Saturday, 26 May 2012


I was reading through a back issue of Harrowsmith at the library and found an article identifying types of dairy cows and discussing how their milk differs. Instantly I was six years old again, in the back seat of the station wagon, listening to Mom extole the matchless quality of Jersey cream while we sped through the countryside. The snippet in the magazine overwhelmed me with a homesickness I didn't know I had.

Both of my parents come from farm families, and when Mom married Dad, she thought she was marrying a dairy farmer and would spend her life in the country. When Dad's interests changed, Mom ended up in suburbia as a math professor's wife. She adapted well and contented herself with a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and we had rabbits and horses (boarded down the road). But even as a child I sensed that, deep down, it wasn't quite enough for Mom. Every spring, she would take long drives in the countryside. It was like the pull of the moon on the ocean tides, I think. Something about springtime beckoned her to green, open spaces.

I would sit in the back seat on these rides, absorbing the view and something of what Mom was feeling, too. By the time I was ten, I could differentiate - as they zipped past the car window - Guernseys from Jerseys and oats from wheat. She would tell me about chasing the pigs when they got out, about how Longhorns can leap fences like deer. As I listened, a terrible longing would rise within me, a depth of feeling - of love - that I didn't understand or recognize as an echo of my mother's quiet yearning.

Somehow, without meaning to, I ended up living in the suburbs too, married to a man who thinks "wildlife" is pigeons. I have my vegetable garden, and I'm content on the whole. But I've inherited that farm-lust from my mother. Every spring I get that tug, the inexorable pull, to drive through the country. I roll down the windows and drink in the smell of damp, churned earth. There's a visceral need to let my eyes flow out over unstopped space. I tell my sons the advantage of one kind of milk cow over another - you never know when you might need to know. We play Name that Grain as we pass the fields. My kids probably think I'm crazy, but Mom would understand.

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