Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Ever since my childhood, I adored Margaret Thatcher. As a girl growing up in the 1980s, it was fantastic to watch the evening news and see a woman who was a world leader. My grandfather was a staunch Republican; his support for Reagan & Thatcher -- and his opposition to communism -- was a major influence on me. When I learned that Margaret Thatcher and I shared a birthday (10/13), it further cemented my view that we were kindred spirits. The death of Baroness Thatcher feels like a closing of my childhood, now that Reagan, John Paul II, and Thatcher have all passed on.
At the beginning of April, I had the pleasure of attending one of the meetings of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Board. It has been an honor to represent Delaware, Franklin, Madison, and Union Counties, and now that I am in my second year I have gained a greater understanding of the operations of this board. Amongst the many reports that came before the board at this session was a discussion of recommendations for the evolution of American Farm Bureau as an organization. At a recent conference of Young Farmers & Ranchers, one of the top recommendations that emerged to streamline the organization was to discontinue the Women's Committee of American Farm Bureau.
Over lunch that day, discussion on this suggestion ensued. Many gentlemen were surprised that young people would advocate for removing the potential leadership opportunities that women would have through this special committee. During that discussion (only days before the Baroness would pass), it was Margaret Thatcher whose name I brought up. As younger farmer -- and being in the unique position of being one of four women who serve as district trustees for the 22 Ohio Farm Bureau districts -- I have a different perspective on potential leadership roles. Having grown up at a time when I routinely saw a female Prime Minister of Great Britain, I did not learn as a young person that there were any limitations to what a woman could achieve if she put her mind to it. While I applaud the good work of the Women's Committee of American Farm Bureau, I am seeking equality of opportunity to serve as a leader. Not equality of outcome, but of opportunity -- the ability to achieve as an individual, not based upon gender. Women & men both serve as farmers, as business people, as professionals. This is based upon personal success, and should be driven neither by bias against nor for one gender over another.
When Baroness Thatcher passed just days later, I was intrigued to reflect on this conversation. As we live our lives, we never know how far-reaching our impact can be. I am sure that during her career in Parliament, Baroness Thatcher could never have imagined the devotion with which a little farm girl in Ohio was following her achievements. The Saturday after she passed was April 13th -- our half birthday. In her honor, we held an "Iron Lady Party" at the farm. I invited my closest local friends, who are truly an accomplished, remarkable group of women. We dressed up in honor of the Baroness, grilled meats, drank wine, and smoked cigars. It was a diverse group of women (not all of whom had met before), but the conversation flowed freely -- from history to women's issues to funny stories.
My friends inspire me with their activities and accomplishments. As I looked around the table that night, I was amazed by everything that had been achieved by this group of women. As unique as each of those ladies is, they are all driven by the belief that they can succeed in their chosen realm. In this, Thatcher was a role model. She did not expect to be limited by her gender, nor receive benefits because of it. Thatcher showed us that a woman can achieve success in her chosen field, and still be a lady. My favourite Thatcher quote: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." Amen.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
As the leader of the noble goat herd of Harrison Farm, Doody the Goat is viewed by his fellow goats as the wise elder. Thus, it is time for Doody to issue his official political endorsements. While I have had the opportunity to meet many political candidates, Doody limits his endorsements to those that he knows well -- or to those situations in which a goatherd would have a unique perspective.
For the state legislature, Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse Michael Stinziano(D) and Anne Gonzales(R). While Representative Stinziano hails from a largely urban Columbus district, he has made a concerted effort to reach out to the farm community to better understand the connections between farmers & consumers. Representative Stinziano has attended Farm Bureau events, supported Extension activities, and even went for a ride in a combine when he toured Weber Farms with our favorite Hay Farmer! Likewise, Representative Gonzales has worked to educate herself on farm issues. Her district is centered around Westerville, where she served on city council prior to winning election to the state legislature. Representative Gonzales impressed me during her campaign for the legislature with her interest in the farm community, and we spent a fun day together at the Franklin County Fair discussing agriculture issues. From my personal interactions with these two leaders, I am delighted to encourage their re-election!
