Surprising Aunt Judy

August 3, 2010

My Aunt Judy called me the other day. This is an extremely rare occurrence, a call from Bloomington, so at first I was concerned that there was tragic news. After we exchanged hellos, a little careful on my side, she said, “I’ve been reading your blog.”

Ah. What a wonderful thing, this blog. I have always liked my Aunt Judy and my Uncle Dennis, but because they live in Bloomington, seldom get to visit with them. Isn’t it nice, I thought, that the Internet can connect us more firmly than real life?

She asked about this project and I told her how it started – as a way for me to keep track of what blooms when so I didn’t dig something up at the wrong time (but that’s still happening anyway – sigh) and suddenly it was more than that. Suddenly, it was about growth and beauty and life and change.

Aunt Judy then asked me if I remembered the applesauce. Oh yes, I remembered. I must have been about 7 years old when she married Uncle Dennis. Aunt Judy grew up on a real farm, with animals and tractors and wooden fences and pastures and roads that went on forever, dividing the world into huge patches of green. Initially, her life was, to me, like a storybook. I pictured frolicking lambs, gentle horses, clucking chickens.

Then we spent the weekend at her family’s farm. My god, what a place of terror. I was petrified of the cornfields, as someone had told me that you could walk just a yard or so in and be lost in the field forever; they’d have to wait until harvest to find your bleached, dry bones. The horses had huge chomping teeth and were enormous manure factories. The sheep were much larger than I’d imagined and moved in a tight pack. Again, I was terrified. They might stampede and crush me into the earth; I’d be just a bloody patch of goo and white bony splinters after they passed.

The cats in the barn were fun to play with until I broke out in hives and blisters. The rope swing in the hay loft was the only thing that didn’t scare the hell out of me. It was so much fun climbing the ladder, grabbing the rope and dropping into the hay on the other end of the barn with all my cousins. Then they told me about the snakes that lived in the hay, right where we were all landing.

And the chickens would bite you.

On one of their visits to Chicago, Aunt Judy brought homemade applesauce, complete with a ruby pink tint from the apple skins boiling along with the meat of the fruit. I was appalled. Applesauce came in a jar with a twist top lid, not some kind of popping thing, with a label that said Motts and it was never ever pink. Given my fresh memories of farm fright, I did not eat it.

She also mentioned brown eggs that I refused to eat, although those I can’t recall.

Aunt Judy was very surprised that I garden. I was surprised she thought I didn’t. It is interesting how we all think of people with their beliefs and fears and preferences as held in one moment in time. I have considered raising chickens in my backyard and happily grew and ate those purple beans. I am certainly no longer scared of cornfields and sheep (as a toddler, Eliza once had her whole arm, up to her shoulder, slurped into the mouth of a calf at the zoo. Dominic and I couldn’t stop laughing. Tony did not find it funny). Even snakes don’t creep me out that much.

Then I think about my garden. The former owners probably think of our yard like it was 10 years ago – grass and grass and grass, with rock around some really pathetic evergreens in front of the porch, rock lining the house along the back and a raised bed of rock with an overwhelming, dying river birch in the middle of the front lawn. The kids in the neighborhood were scared of this house and wouldn’t trick or treat here. Then we moved in. The river birch and that bed was removed and seeded over (for a long time it looked as though aliens had landed on the lawn and made a crop circle), the twisted evergreens were taken out and the beds expanded, expanded and expanded. Flowers replaced rock, mulch softened the ground. In the backyard, the expanse of grass is now a field of flowers, berms, tinkling water, a bridge, paths and more flowers.

I think those former owners would be as surprised as Aunt Judy.

In the loft, after a swing, before I knew about the snakes

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