Barb and I have been so busy during the past three weeks that’s it’s desperately hard to remember what we did when or what day it is today. We’ve been working in our garden, volunteering to work at the Lion’s Club food booth during the Tri-County Fair, mowing our yards, attending local meetings, helping the Barger’s process their wheat crop, and selling our products at the Grant County Farmers market. When we get this busy, it’s hard to find time to just stop and think. Actually, that’s not a bad thing for me right now. You see, this period of time last year was very difficult for me. Our old cat, Ninny, died on July 20 last year, followed in quick succession by the death of one of our original goat kids, Gertie on August 1, and the sale of our remaining dairy goat herd on August 5. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to comprehend it all until our farm became silent and the dust settled. The only consolation I got from it was that our first original goat kid, Essie, lives at a farm that is only three miles from us at the entrance to Smoke Hole Canyon, and I have been able to visit her at least once every month since we bade her farewell. I still miss her today as much or more than I did the day I sold her, and the pain of the regret I’ve lived with since then remains fresh in my conscience. Knowing that we had no choice at that time gives me no solace.
Those feelings were refreshed yesterday as we made our annual pilgrimage to the State Fair of West Virginia near Lewisburg. While there, we visited both the 4-H and FFA exhibits at the Youth Building, the West Virginia Country Store in the Department of Agriculture building, the farm and home exhibits at the West Virginia Building, and all the dairy goat and cow livestock. We were surprised to find two Pendleton County farm products displayed in the Country Store—Swilled Dog hard cider produced in Franklin and Mark and Sarah Kimble’s maple syrup. They live along Mozer Road up Brushy Run Hollow from our farm. We look up that hollow from our porch. The day was sunny and fair with moderate summer temperatures and the crowd was light, making it comfortable to just stroll around the fairgrounds and truly savor the sights and sounds. In the eight or so years we have attended the State Fair, we’ve never had a more pleasant experience. It was so relaxing, in fact, that it gave me time and reason to think back about my childhood on our dairy farm and the retirement dairy goat operation we lost one year ago.
As we toured the 4-H and FFA exhibits in the Youth Building, my mind traveled back in time to my childhood membership in those rural clubs. I participated in our local 4-H club for five years during my early childhood. I remember receiving my five-year pin and attaching to it the bars I was awarded for each of my first four years. My mother was a 4-H instructor for many classes covering crafts and home economics. I remember attending one of her craft classes, where I made several Christmas ornaments, some of which involved placing colored crystals into metal ornament forms and then baking the forms until the crystals melted into plastic panes that would glow like tiny stained-glass windows on the tree when hung in front of Christmas lights. We still have the crystal bell and Christmas stocking ornaments that I made and hang them on our tree each year. She also taught us how to take standard Styrofoam coffee cups and melt them down (shrink them) into pilgrim hats by warming them in the oven. I also remember taking a small engine class and a baking class.
My participation in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) ran until I was a Sophomore in High School. I also took a course in soil science during that time. At the time, I was still trying to convince my father that I was capable of farming, but it was a futile. I was an FFA member for only a year-and-a-half, but I managed to sell enough oranges, grapefruit, and nectarines to earn the prized denim jacket boldly displaying the blue and gold FFA seal. I actually enjoyed the FFA club more than I had anticipated. In fact, I would say it was the only experience I enjoyed in my four years of High School. Once I graduated from High School, I went away to college to begin my forced transition into the modern, outside world, where I would learn to live and work for the next 36 years.
I don’t know how others who have made that transition felt about it, but I remember being scared and made to feel ashamed of my rural upbringing. I wasn’t even sure I could gain enough acceptance from people who lived vastly different lives and lifestyles to be successful. I spent a lot of time with a college friend and roommate, Greg, who was raised in suburban Boston by his father who built and was the president of his own successful business. Greg dragged me to movies, a live theatrical performance, and an opera (“Aida”) which I could not understand and during which I eventually fell asleep. Much of the cultural exposure I gained seemed stuffy and ‘above my station’ to me. However, through my long-time college and post-college friendship with him, I learned how to redesign myself, including my behavior and manner of speaking, to live effectively in the outside world.
However, as my professional career evolved, I eventually learned that, regardless of the values that modern society proclaims for itself, the daily workings of life in the outside world was rarely governed by them. I struggled to decide if I needed to just abandon the core values I learned from my childhood (because they seemed so outdated and irrelevant) or to speak out against the abuses of those values I often witnessed (which might have damaged the standard of living that we worked hard to achieve for my wife and son). These occasional moral inconsistencies and the fundamental dependency on money that our modern lifestyle of convenience demanded made life feel unreal to me; like a Halloween costume party that never seemed to end. Did I really have to change everything I was to fit in? My outside-world life was so fundamentally different to the self-reliant farm life I had lived as a child that it seemed like the farming world I once knew had ended, even though I spent most of my professional career living in and working for rural and small communities. The disillusionment I felt after working a 30-year professional career eventually led me to pursue our recently abandoned dairy goat operation in retirement.
These thoughts and memories once again filled my mind as we visited the livestock barns to view the dairy cows and goats. We spent a lot of time visiting the dairy goat pens freely giving reassuring attention to all the does that were eager to accept it. As I scratched the heads and necks of the Oberhasli goats, I remembered all the times I spent caring for and working with our own goats—Essie, Gertie, Cara, Emerald, and Lady. I especially remembered the times in their first few bottle-fed months that Essie and Gertie would playfully scamper and bounce around our goat pens, and how they loved to compete to be in control of the top of the rock pile and wooden cedar tree platform I built for them. It all made the loss I felt for them fresh and overwhelming, as though the barrier of time between my childhood and our recent farming life had all but disappeared. All in all, it was a dairy kind of day where the struggles and inconsistencies of the life I lived in the outside world disappeared, and I could enjoy once again the simple pleasures of farm life, even as I had to deal with my regrets over the gradual loss of that innocence, swept away by time and change, like a receding tide.
We tried to stay for the Dairy Goat show, but it was delayed too long (over an hour) by the Charolaise Cow judging, and we eventually had to leave for the long drive home. I hope that my thoughts and memories about farm life and my eventual transition into the outside world—as I’ve expressed in this and many other posts I have written for our farm website—will be familiar to some of our followers. Only those who have lived both of these lifestyles will truly understand how difficult that transition can be and how much of our traditional heritage—which we all share at some point in the past—we have lost to time and change. They say that nothing is lost as long as we remember. I guess I can’t casually accept that thought because so many of the memories I recall can be truly understood only from experience, which most people today have never had and will never have the chance to know. That thought recalls in my mind the lyrics to Jamie Johnson’s wonderful song, In Color. Those old black and white photographs of life in the past never seem to capture and convey all the nuances and richness of life that really should be seen and lived in color. I hope I can find the time to enjoy more dairy-kind-of-days as I live out the rest of my life here at Peeper Pond Farm. Despite the sorrow those mellow memories can often bring, they best capture the true fullness of a life well lived to me. I think we’ll go to visit Essie this afternoon to let her know that she is not and will not be forgotten.