Crisis #2 Laid Back Farm Life
January 18, 2013
I know Bill said a bunch of other stuff, but I didn’t hear a bit of it. I thought maybe Dad would leave me a token item, a children’s book he used to read to me, or a hat or something. I just assumed he had an apprentice or someone else to give the farm to. I never once indicated any interest in farming, his or anyone else’s. I wouldn’t even have the first idea on where to start. Mom was keen to point out that Dad didn’t start out life as a farmer, he had to figure it all out from books, advice, and trial and error – “lots of error,” she emphasized.
They met when he was in his late forties and Mom was in her mid-twenties, and they decided to drop out of the rat race and homestead out in Idaho. Dad loved the science of farming and took to it right away, having left his job because he’d been promoted from repairing office copiers into what was essentially a sales job. He always had a computer job of some sort, but they still needed some reliable income, so Mom returned to Nursing as a floater at the hospital in Emmett. She eventually was hired by a pharmacy clinic in Boise, and by the time I was four, my parents barely saw each other. Mom and I moved in with her mom for a couple of years until she got a much better job as an OB-GYN nurse in Sacramento, where I went to school 2nd grade through 12th. With no mouths but his own to feed, my dad could make enough to just get by, so he kept pushing on.
Clearly I’m going to sell the farm, but how? I begged Mom to stay and help me figure out what to do. After she stopped laughing and wiped away a few tears, she said she wouldn’t touch this adventure with a ten-foot pole. So she wished me the best of luck and left. Note to self: Find a sketchy nursing home to threaten Mom with.
A couple of days ago, I went into Bill’s office and signed some papers, and he tried to explain some things about water rights and other services. I guess I’ll deal with those as they become important. He said he would have the deed to me in a number of days and assured me that there weren’t any liens, something I hadn’t even thought of. I have an appointment to go out to the farm with Bill and meet Dad’s hired hand, the other person listed in the will and the reason the place was still in such great shape. Apparently, my dad worked out some arrangement with him, where he does work on the farm and splits money on meat sales and produce. He can keep working the farm as long as needed, so I have a little bit of breathing room. Thank god or whoever for that.
January 19, 2013
His name is Elliot, the hired hand. He is about six foot two with dull red, moppy hair. He’s between 35 and 50, it’s nearly impossible to tell because his face is covered in stubble and he mainly just says “yep” “nope” and something I cannot decipher just yet. He works like a dog, though. Bill says Elliot will stay on and can do everything on the farm except pay bills and shop. For the last three months (Dad has been in and out of care that long), a neighbor has been picking up the items at a local co-op about once every two weeks and Bill had set up to have an invoice sent to him directly. She agreed to keep doing that for another month, but she is going to see her granddaughter in Tempe in March. If I am here, I will have to take it over and talk to Bill about accessing the savings Dad left for running the farm. I think I could handle that much, but I might have the place sold by then.
I asked Elliot if he wanted to buy the place, just in case there was an easy button on this situation. Elliot took off his hat and scratched his head. He grinned nervously and said something I interpreted as follows: “Yep, sure, no, but I got the place down the road and gotta take care o’, uh, my mother. I told Danny, too. Wish I coulda hepped ya out but nope, gotta keep Momma there, until I can’t. Happy to keep workin’, though. Alright then.” I let that ricochet around a bit and finally took it to mean he would have liked to have the place, but he had to stay where he was, taking care of his mother. I guess maybe my dad offered it to him first. I didn’t want to push him, not knowing the particulars of why he couldn’t have made a place for her here or managed both properties. But at least he agreed to stay on as long as possible. He lives about a mile away and walks over every morning. Maybe he has DUI’s or something?
We walked around the main areas of the place, and I met the dogs, chickens, goats, and a cow. The inside of the house was much cleaner than I expected it to be, but it needs a lot of repairs. I guess Dad spent all his energy on the animals and ran out of interest, time, or money when it came to the house. Bill says I would need to have a crew come in and work on it before I put it up for sale, but the main thing is to maintain the farm. He seemed to think a lot of the set up. Bill has a lot of respect for my Dad. They have been friends for a long time, since before I was born. He has been open and easy to talk to, but he did arch his eyebrow at one point and say, “It would be a crime to let this place run down. I know you and your dad weren’t always on good terms, but he loved this place, and besides, it’s worth more to you in good shape than in bad. Don’t worry about the small details.” And then he advised me to let Elliot teach me some things and then make my own judgment calls. “You let me know if you need anything. I mean, anything,” he said. He looked me straight in the eyes until I agreed. I thanked him for all his help.
