Wednesday, February 24, 2010
My parents moved to the farm a month after I was born. Along with the 100 Roosters, they came with two white cats--Fats and Skinny, and another resident of the Whiting Hotel named Eddie. Eddie was very clear that he was a hobo and not a bum. Hobos would work, he claimed. He worked. That year the promise of Spring was portentous. They put in a massive garden. Planting every seed sold in the feed store. My first memory (which must have been the following summer) is of being in a little pen watching them work in the garden. My Dad made a little enclosure for me as they were afraid I would wander into the road. Afraid: always afraid. It was in part fear that led us to this particular Farm. There first choice had a brook running along the outskirts of the property. They decided against that place. They were always afraid I would drown. Images of that property were always the other modality, the other possibility, when I was a child. In that alternative world-- my Mom's other children Marty and Jessica lived with us. We would play together in the brook. That Marty and Jessica didn't live with us was the great felt tragedy of my early life. Yet, I was not a particularly lonely child. The neighbors had three boys. When I was small the two older boys would take turns coming over to our house to play.
Later, I hope to be able to insert here my Mom's description of that first summer on the farm. But, for now I will just point to the existence of these writings. My Mom wrote several scores of notebooks filled with poems and short stories. She used to wake up a three in the morning. She would drink coffee, smoke, cough, and type. When I was seven she published a book of poems called Pale Ponies. I, of course, was sure that she would soon be famous. I gave those books to everyone!
Those books and poems always included that small farm as a main character. The farm was ten acres. However, the barn was a glorious old barn--it had a barn swing, a loft where truly free range hens would hide their eggs, and a pig pen. The garden was nearly two acres that first summer.
Monday, February 22, 2010
My parents met at the Whiting Hotel. The year was 1975 and my Mom was released from the Traverse City State Hospital during one of the swells of deinstitutionalization. My Dad was struggling with alcohol, recently divorced, and recently bankrupt. The Whiting rented rooms by the week or month. It was the closest thing that Traverse City had to a big city rooming house. When I was about 10 my Mom packed us up and took us away from the farm announcing that we were leaving Dad. We first drove into town and went to the Holiday Inn. I was excited that there was a pool and I was just getting into my swimsuit when my Mom decided that we couldn't stay there. She tried to get her money back unsuccessfully and we went to the Whiting. My Mom was always making decisions like that. Inexplicable to me. It was almost like she feared that too much middle class normalcy would push her over the edge. Or, perhaps, she knew that Dad would be able to find us at the Whiting. He did. Indeed we weren't there very long when he came and took us back home.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
My parents kept the "For Sale" sign for the farm my entire life. It was often painted over. Mostly for enterprises: "Cukes For Sale," sometimes after a terrible fight it would read: "House: For Sale by Owner!" Usually it said "Farm Fresh Eggs For Sale." We had a healthy supply of hens on the farm. This was despite the fact that when my parents moved to their 10 acre farm they came with a box filled with 100 chicks--all roosters. Rooster who spent the next several years in pageantry in our backyard until one- by- one they were shuffled off this mortal coil via a stewing pot. Later my parents got hens-Rhode Island Reds--who laid brown eggs that my Mom would sell the neighbors. One day after being unsettled by over healthy business, and wanting to let people know that eggs were not always for the having, my Mom painted over the sign so that it read "Ocassionally Fresh Eggs." The following day the announcer at the country music station mentioned the sign in his morning routine. My Mom enjoyed the joke and left the sign up.
My Mother died three weeks ago. In her dying, as in her life-- love, mental illness, fear, and tenacity were mixed. I never expected to outlive my Mom. And that I saw, indeed, that I felt that last vaporous breath, has done little to concretize the loss.
I have long said that I would write a book about my life with Mom entitled "Occasionally Fresh Eggs" and I thought that this is as good of place as any to begin.