Lunch with the farm girls

When I graduated from high school, my Mom’s “gift” to me was to take me and my brother on a trip to South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. She was conducting academic research on Laura Ingalls Wilder. She had some contacts who could put her in touch with people who’d known Laura and her daughter Rose, and they would be our starting points, or stopping points, as it were, along our drive.

INVITATION

In few words, it was a trip that changed my life. I fell in love with the prairie and the people, and decided that I would do a 180 on my choice of university. (I was slated to go to the University of Virginia, but was not very enthusiastic about it. I’d wanted to go North.) But now, No. I would go to South Dakota State in Brookings and follow their program of Environmental Studies. My father thought I was insane and basically threatened to disown me. “No daughter of mine is going to school in South Dakota.”

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This was the worst exchange I’d ever had with my father. (It would, in fact, be the worst exchange I would ever have with him). I knew he loved me; I knew he could not see my point of view. I knew that “learning” to him meant certain things. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Had degrees from William & Mary, Harvard and University of Virginia. I knew that he thought I had great potential. I’d been an excellent high school student. Almost too good. He was used to that level of performance. I was sick of it (as time would tell!)

He did not picture me on the prairie, raising livestock and tow-headed babies. He did not. He didn’t know that people have myths inside them, and that my steady girlhood diet of the Little House on the Prairie books and the beautiful writings of Willa Cather had written a myth inside me about open spaces. He forgot that my mother (his ex-wife for God’s sake!) was raised on a chicken farm, that her uncle was a dairy farmer, that her other uncle was an accountant for the (then) booming Curles Neck Dairy outside Richmond, Virginia. He didn’t know (how could he have forgotten?) that Mother’s “people” had entertained us with hayrides and boiled sweet corn yanked right of the high-as-an-elephant’s-eye stalk. He’d overlooked the fact that some residue might still be in my blood. He didn’t know about my myth.

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I gave in to him. I let him be right. I was a hard-headed girl, but I didn’t want a family torn asunder over a summer adventure. Besides, deep inside, I knew it was a risky choice, and maybe it was easier to avoid the conflict and the risk at the same time. So, I went to U.Va. and resisted the learning that was spread out in front of me, until reading and literature gave me some peace. I discovered William Carlos Williams, thanks to a brilliant professor named Anne Fisher, and my sense of being an American began to express itself to me in new and exciting ways. She made us keep a journal. She uncovered my myth; in fact, it was she who called it that, and made me realize that it would give me power.

By the time I finished college, I didn’t want to go back to the Plains. Hell, I didn’t know what I wanted. Didn’t really know where to go from where I was, at all. (That happens a lot when you’re young, doesn’t it?) But I’d seen the grasses that looked like an ocean, and chatted with friendly cows from the road, and breathed in deep the smell of hogs (and liked it!), and visited farm families that fried up 2 dozen eggs at a time for breakfast (those boys had to eat!) and I knew that I would always love the idea of that place. That I’d always go there in my head.  I wanted to know America in all its nooks and crannies. My friends were trotting off to Europe to find themselves; I had no interest in that.

Of course, I live in Italy. Life is funny that way. I have no regrets. I have been filled up with wonder over and over and over again.

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Now, my dream is not to let plants die on my urban balcony. Now my dream is to get to our little house in France, every chance I get so that I can gaze upon the wheat fields that rise up behind us even if they don’t belong to us, and dirty my hands in the little plot that does. I content myself with my flower beds and my herb garden, which I try to whip into shape, if only seasonally. It’s funny how life doesn’t give you exactly what you wanted once-upon-a-time, but it does address the needs. It hears your heart. In wild circling motions it takes you far afield of what you had in mind, but gives you, I think, more.

This is partly, just partly, why I love reading two farm blogs in particular—The Kitchens Garden and Life on a Colorado Farm. I would read more (I love them), but two is what I have time for, and I’ve grown attached to their stories, their animals, their surroundings and the women who write them. They live my Road Not Taken. That’s why I’m inviting them (as guests of honor) and all of you to lunch today.

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Every choice we make is a process of elimination. For a woman who decides to put roots down right where she is, she’s making a choice not to globe-trot, but to go deeper. A man who leaves his native land far behind, is choosing, consciously, to let many things go so that he may encounter many things. If we live in the city, we give up the country. If we live in the country, it’s obvious what we don’t have. And there are probably many people, like me, who started out with one myth, only to have it layered over with many others. This building-up of hopes, dreams and selves creates our personal internal wealth, but it also causes pain sometimes.

The blogosphere helps soothe the discomfort of thinking about the Road(s) Not Taken or the Roads Traveled Long Ago. Many people dream of Italy. Many people come, but can’t stay. I didn’t dream of it, yet here I am. It had something else I dreamed of: Love. And when that myth starts becoming a reality, you perk up and pay attention and go where it leads. So today, the Italian lunch is on me. Put on the clothes that make you the happiest, and pull up a seat. We’ll talk of our many lives, and we’ll celebrate where we are right this minute.