After he left, I looked around and saw Elliot giving hay to the goats. It was getting windy and cold and I didn’t have the energy to interact with him again, so I went back in the house and, not ready to get into personal items of my Dad’s, I started straightening and cleaning the living room and kitchen area. I thought I would have some flashbacks to my childhood or something, but I didn’t. It might as well have been a stranger’s house for all the emotional connection I had to it.
Dad didn’t have many cleaning supplies, so I mixed a vinegar and water solution, a life hack I have used since college. Soon the whole house smelled like a jar of sauerkraut. I went to open a window to air the room out and had to prize it open with a butter knife. There was a nice accumulation of bugs in the track, and finding no vacuum cleaner, I wiped them into a towel, then wet the towel down with the vinegar solution to wipe out the stray bug parts. The window screen had a hole in it, so I grabbed some tape from Dad’s desk and covered the hole, and since the tape wasn’t sticking well, I tried to pull the screen out to tape the other side. It wouldn’t budge, so I went around behind the house, climbed over a stack of tires, and taped the back side of the hole. When I climbed back over the tires, one of the dogs finally noticed me and let out a monstrous growl, so I lost my balance and fell. It was not that big of a deal, but when I got up, I yelled at the dog to hush and decided to kick the offending tire, thereby finding out the tire was filled with concrete. CONCRETE! Who fills a tire with concrete? My turn to growl.
I hobbled my way back around the house and finished up the kitchen, at least the counters and floors. I opened a cabinet door, fully expecting a possum to jump out. None did, but there were layers of dust and unidentifiable lumps there, so I decided deep cleaning could wait for another day and gingerly closed the door. I shoved the vinegar and spray bottle under the sink and stood the dustpan and broom back in the corner where it belonged.
I took a kitchen chair over to the front window, sat down, and stared out over the driveway. There was a fake water well, the kind you see in front of old people’s homes, crammed with fake flowers, sitting in the middle of the turnabout. It was a little out of place, since my dad was not very sentimental. My car, an alien green Kia (I named her Yoshi) looked out of place, too, offset by the gravel, the swaying elm trees, and the flock of goats in the field behind it. It seemed ready and eager to zip into the crowded parking lot of my apartment building back in Seattle and chirp my arrival home to Ton-ton, my girlfriend. Well, I guess I mean my last apartment building and my ex-girlfriend.
“Sorry, girl, that’s not going to happen,” I sighed.
Sitting there in my dad’s rustic farmhouse, I could still smell dim sum from Happy Tai’s that I used to pick up every Saturday evening for our binge watching night. I cried a little, thinking about the two of us, curled up on the couch, making out and watching zombies or criminals or something else trying to destroy the world. And the whole time, she was plotting to destroy our little world. Her impending visa deadline propelled her to marry a guy she barely knew just to stay in the US. Never mind that she could get an extension. Never mind that we could get married, even though we probably weren’t ready, and that maybe that would make a difference in her being allowed to stay. Also, how could she think I would be okay with her going back and forth between the two of us? Didn’t she know me at all?
When I hopped in the Kia, I cranked up the radio, which was shuffling Vampire Weekend’s Oxford Comma, a song I used to sing ironically whenever I went to my freshman English class, and closed my eyes to shut out the pressure that was building.
I opened my eyes and saw a little grey chicken bobbing back and forth outside the coop gate in front of me. I scanned the farm, but Elliot was nowhere in sight. I know that sometimes chickens get attacked by dogs or wild animals, so I was pretty sure it needed to get back in the coop. Not having a clue how to catch it, I got out and started talking to it. “Here, chick, chick, chick.” It looked like it was about to have a heart attack before I even got ten feet from it. I bent over and started to grab it, but it flew straight up, exploded, and then reassembled into a chicken about five feet away. I repeated this a couple more times until it ran behind a shed and got trapped in the corner. I slid sideways in between the shed and a barbed wired fence, grabbed at the chicken and, finding only one leg to hold onto, tried to back out and not rip the chicken or my clothes or my body parts on the barbed wired. I succeed to some degree, only ripping my shirt and getting a scratch on my lower back. When I got out in the open the chicken, who looked woozy and had gone limp, worried me, so I tried to turn her over. She squawked like I was tearing her apart and jumped free. I almost cried but went back to the car to cradle my head in my hands for a while instead. The scratch on my back didn’t bleed, but it did burn a little.
It was starting to get too dark to see, when the bird reappeared at the gate, pacing back and forth like it was waiting for a doorman. I decided to oblige and try one more time. I waited until it was on the end of its pace, slipped up, and opened the gate. It eyed me suspiciously but quickly scooted into the coop. Voila! Bird in coop in only 45 minutes.
To recoup (re-coop, get it), I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning a small kitchen and wrangling one bird, stubbing one toe, getting one scratch (still burning, by the way), and ripping a hole in my shirt. If farming is always this easy, just shoot me now.