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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.