For today's blog, I'm including some pictures from our family farm in South Georgia. These were taken back in December 2008. I have always loved the farm, and always struggled with what it represents.
The farm has been in our family since the late 1800's. It's part of who I am, and memories of my childhood, parents and grandparents will always echo across its fields and blow through its orchards. On the other hand, I'm increasingly aware that farm life in rural South Georgia is far, far removed from my own practical reality in suburban Atlanta. Now that my Dad is gone, the question of what will eventually happen to his childhood home looms in the distance. Like everything else in life, there are hard decisions to make and countless factors to weigh out - some tangible, some not. I'm glad it's not something we have to decide right away.
I also wanted to share these pictures because they remind me of some of the earliest moments I knew I wanted to be a writer. Was I inspired by the beauty and tranquility of a simpler time? Honestly, no.
More often than not, time at the farm meant long stretches of boredom in which my brother and I were forced to entertain ourselves in ways that sound a lot like a bad country song. We went fishing, which was always a highlight and lots of fun. We rode our bikes along the dirt roads (once I broke my ankle doing that), we tossed the ball around. We picked up pecans for my grandmother at the bargain price of 50 cents per 5-gallon bucket. I tried rather pathetically to learn to sew and cross-stitch (don't tell anyone, but my brother was better than I at both).
It was a simpler existence in many ways, but I didn't always appreciate it. I begged to go to the closest mall or the movies -- both 40 miles away -- or even better, 240 miles away to where my friends were presumably enjoying more traditional spring break or summer vacation pursuits. After all the begging and pleading, after I'd worn out fishing and bike-riding and the TWO channels the ancient TV would pick up, do you know what I most often did? I wrote. And read. I read almost the entire Reader's Digest collection of abridged literature (hey, you work with what you have) and hundreds of entries in the World Book encyclopedias. And my favorite, my great-aunt Eunice's ancient volume of 1,000 Poems for Children.
In addition to the farm, my grandparents owned a photography and framing studio in town, where I 'worked' for a week or two just about every summer from the time I was eight or nine. My absolute favorite thing to do there? Play on their old-school typewriter. I'd spend hours at it - whenever they would let me - writing poetry, pining over whatever boy was ignoring me at the time, composing over-dramatic letters to my friends, piddling with short stories.
The truth is, as much as I resented the isolation and boredom, that unstructured time helped me to figure out what I liked to do. I felt I had no control back then, but it allowed me to experiment with writing and fall in love with books as friends. Now that I've made all my grown-up choices, and live a life with almost no time to myself, it's easy to look back nostalgically on the strange freedom afforded by what felt like captivity. Funny how easy it is to long for the past or yearn for the future. Enjoying the present is always a challenge.
As for the farm, I don't know what its fate will be. I would love to think my boys will have a chance to experience the place where my Dad and Grandfather grew up, and to have opportunities to play in the dirt and see firsthand where food comes from. On the other hand, I realize that our life as a family has to start in the place we are now. We have to grow where we are planted. I know I, at least, am not cut out for farming life anytime soon.
Whatever we do, I hope that I can give my kids (and myself) the gift of unstructured time to play, explore, and maybe even a chance to fight off boredom now and then. It's hard, with TV and internet and phones and soccer practice and the push to be constantly connected to everyone we've ever known and all the people they know, too... It seems like it would take both a tremendous effort and a long-term power outage just to get bored in the first place. Still, if it helps my kids figure out who they are and connect more with themselves and each other, maybe it's worth it.