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Monday, June 26, 2017

The gathering place

The Accidental Farmwife
Our farm is a gathering place
By Diana Fisher
The farm is a retreat for city people. It’s a place to try out your new rubber boots, go for a hike in the forest and get back to nature by feeding a cow an apple. At our farm on any given Sunday you can fill your belly with home cooked food and nourish your soul with good conversation and the love of family and friends.

When we first started hosting family dinners on Sunday we made it sort of a command performance for our girls. It was a “be there or be square” kind of a thing. They had to have a really good reason not to attend. As they got older and had work commitments we occasionally had to excuse one or another of them but at they also started to bring boyfriends home around the same time. Our gathering grew in number. Our musical daughter brought starving musicians home to dinner. Well, they likely weren’t starving but they did appreciate a good home cooked meal. And to be honest, most of them were pretty thin. And vegetarian. And you know what they say – “don’t feed the musicians” – we joked that they kept coming back for the free food but we were the real winners in that deal. Many Sunday sunsets were accompanied by acoustic guitar singalongs on the back porch, with multiple harmonies.

I remember thinking we were really lucky that our family wanted to spend each Sunday with us. The Farmer is a creative, experimental cook and other guests bring special contributions to the meal. No one leaves hungry. But I think it is far more than the food and good company that motivates family members young and old to make the trek out to the O’Neill Road at the end of each week and the start of the next. I think it’s the farm.

If we lived in a small bungalow on a street in town, there wouldn’t be the same draw. The farm has an appeal all of its own. People don’t just come to see us and to eat our food. They come to see the farm. They come to smell the honeysuckle on the fresh, sweet air. They come to hear the geese honking their way up the creek at dusk. They come to watch the cattle return to the barnyard, single file on a crooked diagonal path across the pasture, mooing in unison.

I do believe we get a bigger crowd when they know the baby will be here. But like everything else on the farm, she brings you down to earth, demands your undivided attention and helps you to appreciate the simple things in life.

The Farmer and I were married on the farm ten summers ago, and we host a big farm party every year, in addition to our weekly dinners that average 18 guests and our Easter and Thanksgiving gatherings that top out around 43. We have accumulated the trappings of hospitality that make these events easier. He built a three-season room that accommodates a sixteen-seater picnic table made by his uncle Bob. We have been gifted serving trays and utensils, extra place settings, dishes, glasses and mugs as well as chafing dishes (I didn’t even know that was a warming plate before I met this man). We have the extra folding tables and chairs, eight table cloths, 24 cloth napkins and cutlery for 45.
But still I don’t think it’s the fact that we are set up for this sort of thing that makes people gravitate to the farm for their special occasions. This weekend we celebrated the lives of two very special women on the farm. My uncle came from Florida and his late wife’s family came from Calgary, Quebec and Toronto to celebrate her life in a memorial service. He wanted to have it on the farm because he knew it would be comfortable, casual and meaningful. He knew this because he had attended a memorial service for his brother on our farm two years ago.

We also celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday on the farm this weekend. We had about ten people more than we expected but we were able to accommodate them with a bit of shifting and adjusting. Lorna’s short term memory is deteriorating and the crowds confuse her but she seemed to understand what was going on and appreciated the festivities. She even had a piece of cake, which she is allowing herself to do a lot more often these days.

She understands that life is too short to pass up cake on a special occasion. Or to miss another gathering at the farm. 

A full house on the farm

My daughter Anastasia needed a place to stay between houses. We agreed that she should move in to the farm for a week. That was great news, because it meant I would get to see my granddaughter quite a bit. Unfortunately it also meant I would be seeing and hearing more of Annie’s German Pointer, Skor.

Skor is a beautiful dog. He is a sweet, energetic and fun-loving three year old. But he has a bad case of nerves. He is constantly jumping up on things including people, the furniture, parked cars and the door to the house. Within a few hours of being at the farm, Skor had scratched the front door beyond repair, busted a doorway through the wooden lattice work under the porch and formed a path through the three-foot-tall flowers in the front bed. Annie said she would repair whatever Skor wrecked. It’s a good thing she is only staying a week because I don’t think she could afford any more damage.

Our pup Fergus loves having Skor and his considerably better behaved brother Rupert the Yellow Lab on the farm. Rupert puts up with Fergus bobbing up and down under his chin, nipping at his jowls and his ears. The bigger dog even teases the pup and engages him in play. Fergus is in heaven.
One day Annie needed someone to watch the baby. Of course I volunteered. Leti and I were having a great day together, splashing in the pool and playing with her Barbie and pony collection. Then I noticed Fergus was missing. He had wriggled under the snow fence that I had strapped to the bottom of the barnyard fence. He was standing on the rock pile on the cattle side of the fence, challenging a groundhog he had discovered within. I called him to come back but he ignored me. I picked up my 18-month-old granddaughter and started toward him. He’s a smart dog, and he knows he isn’t supposed to be in the barnyard, where he could be harmed by a bull or over-protective cow. I approached him carefully. The trick is to catch up to him before he notices and starts running in the opposite direction. That’s when I saw the coyote.

