To Matt, Josh & Lauren:
Your Grammy has a phrase she repeats anytime I launch into another of my farmgirl-inspired pursuits. Whether it’s going through the scrap lumber at Home Depot to build a bean trellis or completely freaking out your Daddy with a glass aquarium full of Monarch caterpillars on the kitchen counter each June, she just rolls her eyes and says, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”
And she’s right. I’ve lived here in the south-eastern PA suburbs now for nearly 15 years. But my country roots still run deep and it doesn’t take more than a quick glance around the house to see where they’ve crept back up to the surface. The seeds we plant every spring and the recipes I’m teaching you how to bake; the barbed wire wreath that hangs in the family room and the hand-stitched quilts I lay on your beds during the coldest winter spells; the birds we watch in the dining room nestbox and the bees we admire as they pollinate along the sunflower fence. All of these touchstones, and so many, many more, can be traced back to some element of my years on the farm.
You see, I was such a very blessed baby because on the day I was born, there were 3 farms in our family. The two near Curwensville had largely been put to pasture by the time I came along. Great-Grandma Louise Durandetta and Great-Grandma Jennie Long, both long widowed, still lived in their weathered houses that creaked and leaned like an old farmer’s knees after a long day in the field. By the time I could walk through them, the barns were mostly empty expect for the beef cows that Great Uncle Alex fed in the bottom level at Grandma Durandetta’s place.
The third farm was a 2-hour drive west to the outskirts of Grove City, PA. Grammy grew up there (yes, that’s where Daddy and I went to college and met) and I spent many happy stretches of summer on the Frisk farm when she would take Uncle Jason and me back home for a visit. That farm was still busy and full of animals of every shape and size throughout my whole childhood. Grandpa Frisk was forever coming home from the swap meet with a new goat or pen of roller pigeons. There were cows and roosters and peacocks and endless dogs and cats. I rode my first pony, Cocoa, there when I was just a toddler and I can remember feeling enthralled by the rows of purple and blue ribbons that Great-Grandpa Harry Frisk had won for showing his quarterhorses.
Now you might think that having 3 farms to visit was a pretty good way to spend a childhood. But your Grammy and Grandpa wanted just a little more for their children. After all, visiting a farm is like licking the spoon after mom’s done mixing the cake batter. Growing up on a farm is like getting to eat the whole cake. And so in 1978, when I was just halfway through my 4th year and Uncle Jason wasn’t quite a year old yet, we moved from our little house on Filbert Street in Curwensville to our very own farm on a winding country road that didn’t even have a name. We had 65 acres and a big barn and a spring house and a wide front porch and an old pear tree all to ourselves. Oh, what a slice of heaven it was! And so began the years of me having my cake and eating it, too.
For the next 18 years, I explored every inch of those fields and hewn boards until the last year of college when Daddy came with a diamond and swept me off to our little apartment in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. It might have marked the end of my living on the farm, but not the end of my loving the farm life. Even in our cramped spaces, I always found ways to keep those roots alive. Little things like planting the gebera seeds from Grammy's garden to big things like finally convincing Daddy that we really could have chickens in our cul-de-sac backyard.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very content with the little town you’re growing up in. Perkasie is a wonderful place to call home and a perfect distance between the bright blare of the city and the quiet rustle of dried corn stalks. In many ways, you’re going to live an even better life than I did because you’ll have a sure footing in both these worlds. It took me awhile to adjust, but I’m very comfortable now living on a street of 1/2 acre yards and Wednesday morning trash collection. However, there’s simply no getting the country out of me and so there are many years ahead for telling you about the dark, spooky root cellar where Grammy used to hide our Christmas presents or Grandpa Frisk’s bear skin rug that used to give me nightmares when I dreamed it was coming back to life. I haven’t yet told you about the fun we used to have with the party line phone at Grandma Long’s house or the gobs and gobs of Concord grapes we used to pick in Grandma Durandetta’s side yard each fall.
I often wonder, Would I really pick up and move to a farm now, if given the chance? Could I jump at the opportunity to give you the same rich experiences that I delighted in for nearly 2 decades? The answer is a surprising and saddening “probably not.” (Daddy is heaving a sigh of relief as he reads that.) As much as I would absolutely love to raise bona fide farmkids, I know it’s not a life that’s so carelessly chosen. And I think we can safely say that your Daddy would never be happy in bib overalls and muck boots! But rather than lamenting that my children won’t have the same deeply rooted country life that I did, I’ve decided to do what every good mother does from time to time: pull out the pen and start reminiscing up a cake so that you’ll have plenty of spoons to lick.
Where shall I start? Perhaps at the beginning...
First Farms: Neno & Louise Durandetta
Neno died much too young in 1949, just shy of his 60th birthday. Grandma Louise went on to live another 30 years after that, relying on her determined and independent will to see her through the widow’s ache and the advancing pallium of old age.