For United States Congress, Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse Steve Stivers(R). Congressman Stivers has served his country in the military, in the state legislature, and now in the U.S. House of Representatives. I first met him through Farm Bureau events, and have found him to be an intelligent, dedicated, citizen-legislator. Congressman Stivers & his staffers have worked hard to learn about agricultural issues and to form bonds with rural constituents. Congressman Stivers is a quality person and dedicated family man. I can attest that he truly cares about his constituents as people -- not just as potential voters. It impresses me that Congressman Stivers remembers faces & names, and is glad to visit farms to learn the full impact of policy issues on agriculture. For those voters in the new district that Steve Stivers is running to represent, I would strongly encourage supporting his re-election!
Doody the Goat is against Issue 2. In Ohio, Issue 2 is a ballot proposal that would create a board charged with re-districting for representation. Issue 2 would take this power away from the state legislature, which has traditionally overseen re-districting. While it is true that the current scenario allows the political party in power to draw lines that benefit their party, this party has been selected by voters of the state and thus charged with such a responsibility. I do not believe that the proposal offered by Issue 2 meets the burden of responsible government that would justify altering the current method. Thus, I encourage you to vote NO on Issue 2.
Several worthy candidates are running for the Ohio Supreme Court. Doody the Goat would like to highlight the contributions of Justice Robert Cupp. Raised on a farm, Justice Cupp is a thoughtful jurist and has been an excellent member of the Supreme Court. When Justice Cupp visited with the Ohio Farm Bureau board, I was very impressed with his dedication to the court and his engaging discussion of the role of the court. Ohio Farm Bureau has endorsed Justice Robert Cupp, and likewise Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse him. When you vote for the Ohio Supreme Court, think Cupp -- like coffee cup!
For president, Doody the Goat endorses Governor Mitt Romney. As I consider the last four years, I realize that in 2008 I had a full-time job, I had health insurance, and I was in a much more confident financial position. When President Obama was elected, he took office with a great deal of goodwill. It was a fortuitous moment when he could have capitalized on this bipartisan support to aid our economy. I firmly believe that the emphasis placed on passing Obamacare instead did the country no good. While the health insurance industry was ripe for thoughtful reform, the result only served to polarize our country. Likewise, I have been very disappointed with the foreign policy positions of the Obama administration. I have the pleasure of working with many individuals from different countries, and as I consider their perspectives on the world, I am further dismayed by current American policy. As a farmer, I have been frustrated by the proposals issued by the Obama administration to increase numerous regulations on agriculture and small business. An example of this was the misguided youth labor rules that were issued -- which would have effectively made the Harrison Farm student assistant program illegal. I am very proud of the work I have done with 4-H members & FFA students, thus it was an affront to these efforts that the Obama administration suggested banning such opportunities. While I commend President Obama for his efforts and his personal achievements, I will be supporting Governor Mitt Romney. I am impressed by his energy plan -- especially after my opportunity to visit Germany last year and witness their energy struggles. I like that Governor Romney is a businessman and can offer that perspective as chief executive. I am optimistic that the experiences of running the Olympics and the state of Massachusetts will serve as good training for the President of the United States. Thus, I am pleased to encourage my fellow Americans to vote for Governor Romney.
Finally, Doody the Goat is against Proposition 37 in California. This is a state initiative that would require GMO products to be labelled. Doody & I support niche markets in agriculture, and thus believe that it is far better for products that are NOT made with GMOs to have the opportunity to label them as such to show their distinctiveness. This allows farmers and processors to uniquely position their products. If, however, the converse is true -- where GMO products must be labelled -- this creates a new level of regulation and government oversight. Having worked with an immense amount of regulation in the meat processing industry, I can affirm that far too often regulations take away the emphasis on a quality product and place the emphasis on paperwork. Due to a support for farmers to be able to showcase unique products and a belief that increased regulations are disruptive to small farms & local food production, I urge you to oppose Proposition 37.
