Saturday, January 7, 2017

A New Year at Harrison Farm

On New Year's Eve, it seemed that every little thing that could go wrong did.  Nothing was catastrophic, but nothing went smoothly.  The animals wanted my full attention, and thus endeavored to create every scenario possible to keep me in the barn.  I finally ducked out to get to the post office before it closed at 10:30 . . . And walked in as the counter officially shut down.  This meant a detour to another post office -- but first a trip to the feed mill.  In an effort to be on time to the post office, I had left my feed sacks for filling at home, and therefore had to purchase new ones.  And then it turned out that part of what I needed was not ready, and so a second trip would have to be made back to the feed mill later that day.  The weather was gray & depressing, I was fighting a headache, I got stuck on an hour & a half customer service call, and by 8pm I was in my garage still trying to prepare hides for tanning.  There is only so long a hide is fresh and can be salted, and so I absolutely had to finish that task even though it was New Year's Eve.  It is a whole new level of partying when you find yourself on your knees in a cold garage scraping flesh off hides on New Year's Eve!  I will admit that my attitude was more than a little cross at that point, and then I made the decision that I needed to change my perspective on the day.

My lengthy customer service conversation that afternoon had been with a representative to renew the domain name for  It expired on New Year's Eve -- which I had known for three weeks but did not focus on until I realized the date had "suddenly" arrived.  Just my luck: the customer service rep was named Matt.  We spent a LOT of time waiting for computer screens to process information, and thus Customer Service Matt learned a great deal about goats and about the Matt who broke my heart.  On New Year's Eve 2015, my Matt -- the man who I had loved with my whole heart -- had asked to come out to the farm that evening.  Because I am a decided romantic, I bought some very nice filets and cooked quite an outstanding dinner.  After all, if a gentleman asks to see a lady on New Year's Eve, it must be a date.  I adored Matt with all my heart, and happily welcomed him to my home that night, with the unrelenting hope that we could restore our relationship.  He heartily ate the meal, and then it slowly dawned on me that he only wanted access to my home to get the rest of his belongings.  Rather a heartbreaking situation for those meager remnants of my already shattered heart.  I told the story to Customer Service Matt when he asked about my New Year's plans.  I observed that even being on a lengthy call was better than my previous year, and then he got the full story when he inquired why.  I made Customer Service Matt promise he would never behave like Matt who broke my heart.

So there I was in my Carhartt overalls that evening, scraping flesh off a hide, and trying to improve my perspective about my world.  The hide was being prepared to tan and then market as part of my expanding farm business.  This was part of my effort to honor my animals by using every part of their body that I could to support the farm.  That concept is part of my belief that every animal on the farm must contribute: some contribute by being parents, some by being guardians, some by being companions, and some by being meat.  The farm I love can only be a working farm if every creature on it -- including me -- contributes to it.  And that farm is growing because of my long hours working on it, and because of the stubborn attitude that keeps me going even when others would quit.  Slowly that night, I began to adjust my perspective to understand that even a simple messy task at an inconvenient time could be an emblem of success.

2015 was the most painful time of my life.  The second half of that year brought so many unimaginable challenges.  The analogy occurred to me just recently that I had functioned like a shell-shocked soldier for much of 2015.  I just could not fathom the crises that kept raining down on me, as they followed so closely on the heels of the very happiest time of my life.  I had loved Matt completely, I was decidedly happy working at his family's farm, and I could not wait for the future which we were planning.  And then everything fell apart.  Everything.  And I could barely function from being repeatedly worn down.  A broken relationship, deaths, the robbery of my home, unexpected job transitions, my health issues, severe financial struggles, rejection by extended family members . . . I looked onto my own life like a soldier in the trenches of the Great War who could not get a grip on the destruction around him.

