We actually made it all the way from LAX to Minneapolis without a hitch. (Of course if you consider the luggage not fitting in the trunk of the rented convertible, squeezing what is commonly referred to as a “carry-on” between the two people lucky enough to get to ride in the back not a “hitch”, then, you are a seasoned traveler. And of course would have never rented a convertible in the first place.)
The short drive from Minneapolis to St. Peter was the first culture shock. No stucco or smog or drive-through restaurants controlled our view. It was just GREEN. Green meadows, trees and vast farmland. I never knew that green came in the shades I had only previously seen in Samantha’s ever growing Crayola crayon collection.
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We stopped at a “52 Varieties of Apples” restaurant and were served by a young, friendly waiter. The employee at the bakery counter offered a free piece of candy to Samantha if she would stop crying for macaroni and cheese. When we arrived at our hotel, more sincerely congenial employees greeted us. The pharmacist at the drug store offered to answer any questions I could dream up. The antique storeowners were interested in our impressions of Minnesota. All to soon it seemed that every one we came in contact with was just so darn, not from LA, nice. It was the first, of several, culture shocks to come.
We met Grandma Ellen at her nursing home and were pleasantly assured to find her well cared for, happy and comfortable. Samantha was sweetly hug-able as she went from one “grandparent” to another asking about the birds and fish that the facility kept on Grandma’s floor to entertain their residents and guests.
We quickly noted that Grandma would not have enjoyed being strapped to the hood of the rental car so Sam and I set off on foot and met them later for more meals and shopping. When Aunt Kristie arrived by car the next day we could then plan our road trip to several cemeteries and the FARM.
I wasn’t real big on the cemetery tour. Eddie, who has a family tree that covers one wall in our home, was. He explained that he was related to almost everyone in every cemetery we visited. Some of the graves, like the farm we were soon to visit, went back about 200 years. When Samantha found a stray red carnation and knelt to place it on her family member’s grave I knew a Kodak moment had arrived. I finally began to read some of the headstones, taking some small pleasure whenever I could remove caked mud or grass over a name. Two hundred years ago one spouse was enough so the engraved names “Mutter” and “Vater” were too. Children’s headstones, always hard to take at our own Eternal Valley, were even more so as I searched for children that had lived for more than just a year, month or day. When placed alongside parents that had lived to the ripe age of twenty or twenty-five it became increasingly gut wrenching. I found myself explaining the discovery of penicillin to Samantha.
The next day was the farm. Great Aunt Grace’s age was comfortably nestled somewhere between eighty and ninety. It was tough to tell. Here was a woman that gets up every morning at two AM to pasteurize the milk from her own cows. As I watched her set the table for the huge crowd that had descended upon her for lunch I wondered how she managed it all. But then I noticed that every time someone told a story or joke her laughter would bubble up first from her abdomen, up through her chest to finally escape, practically gurgling, through her parted lips. Her laughter was a sight to see and remember. And from what I’ve read about laughter and healing I figure she’ll be pasteurizing that milk well into her nineties and beyond.
Her two grown sons, Len and Brian, worked equally tireless hours. They seemed to have the same amount of welled up humor as Grace. After we got used to each other, which was probably quite the entertainment for them I’m sure, I was able to learn a few things. Here’s Eve of Destruction’s top ten list of things you should know before venturing into our great farmlands.
1. There are more flies on a cow farm than we could ever find near Porta Bella.
2. Fly bites don’t itch unless you shoo them away too soon before they bite deep enough to make you bleed.
3. Pouring milk back and forth doesn’t mix it well enough for butter/cream lumps to be undetected by a city girl.
4. Well water DOES taste differently than Evian.
5. It’s a better financial gain to sell a cow that annoys you rather than to milk it.
6. A house built in the 1800’s can stand up to Martha Stewart better than one built in Valencia last week.
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7. You can tell good beef before it’s butchered but it’s more reliable to see it after.
8. A red barn (that you can see through) can stand up, tilted, for hundreds of years.
9. Arrowheads and “scrapers” are real treasures to find near your farm.
10. A duck call is the perfect gift to send home with a city gal’s six-year-old daughter.
But seriously folks, farming, without a big conglomerate shooing your flies away for you, is HARD work. These people would have left me in jaw-opened wonder all through our visit if it hadn’t been for the fear of the flies biting the inside of my mouth. I still cannot believe that people do live by reaping what they sow. It may sound basic but I’ve never seen anyone work harder or longer in my life. And I don’t think I ever will. But I can certainly appreciate and applaud them.
Finally we had to say a tearful goodbye to Grandma Ellen, St. Peter, the farm and all the friendly people as we headed back to Minneapolis for one day at the Mall of America. The best part in the mall for Sam was the cool, INDOOR, Camp Snoopy amusement park. Ed and his mom enjoyed the three-tiered shopping mall. I had an especially pleasant time with Ed’s Great Cousin Mary and her husband Brandt. She had left the farm when she married, although one of her three boys could always be counted on when extra help was needed.
Mary and Brandt refused to let us pay for the ritzy lunch we enjoyed and for the Mexican dinner we voted for a few hours later. After dinner we toured their one hundred-year-old home and while the homemade rhubarb pie quickly relaxed Ed and Barb (they had to have some form of this sugared red celery every day of our trip), I showed Mary’s family the web site for The Mighty Signal. They promised that they would expect us to take care of them just as well if/when they ever visit. So, if they come, Santa Clarita beware! We have to be extra nice because these people were extra nice to the most caustic of us all.