Most important of all, Doody the Goat encourages you to vote! We are so blessed to live in this great country where we have the opportunity to choose the direction of our government! Whether you agree or disagree with Doody & me, please embrace our belief that voting is truly a great thing!
Monday, September 24, 2012
It does not take a calendar to tell me that autumn has arrived on Harrison Farm, thanks to the current chilly mornings and cool nights. It was quite brisk out this morning -- despite the sunshine -- as I chased three nefarious escapee goats. Admittedly, my attire of pajamas, bathrobe, & muck boots were not the warmest or most functional clothes in which to be chasing goats through the bushes around the (currently dry) creek -- but the goatherd must respond to goat escapes immediately! (And apologies to my neighbor who drove by as I was herding the goats back across the road while making such a glamorous fashion statement!)
My junior farmers Joseph & Eliza have been learning many lessons about goatherding lately, as they are now the proud owners of Jodie the Country Goat and Cute Face. Joseph & Eliza have been working on my farm to earn their livestock. Joseph picked out Jodie, and Eliza was determined to have Cute Face. Joseph used some of the metal that the summer storm took off my barn roof, reconfigured it to create a goat shelter, and then put up fencing for a small pasture. He is an extremely industrious young man! Cute Face is a buck and Jodie is a doe, so in about a year their herd should expand. Until then, Joseph is manfully learning the responsibilities that go with feeding goats, protecting goats, and attempting to corral goats . . . and every few days I respond to assist in goat wrangling when Cute Face finds a new spot to escape from the pen that Joseph built for him.
Last week, Joseph & Eliza got to ride Flirt the Horse for the first time and they were very, very excited! Flirt struggled with some hoof issues which required regular treatment for much of the summer. It also took her awhile to bond with me. It seems as though just in the last few weeks, I have begun to notice a change in her interactions with me -- I have gone from "that person" to "her person". I have been riding her a little bit around the farm bareback, and finally got to the point where I was comfortable having Joseph & Eliza each take a turn riding her. It was Eliza's first time on a horse, and she grinned from ear to ear! I feel very blessed to be able to share my love of farming with these two young people! They are remarkable individuals, and add so much to my life! It amazes me that it has only been a few months since they first began to visit the Farm, yet they have mastered so many new skills -- and are now learning to ride a horse!
I will admit that I gave Flirt plenty of time to adapt to me before I began climbing on her to ride. I begin to think I have found a horse too much like me: she does NOT like change! Flirt has had quite a bit of change in the last few months. In December she left a large group of horses to come live with me. At that point, my two visiting horses TG & Carson were here. Flirt slowly adapted to living with them, but they soon moved closer to their owners on the west side of town. After that Flirt lived with Baby V and D Calf for a few months, until they departed to be slaughtered. Following her cow experience, Flirt moved in with a group of goats -- no wonder my horse is opposed to change! Yesterday, my new sheep arrived, including a ram that is now living in the same group as Flirt . . . and she is NOT happy! Flirt spent the first hour chasing him relentlessly, but I am confident she will soon accept his presence and carry on.
The biggest change on the farm this summer, though, has been Grandmother's move to a retirement community. This was a very big surprise for me (I literally found out when my aunts came to pick up Grandmother), but both Grandmother & I are learning to adapt to a new normal. Grandmother moved to Sterling House in Urbana at the end of May. I was travelling for much of June, then July was busy with visits from friends & family to the farm. Grandmother had a difficult July, as she took a nasty fall that resulted in three separate trips for medical attention. By August, she began to recover and I began to adjust to living on the farm solo. Grandmother has recently been appointed as co-chair of the Resident Grievance Committee at Sterling House, and is enjoying wielding her new authority. She maintains her feisty spirit, even as her memory struggles. (Case in point, Cousin Eric asked during his visit with her how the food was at Sterling House. Grandmother smiled sweetly and replied "crappy!")