My greatest accomplishment in the first quarter of 2016 was that I did not kill myself.  No one intends for "suicidal" to be an adjective that applies to them.  I cannot fault myself for my struggles, as my entire world was crashing down around me.  My job had unexpectedly ended, and so I was home all day in a drafty farmhouse with a furnace that kept malfunctioning.  My grandmother's belongings from her retirement home were in boxes overtaking the dining room and living room.  I was in a chaotic house where my mother had lived, where my grandparents had lived, and where my great-grandparents had lived . . . And like the Last of the Mohicans, I was the only one left.  I viewed myself as a colossal failure to the dreams of my ancestors, as I sat miserably in a house swirling with their memories.  I had no money, I had no job, and I was terrified of having another seizure.  I had gone off of my anti-seizure medication as Matt & I intended to start a family as soon as we married -- and now there would be no marriage, no children, and no Matt.  There I sat in a house that felt like my tomb, and struggled to find any reasons to keep going.

Even if I could not see it then, I had many things that kept me going.  There have been people in my world who teased me about my devotion to my family, but those ancestors handed down to me their toughness, their discipline, and a hearty dose of the notorious Harrison stubborn streak.  So I just kept going.  There have been people in my world who teased me about my love of animals, but those animals gave me a reason to literally get out of bed every morning.  There have been people who teased me about the value I put on relationships, but those friends kept checking on me & loving me even when I was at my worst.  I did lose some people when my world became so difficult, however, I can no longer regret their absence.  After my dark months, I know that the friends who stood by me are the truest friends that a person could ever imagine.  I did not want to let down my family, I did not want to let down my animals, and I did not want to let down my friends.  So I just kept going, and now I am decidedly proud of myself for that.

We are doing things at Harrison Farm that I could never have imagined a year ago.  We tan hides.  We have a successful egg business.  We make delicious lamb sausages.  We have an internship program that includes Friday Fun Day.  We are a real LLC.  We exhibit our Chimeara line of etchings & jewelry inspired by animals at local shows.  We do event planning work for weddings, and non-profits events, and political fundraisers. We have an ad in our church bulletin.  We are building a website.  We were in Edible Columbus.  We host amazing goat yoga classes and Open Farm events.  I use the term "we" because I know keenly that the farm would not be here -- and I would not be here -- if not for the good friends who support me.  This farm is not just about me, it is about every single person who kept me going to get to this day.  And today in particular is the very first day that I awoke in the farmhouse that I now own, on the farm that I now own.  Perhaps the biggest change in my world is that I now legally own the land which my ancestors originally purchased in 1927.  I blissfully own it, but I will never lose sight of the fact that this miracle only happened because of everyone who gave me a reason to get to this day.

On New Year's Eve I changed my perspective.  I finished my work, put on one of my ridiculous miniskirts & mad bomber hats, swung by the feed mill to pick up the rest of my order on their dock (yep, me throwing fifty pound sacks of feed in a miniskirt is impressive), and then went to a friend's house to enjoy the last couple hours of 2016.  Another miracle of my world besides my loyal long-time friends, is the new friends who have enriched my world in the past year.  The rest of New Year's Eve, and then a brunch on New Year's Day, were spent with friends who became a very big part of my heart in 2016.  Any time I start to feel down about my world, I think about my friends -- and I know that I am the luckiest person in the world.

Through those dark days a year ago, I clung to the lessons of my family.  The integrity my mother instilled in me, the honesty which my grandmother emphasized to me, and the loyalty my grandfather displayed.  I thought so much about Monnie Harrison: home alone, with a fire about to destroy her home, using every ounce of her strength to push her piano out of the conflagration.  I tell that story to every young person who works for me, with the admonition that you never know how strong you are until you are required to be.  That piano is now legally mine, and I believe in my own way I finally showed myself tough enough to be its owner.  How remarkable and how foolish in the face of peril to save a beloved piano from a house fire.  How remarkable and how foolish in the face of peril to risk everything to preserve a family farm.  There have been many people who did not believe in me, but somehow my friends did so even at the times that I did not.  For the first time in my life, I truly feel worthy to be the daughter of Rebecca, to be the granddaughter of Virgil, to be the great-granddaughter of Monnie.

Dulcius ex asperis.  Sweeter after difficulty.

No comments:

Post a Comment