Tonite I wrote my mother’s obituary.
It’s funny, a few weeks ago, I tried to write an update on what was going on with the farm since the fire….even have a draft saved…but I couldn’t get into it. Seemed too depressing. The costs. The overwhelming prospect of building new barn. The overwhelming amount of work starting back from almost scratch. How ironic that seems now.
So instead, I’m writing about my mother, who passed away this past Monday, perhaps not suddenly…as her health had been declining for a while, but not expected either. We had hope she could get better still. But it was not to be. And God dammit! It just fucking sucks.
My mother wasn’t born to the farm. She was a city girl actually. Grew up in the big city of “Spokane, Wash.” Her father was a railroad man and her mother was a quintessential 50s housewife and loved everything new-fangled and shiny. Microwave? Gotta have it! Pre-canned food? A miracle! Her house was spotless an she hated dirt and dirty dirty icky outside things. (childhood game…want to make grandma scream hysterically and jump onto a chair??? yell “mouse!”).
So when my mother met my father, the quintessential farmer, rancher, all around independent, adventuring, small town guy. she was blown away. Okay, well…that happened eventually. Her first impression was something was wrong with him and she felt bad for him so agreed to go out on a date.
Dad calling mother for first date..
Father (speaking very very slowly): “Hello…..May I speak with Renee Widner.”
Mother: “This is Renee.”
Father: “Would you go out on a date with me?”
Father: “Thank you for agreeing. I will pick you up Saturday night.”
Father: No response, hangs up phone.
My mom said it sounded like he was reading from a script. Turns out he was. Dad was never very comfortable with phones, he had grown up with the “community line” phone system that involved having the operator connect you and about 12 other lines in the whole town. He still isn’t too comfortable with phones actually and he is likely to end a conversation with “okay” and then just hang up. Did it to me today actually.
Anyways, mom was charmed. She had never met “ANYONE like your father” she told me once. And so they married. And she moved to the farm and mom became a farmer’s wife.
She soon found out it was tough. Dad farmed when they first moved onto the family land in 1971. This was about when I was born and a year after my grandfather had died. Dad and his brother Steve took over the farm and tried a series of farming schemes, to not much success. They ran some cattle for a while. They tried a u-pick pea patch (tons of peas, no u-pickers). They grew grain and Dad said they grossed $50 an acre. Farming was tough. They had two inheritance tax bills from the passing of my grandfather and then his brother in 1970 and 71 and they thought they were gonna lose the entire farm, about 400 acres in that day and age. Then eventually, in 1979, they sold out all but the 20 acres around the family homestead (where Willowood Farm is today) to the U.S. Government and that was the formation of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. Well, it was a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the short and sweet version.
Anyways, I never thought to ask my mom if she resented living through all that. Signing on to be a farmers wife, it couldn’t have been easy. I know sometimes I think about my own husband, who signed on to be a “farmer’s husband.” And how much of my time, attention (and money) that has cost him over the years. Like my husband does, my mother worked off the farm (she was a school teacher and then librarian) and some years was the primary source of income. (Though we have always said my dad has saved us a million dollars, maybe more, over the years in repair and building stuff costs!).
I don’t think my mom resented it though. Not one bit. She loved the farm. She loved all the little animals we had even when they drove her crazy. I remember the time I came home from the local farmers market with one single duckling. We kept it in a box in the house and it cheeped ALL NIGHT LONG. The next morning my mother said, “call up that lady who you got that duckling from, we have to get another one!” And sure enough, two ducklings was what it took. Much happier (not cheeping) duckling was had. And then of course we had ducks!
She had a huge vegetable garden when I was young and I remember my very favorite thing was to wait til my dad had rototilled it all up and the dirt was nice and soft and then I would run and jump and FLOP into the dirt. Over and over again. Big FLOPS. She let me. (Even though her mother, my grandmother Janet, was NOT impressed…I can still hear her squealing when I would come into the house with dirt smushed into every orifice). But my mother let me.
My mother supported me in my endeavors in dairy 4H, even though she had no clue. Lol. But there she was hauling me around to 4H meetings, and shows and fairs. Helping me with public presentations, and public educational displays (she would always redo my handwriting because it was so bad! Lol). And making sure I remembered to feed my calves and take care of them.
When I was just newly married and moved back onto the farm, and started a little garden, it was my mother who first said “you have way too many vegetables Georgie, let’s start selling them at the farmer’s market!” So off she and I went to the tiny little Coupeville farmer’s market with our few boxes of lettuce and broccoli and a precious cauliflower and even some garlic. We sold everything and so the next year it was obvious…more! Plant more. That was how the Willowood Farm started for me, because my mother suggested it. For many years it was me and my mom at the market. She would even help me pick and weed. And I can remember, quite clearly, how her favorite thing to do when she got too hot was to take off her shirt and weed in her bra. I was so horrified! “Mom! The people up on the bluff can see you!” Her response: “Too bad! I’m hot!” I have to say, I have been known to do the same thing lately (especially in the greenhouse picking tomatoes in my hot pink bra! lol. Pretty sure I horrified at least one young 20 something employee. Ennhh. As mom said “Too bad! I’m hot!”).
My mother supported me in this crazy farming adventure. As she did my dad too. I’m grateful for that because I think most parents, when they looked at the financial reality of it, would have said “maybe just garden for a hobby honey!” But mom supported me, helped me every step of the way. Was somebody I could lean on for advice and that I knew would always be my number one cheerleader, no matter what. I know how lucky I am for having that, not every child has supportive parents like that.
So, in the end, you might wonder, why am I blogging about my mother, who was really not much of a farmer in the farmer sense (she once tried to sell a customer at the farmer’s market celery that she thought was ‘celeriac’ because somehow I had told her once about celeriac and even though I had actually grown CELERY somehow she thought my celery was celeriac….which as anybody who has every looked at celeriac knows, celery and celeriac don’t look ANYTHING alike. Lol). But I’m blogging about my mother because my farm is a FAMILY FARM. It’s been in our family for a long time. It exists because of my great-grandfather and great grandmother who started it, and my grandparents who carried it on, my father and mother for saving at the 20 acres we were able to keep in our hands and then certainly, my mother, for never saying “this is insane, you’re never gonna make ANY money.” Because farms need people who are willing to farm them, despite all the trouble and stress they bring. And that includes spouses who support their farming husbands (and wives!). My mom was one of those. A farmer’s wife.
And she loved the farm. The day before she died I visited her in the hospital that we hoped could get her better at. She said to me “Okay Georgie, get me up, I want to go to the farm.” I only wish I had done so.
I’m so sorry Mom. I love you. I miss you. The farm misses you. It won’t be the same without you.
Farmer Georgie, Willowood Farm