away and as close as any public area. The waterfall below it was especially enticing on hot days, though we mostly just looked at it as we hurried by on some errand. An ice cream cone at Brigham's or Friendly's accompanied most trips into Wellesley to buy groceries. 

In the car we sang and talked and sang some more, mostly camp songs from my childhood. We loved the two-part sections and any song that could be sung as a round.

Back on the farm, the heat of the day was spent reading, each of us gorging on the tall stacks of books we brought home from the library.

June was kind in that most evenings were cool even at the end of hot days, and that meant more time for the garden. Now that we were eating spinach, chard, and peas, the evening hours were ushered in by a quick run to the garden for ingredients for our perpetual summer meal called fu-fa-rah. It consisted of whatever combination of garden goodies that were harvestable with whatever additions the fridge and larder yielded.

A typical early summer fu-fa-rah would be sauteed peas, greens, rice, and goat cheese, of course drunk down with frothy, cold goat milk. 

The one harvest we could count on even this early in the season was rocks. This was an area where the glaciers had scraped and ground the bedrock and left stones and boulders behind. Large and small, they seemed to rise up all summer, so that every time we went out to the garden, new ones were lying on the surface. 

The family ritual was to pick up as many as any one of us could carry, then pile them up in the yard-wide margin between the edge of the garden and the property line. Soon we had a miniature stone wall growing up beside the garden, reminding us of how the real stone walls that lined our property had come to be. 

Picking rocks and peas was fun in the cool of the evening, especially when we didn't have to worry about getting everyone to bed. On breezy nights the mosquitoes were no bother. The display of stars overhead called for lying on our backs on the grass so that Dad could tell us their names, and point out the constellations. It was a season in-between, soft and sweet.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


That is, HAZY, HOT, and HUMID! The first of June left us wrung out. Suddenly the temperature in the shade was 90 and the humidity everywhere was close to 100%. The air was nearly white with it. The goats lay sprawled out in the shade, and we hid in the house with the windows closed, hoping to keep the heat out.

Meanwhile, the garden grew.

A few days later the temperatures went down, but the humidity stayed. Even when it was 75, it was too hot to work and we liquified as soon as we lifted a finger.

But since the weeds had grown just as the veggies had, we needed to weed. 

I took my turn in 15-minute spurts. During the day the sun beat down and I drained cup after cup of water. In the evening, when it was cooler, the mosquitos came out and ignored every repellant we dared use. And the weeds kept growing and we kept plucking away at them. 

So did the veggies grow. The cherry tomatoes were showing more color and we were eager for them to get to a truly ripe state. Tiny peppers appeared, and the eggplant flowers added an elegant color to their corner of the first garden. And tiny beans were emerging from below the blossoms that had borne them. 

The peas were getting exasperated with the heat, though: they stopped producing and the vines turned to straw. We gave up and fed the vines to the goats, who seemed to think of them as dessert. 

Gradually the number of hazy, hot, humid days increased, and the respites between them disappeared. I kept the radio on in the faint hope that the forecast might change. We quietly played games in the house (though VJ never missed a chance to tend his glads out in the full sun). With no A/C, the coolest place to read or nap was the floor. We spread out so as not to suffer from each other's added heat and dozed in a drowsy stupor so the hours till we could enjoy the cool of the evening would pass more quickly. 

But some nights it never cooled off. Then we lay spread-eagled on our beds and sweated the hours away.

And July and August were yet to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

School's out

The baby goats were getting big, and happily drank down daily their two quarts of milk, then ate hay all day long and nibbled at whatever grain might have been spilled in their yard. They also practiced their escapes and generally wreaked havoc with the fencing. 

One favorite activity of us all was called 'goat TV'. We'd stand by the hour and watch them cavort. Sometimes the human children got into the mix and all 10 or so wild beasts dervished together.

Dear Old Dad made the mistake one day of lying in the warm sun, in a spot of soft grass that appealed to him and happened to be in the kid pen. He was soon covered with young goat damsels. The blade of grass in his mouth didn't last long...

We couldn't wait for school to get out so we could take a break from getting up too early and start enjoying each other in a less-structured way. The children had been playing with the next-door neighbors. Their children were similar in age to ours except for the youngest, who was just emerging from toddlerhood. Other children in the neighborhood played with ours, too. I envisioned a summer of ball games and running through the sprinkler and the squeals of a dozen or more happy vacationers. 

But it was not to be. 

The family next door seemed to share our interests, and I was full of hope for a real friend in the old house so near ours. But things weren't progressing too well. Our family seemed to be greeted with suspicion every which way we turned.

It wasn't our lifestyle per se, it was the sense that we were out to cheat them somehow. The father particularly seemed looking for offense, but both adults at times acted oddly. It seemed to begin with the warm weather, when we were all outside so much more often.

One incident seemed innocent enough: the neighbors' year-old puppy, a doberman gangly and goofy and named Spanky, came loping into our yard when I was the only one home, trotted up onto our open porch, and grabbed Dusty's feed bowl. I opened the door to coax her to let go, but she was already heading for home. 

I ran over to their house myself so I could keep an eye on where she went. That other property had a big barn plus a carriage house on it, in addition to their home, and I knew Spanky could take the bowl anywhere, then lose interest, and I might never find it.

But she went straight to her house, where Nancy (the mom) and her mother, visiting from another state, had just come home from buying groceries. 

I ran breathless around the corner to their door. Spanky was already inside, greeting Nancy with huge wags. The bowl was sitting just outside the door.

Both Nancy and her mother looked at me curiously, then Nancy went into the house with bags of food. I explained to her mother that Spanky had come over and carried off Dusty's bowl, and I was there to get it. I picked it up from where it lay at her feet.

But she objected. She said that Spanky didn't do that, wouldn't do that, and I could leave the bowl there. I started to laugh, then saw that she was entirely serious, grimly serious.

I looked for Nancy to come out to tell her mother that that wasn't Spanky's bowl, but she didn't. 

I left without the bowl, figuring I could pick it up later when grandma wasn't around. I was filled with confusion. Spanky was certainly acting as any puppy might, and I found it mildly amusing. It was human behavior I just didn't get, the flat contradictions and doubting my word over such a trivial thing.

That was just the first...

Interlude: Thoughts on writing a personal history

I want to be completely honest about our time on the farm. It was a great experience, full of growth and life-altering occurrences and circumstances. But it was also a most difficult time, and writing about it brings me pain and must be worse for the reader.

So I have held back as we plunged ahead into the Summer of 1977. It was more than anything confusing and frustrating. And yet....