I’m taking you to La Rimessa in Mariano Comense between Milan and Como. And since all our lives have been experimental journeys and every great meal is an experimental journey too, we’re having their innovative menu which I had the pleasure of “testing” two weekend’s ago. Everything about it surprised and humbled me:

• Calamari alla griglia ripieni di buseca con crema di patate allo zenzero (Grilled calamari stuffed with tripe, served over a cream of potato and ginger)

• Gnocchi di barbabietola crema all’erborinato di capra e scaglie di cioccolato al 99% (Beet gnocchi with gorgonzola of goat’s milk and shavings of 99% dark chocolate)

• Mondeghili di cinghiale con purea di patate e verza cappuccio viola (Meatballs of wild boar with puré of potato and violet savoy cabbage)

• Ice cream made from the milk of alpine cows and toasted sesame.

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17 Responses to Lunch with the farm girls

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    Thanks for lunch…it was delicious! I grew up in the 50s and 60s at the beach. I often wonder, as I drive up my mountain in Italy, how it happened that I spend a large chunk of my life in another country. I love it, of course…life can take us on strange journeys.

  2. Mary McKinley says:

    What a lunch! And the wines you chose were excellent, too.

    Seriously, this is one of the best pieces you’ve ever written and I can fully appreciate it, having many times found myself living in a new country (or, more recently, my own old country but feeling very foreign) and thinking, ‘what exactly am I doing here?’ I was just a little housewife from Ohio when I began to blossom in my late 30’s and followed the many possibilities I’d never dared to dream, eventually ending up with a passport so full of visas and stamps it had to have 10 extra pages inserted.

    And thank you for the link to Celi’s blog which has started my day faithfully for the last 2 years.

    Bisous,
    Mary

    • I forgot the wine!!! What was I thinking??? What’s lunch without wine? Oh well…by the looks of my punctuation etc. I drank the wine myself before writing the blog. I need to re-enlist Mom as copy-editor. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you’re up to bat on the next one.) Thanks for your presence here Mary. I was thinking also about you as I wrote…wondering, in fact, what it feels like to be back in the States.

  3. dayphoto says:

    I thank you so much for the lunch…you, my friend, are my trip to the world. Although, I really never had a destination in mind (as a young woman) I wanted so much to see Europe…to hear and smell and taste the old world. Of course, I really don’t travel. We head off for a salvage part now and again to some place like Nebraska, but really travel. Never. I find that I would be afraid to go…I need someone to lead me. I’m way to attached to the soil, right where I’m planted. But suddenly the internet has connected me to you and other delightful friends. Finally, I get to travel…unafraid and escorted. Because of you I search for books and magazines about Milan, so I can KNOW you better and SEE you there.

    I love this post, thank you for your mention of our tiny farm in the high mountain desert of western Colorado.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    • I have many several friends who have lived their whole life in one place, and I think that they have a whole other kind of richness from that experience. I have no regrets at all about the choices I’ve made, but I sometimes look at them and think they know something I don’t — a rootedness, for sure — a depth of knowledge about “place” — that I’ll never have. I also think that there’s great value in both the outsider and the insider experiences. So glad we’ve met and that we can share our perspectives in this way. Your photos today are stunning. That backdrop of mountains takes my breath away.

  4. teresa elliott says:

    My favorite one of all. You’re back.

  5. cecilia says:

    Oh how glorious, what a wondrous thing it would be to have lunch with you.. Just wondrous. Beautiful food. I am gathering some seeds for your balcony, I think as well as a few herbs you need wild rich scents to flow over the hot smell of traffic, esp now that i know you are not going to let the plants die (laugh!)

    And Maybe some wild flowers from your own prairie for the wee plot in france.

    Linda has always been one of my mothers here. She is so full of wonderful and generous advice. And she works so hard. Imagine if we could turn up on harvest days and give her a hand. I wish you both were not so far away

    Thank you so much for your kind words and remember, there is always room on this prairie for you..

    love your friend celi

    • It would be fun, wouldn’t it? I will do my best to do you proud with the seeds. You will have a good laugh I’m sure. If they die, I will give them a proper funeral and start again! I’d love to help with a harvest! (I wonder if I’d be a liability…trotting off early for a glass of wine?) Hmmm. So much fun to think about. There is room for you here, too. It’s only a sofa, but it works under a tired back.

      • cecilia says:

        I have all kinds of wine glass perches in the gardens and fields. All over the place- just for a glass of wine to sit out of the way of the dogs! I have every intention of getting back to europe after the next two family weddings, i am saving, So you never know!! c

  6. Annie vanderven says:

    I wonder if anyone who has left their country of origin to live in another country for whatever reason ever feels at home in either one. Have talked to many expats and we all have feelings of belonging to nowhere…. Dreams we follow when we are young do come at a price we did not imagine…..

  7. debbibaron says:

    Mince Alors! What a lunch and what a great post! It is hard sometimes to be a foreigner in a country to which one chose to move. Finding ones place is an adventure and an effort, but if lunch with the farm girls is like this, the effort is worth it! Thanks for this.

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