I am a country girl. Not country in the sense that most folks use it. “City folks” consider anything outside of their own concrete jungles to be country. I don’t use country that way. I’m country in the true sense of the word. I’m talking dirt road walking, barn raising, tobacco farming, tractor riding COUNTRY girl. I’m country as HELL. And I’m damn proud of it.
In my early 20s, I did everything I could to distance myself from the stigma of being country. When folks found out where I come from, I could detect the tilt their city bred noses assume as they ATTEMPTED to look down on me and my sad country self. So I stopped telling folks just HOW country I was. I started saying that I was from the..ahem…OUTER suburbs. Each passing year though, something happened inside me. As I started seeing how messy most of the folks I came into contact with were who were “citified”, I finally saw that they were NO better than me, in fact I started feeling sorry for them. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I feel I turned into a pretty awesome person. I like to hold my country upbringing responsible for that.
My paternal grandfather owned several tobacco farms in Southern Maryland. He ran the farm with his six sons and some hired help. As his children grew older, he would endow them with their own parcel of land that he divvied up from his farm. His two oldest sons, my father and my uncle R got two prime pieces of land on the hill overlooking his own house. Our house sits on 4 acres or so, as does my uncles. Growing up, my cousins and I NEVER wanted for something to do. We had each other, we had the farm and we had our imaginations. For a country kid, that’s pretty much all that is needed. Between my house and my uncle’s house there was a strawberry patch. On my way to round up my favorite cousin Y to play, I’d grab a handful of strawberries, not bothering to wash them off but stuffing my face with their warm sweetness. I’d arrive at her door, where her mom would greet me and offer me something cool to drink. I’d sit at the table with some Kool Aid and my strawberries and wait for my cousin. The scenario played out the same way when she came to get me. We just switched places.
Every day in the summer was an adventure. The farm was surrounded by woods. Back then, it was safe for kids to go wandering off in the woods to go exploring. Looking back, I think we were kind nasty in that we didn’t pay much attention to what we put in our mouths. We’d gather wild blackberries that grew at the edge of the wood. We’d pick the delicate honeysuckles off their branches. When we were thirsty, we’d kneel on the ground and drink directly from a fresh spring that ran through the woods. We had the best hide and seek sessions in those woods-my cousins, my sister and brother, any other neighborhood kids we could round up and I. IT WAS WONDERFUL. When the tobacco plants were high, we’d often play hide in seek amongst them (unbeknowingst to my grandfather who would’ve gone smooth off). I actually loved when they were harvesting the plants. Then, we’d get to ride the tractors sometimes if it wasn’t too busy and if it was, my grandparents were too busy to watch us so we could do whatever we wanted. My mother’s family is decidedly more middle class suburban than my dad’s. My cousins on that side LOVED coming to our house. There was always something fun to do and oftentimes I found myself gaining a new appreciation for my life after seeing it through their eyes.
Although now, I’m fully acclimated to living “in the city”, so much so that I can’t imagine going back to the impregnable silence and stillness of the country, at times I really miss it. I miss the freshness and the greenness of it. I miss being able to play outside until late, falling down the side of our hill while trying to catch lightning bugs in mason jars- mason jars that were used for canning, as well as for filling with ice water to bring to my grandfather. I miss it all. I miss casually grabbing a huge sweet tomato from my Granny’s garden, sprinkling it with a little salt and sitting out on the swingset sharing it with my cousin. I miss the feeling of my hands in the dirt, as they often were when I helped my mother or grandmother plant beautiful gardens. I miss laying on the ground and trying to count the stars at night, the sound of crickets. I miss wanting to finish my homework quickly so that I could go out and play. I miss pretending to be sick so that I could spend all day with my Granny, watching her , always bustling about and busy busy busy. I miss getting off the bus and seeing my grandfather’s pick up truck and being treated to a ride to the country store where he always got me a square lollipop and maybe a bag of chips. I REALLY miss my grandmother’s LEGENDARY 4th of July parties where the barns were FILLED with long tables of food, and HUNDREDS…HUNDREDS of people (all family) roamed around the property with smiling faces, full plates and warm hearts. I loved that.
Now everything has changed. The fields are empty. My childhood home and my uncles home have been joined by two more houses built by my aunts and another rental house that my dad owns. The wooded area is considerable smaller as subdivisions are springing up all over the place. The call it growth. I beg to differ. My grandfather is gone now, having passed when I was in the 11th grade. I have nothing but wonderful memories of him. One of my favorite pictures of myself is of my cousin and I sitting on his knee with our matching doll babies. We looked a HOT MESS, but you couldn’t measure our smiles with a ruler. My mother is gone, having passed away three years ago. Everything is different now. Well, most everything. One of my cousins has started his house on the “compound”. His father owns a construction company so on weekends, its a family project to bring up the house. When I visit on the weekends, my Granny who is still busy busy busy can be found frying up chicken, and making a big meal for “the boys” to eat while they are working on the house. Its coming up fast and its huge and its beautiful. Just like my family.
Nowadays, when folks ask me where I’m from, I beam with pride. I am from the country. YES, this intelligent, well versed, versatile, “articulate”, talented cutie spent her childhood running barefoot through tobacco fields, playing hide and seek in barns and drinking water not from bottles or taps, but right from the ground. And you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way even if I could!