Urban Country Girl

“You live in the city NOW?” the fifteen-year-old Amish girl asked. We were standing in the cow stable. “You used to live on this farm and you moved to the city?” The bemusement on her face registered with me.

Her younger sisters had just asked me which bedroom had been mine. The one next to the bathroom, I told her, with the one window, facing the barn. The sisters exchanged looks of recognition.

It was Saturday afternoon, and my children and I, along with my mother, had been driving back from a Miller family event. I said to my children, “We’ll be passing the place where I grew up. I’ll point it out to you.”

At my mother’s urging, I turned the car onto the lane I’d driven down countless times. I turned off at the corner field lane to make room for a wagon load of hay to pass by, and then eased the car along to where Moses, the current owner of my family’s home farm and my childhood home, was walking barefoot along the lane. He greeted my mother by name, and then recognized me, mentioning a few of the childhood memories I’d written about in my essay my parents had given him to read, “Gone from Here.”

His daughter Linda went inside to get her mother, Priscilla, who invited us to come and see the puppies in the barn. I said something like, “It’s so good to see this place so well-used, so full of life, so well cared for.”

“Well, we like it here,” Priscilla replied, sliding open the door to the cow stable so we could all file inside. Walking through the cow stable, behind the barefoot girls, I tried to take as much of it in as I could. Some things looked the same, many changed, since this farm had belonged to my parents. My own body had aged, my step grown heavier, my hair gone grey.

Puppies were squealed over, held, and hugged. I took my turn holding one, taking time to bury my nose in her fur, smelling that milky puppy smell that took me back to my own childhood.

We didn’t want to overstay our welcome. My mother walked ahead, talking with Priscilla, a greying, energetic Amish woman with a beautiful, work-worn face.

I addressed the three girls’ quizzical expressions. “Yes, you would think the contrast between a farm and the city would be difficult. But I think what would be harder for me would be living in one of those suburban developments where all the houses are brand new and people drive everywhere, and keep to themselves. Where we live, the buildings are old, there is a lot of history. Sometimes when people think of a city, they think of the tallest buildings. But really, Philadelphia is a collection of neighborhoods, with lots more trees than you might think of when you picture a city.”

My older daughter added, “When you look out the window of our house, on third floor, you only see trees.”

Back in the yard, my mother admired the bright flowers and well-kept garden beds. Priscilla said they are preparing for a big family reunion with her side of the family. The event is planned for the following Saturday. They expect several busloads. If everyone came, there would be 600 people! “But we don’t know if everyone is coming.” she added.

It was on this remarkable note that we wrenched the puppy from the arms of my sad four-year-old, and prepared to depart. But not before I was turned down on my offer to pay for the bag of green beans, selling for 2 dollars a bag. “I believe in supporting family businesses,” I said.

“Well, let me support your dream, maybe to some day get back to a farm,” Priscilla’s words touched me. I cannot imagine that being our future at this point, but I love that she said it. It shows that she cares enough to want what she considers a good landing for someone she does not know well.

Back home in Philadelphia, in our small, third-floor dwelling, where no full-size farm kitchen waits for me, I will gratefully cook up these green beans, grown on the land where my family has roots, and picked by the competent, hard-working hands of a kind Amish woman named Priscilla.

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