Not much bigger than Fergus, the young coyote was bounding along the fencerow toward my little dog. He appeared to want to play, but my instincts told me to get Fergus out of there. I picked up the pace, Leti bouncing and giggling along on my hip. I waved my free arm at the coyote and made as much noise as possible, hooting and hollering. Leti helped. That seemed to scare him, because he turned tail and ran back in the direction from which he had come. Then I bent down and scooped up my gangly and awkward Golden Retriever pup. A dog on one hip and a toddler on the other, I turned and headed back to the house. It must have been quite a picture. Fergus was all wiggly and squirmy in my arms. He wanted to be released so he could go back to investigating groundhog hill. Leti kept trying to reach around and stick her fingers in Fergus’ mouth. I tried to keep them separate while walking as fast as physically possible, back out of the barnyard and across the lawn to the house.
It’s possible that the coyote thought Fergus was one of his kind and just wanted to play, but I wasn’t taking any chances. For the next two days my back ached from the effort of carrying nearly fifty pounds of human and fur baby while running across a rocky pasture.

The Farmer was less than enthusiastic when he learned we would have houseguests – some of them with four legs. We kept the dogs in the basement or out on the porch when the Farmer was around – no use in poking the bear.

On their second night with us, the baby wasn’t feeling well. Fever kept her up most of the night and so no one got more than a couple hours sleep. In the morning, Skor tested our bedroom door and found it to be unlocked. He bounded up onto the bed and licked the Farmer right across the face. That day my husband packed up his fishing equipment and took off to the lake with a few of his closest two-legged friends. The only full house he wants to see in the next week is in a card game.

The magical power of Dad

Fathers, do not underestimate your power. You have the ability to influence a young life without saying a word. Your child will be watching your every move – studying your facial expressions and second guessing everything you say, searching for hidden meaning. You are the number one man in your child’s life at the beginning and although someone may someday take your place, those formative years are extremely important.

Your son will shape his own identity in large part by studying yours. He will try on your expressions, your habits and mannerisms to see which ones fit and which do not. Some things he will consciously try to mimic and other things will just happen organically, as a magical product of genetics. He may walk like you, but will he share your weaknesses as well as your strengths?  Your relationship will heavily influence whether your son matures into a man of character or whether he struggles with personal failings all his life. There will of course be myriad other factors shaping your son’s future, but they don’t diminish the power of your influence.

You can’t determine every aspect of your child’s future by your own behavior. But it is extremely important to watch not only what you model in front of your child, but also what comes out of your mouth.

The relationship between a father and daughter is a particularly special and powerful one. The way you relate to her will help her to define her feeling of self-worth. Now if that isn’t a heavy load to bear, I don’t know what is. I remember carefully examining everything my father said to me in terms of my looks, my dress, my intelligence and my talent. He helped me to grow into a confident, self-assured young woman, but he also provided a very realistic perspective on where my challenges lie. A high school science teacher for over thirty years, he told me, “you are smart in ways that will get you nowhere in the world.” That was when I won top marks for English. I took it as a compliment but I got the message. He just didn’t put the same value on writing ability as he did on math or science.
He also treated my sister differently than he treated me. I’ll never forget looking out the window and seeing him teaching her something about the car. They were huddled together out there, under the open hood. When I asked him later why he didn’t show me too, he said something like, “well Cathy likes to learn how to do things on her own.” That one left me puzzled for a while.

Dad didn’t say it often, but I knew he loved me. I knew this because he looked forward to the time we spent together after school and seemed disappointed when my part-time job wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore. He joked about my boyfriends but I always knew he cared. He teased me regularly about my hairstyles and wardrobe choices but in reality he was saying “I see you.” That is all that really mattered. My mother, sister and I were never left wishing he told us he loved us. He did that every day, by making us laugh, and giving us his time and attention. My mom said Dad told her “I love you” on their wedding day and “If it changes,” he said, “I’ll let you know.” He was a man who chose his words carefully.

A Dad not only has the power to change the way his daughter sees herself – he can also shape her choice in a future male partner. It is only natural that we will choose someone who seems familiar. Someone who reminds us of Dad. We do this without even knowing it and often don’t realize it until something happens that makes the similarity obvious. What kind of man will your daughter be choosing for herself, even subconsciously? Are you teaching her that men are strong but sensitive, kind and generous? Or will she be drawn to someone who reminds her of you but isn’t necessarily the best choice in a life partner?

On this Father’s Day, as the daughter of a man who made me feel treasured, loved and cherished (without words), I ask you to carefully consider the influence you are having on your child’s life.