Two nights ago it was very cold in the old farmhouse, and so I turned on the heat. It was a liberating moment when I realized I could now leave the door open to the upstairs so my bedroom could have some heat (previously forbidden). It was always a running joke that thanks to the "no heat upstairs" policy, I would wake up on winter mornings with frost on the INSIDE of my bedroom windows -- true story! I never look forward to a change in temperatures, but I am optimistic that fall & winter may be easier now that heat is permitted in the farmhouse! Alas, this probably will not change the inclination of the goats to escape their places of residence on cold mornings, but at least I will be able to return to a warm house after dealing with "livestock at large"!
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved water! I have very happy memories of visiting the beaches of North Carolina with Auntie, of fishing on Lake Erie with our family friends Whitey & Nancy, and of sailing in the waters off the Florida Keys with my father. Even though I detested Saturday morning swim lessons at the YMCA that kept me away from my beloved cartoons, my mother's insistence that I know how to swim was definitely beneficial. My favorite waters, though, are the mountain streams that I have visited on trips out West. I can recall watching my Grandfather bend down and trail his fingers through the cold, clear waters of numerous notable streams, and then lift a handful of water to his lips -- savoring it like the finest nectar. I have adopted the same habit, and was delighted to be able to take some of girlfriends to visit those places during our trip this past summer: Two Ocean Pass (where Two Ocean Creek divides and eventually reaches both the Atlantic & the Pacific) and Lemhi Pass (where the headwaters of the Missouri River & the Columbia River start).
Places like Two Ocean Pass and Lemhi Pass appear in so many treasured memories for me, but water also has a very practical value in my life. As a farmer, water is needed in so many ways for my operation. I rely on our well to furnish the drinking water that the animals need. We had a major storm at the end of June that knocked out the electric on the farm for a few days. I was fortunate enough to be loaned a generator, otherwise I could not have run the electric pump that supplies our water. Without a reliable water source, I could not raise livestock. Even though I am a livestock farmer, the current drought is also impacting my operation. Less rain results in a smaller hay crop, which in turn causes hay prices to climb. Since I purchase the hay that I feed my animals through the winter, my expenses will increase. In addition, the drought meant that the summer pastures I rely on had less forage for my animals. Most summers I feed just a little bit of hay to the animals; this year I never stopped feeding hay.
I am not unique to the farm community -- water is a very important factor for all farmers! Water quality issues are a prime topic of discussion within the farm community. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on livestock issues. There was a panel discussion on water quality featuring the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Ohio EPA, and the Director of the Department of Agriculture. These gentlemen are very knowledgeable on agricultural concerns and understand that for farms to flourish, the environment must be healthy. Ohio has faced many water quality concerns in my lifetime -- from the difficulties in Lake Erie during my childhood to the current challenges with algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary's.
I was delighted to hear all three Directors discuss the importance of perspective and collaboration in solving water quality concerns. The media and a variety of environmental activists have far too often labelled farmers as prime contributors to the problems. As a farmer, I am actually rather proud of the response of the farm community to these challenges! Farmers have voluntarily stepped up to create nutrient management plans to regulate the handling and application of manure. Opportunities to protect waterways on farms have been embraced as farmers have created buffer strips, monitored the impact of grazing, and tested soil nutrient levels. Through its policy development process, the Ohio Farm Bureau has encouraged farm families to become engaged in protecting water quality through such initiatives. Far too often, however, farms are easy to blame for water quality concerns -- without looking at the impact of all Ohioans.
During the panel discussion at yesterday's symposium, I was amazed to learn from the Director of the Ohio EPA that roughly 8 billion gallons of raw sewage is released by municipalities into the Western Basin of Lake Erie EVERY YEAR! It can be quite expensive to update treatment facilities and drainage lines, thus municipalities often operate under the idea that it is more cost effective to treat the problem later than to prevent it now. Along with older drainage lines, heavy rains can contribute to the problem by washing chemicals into sewers from lawns, golf courses, and other treated areas. Listening to the Directors discuss these concerns, it illustrated that we are all a potential part of water quality problems, but we are all a potential part of the solution as well.
Farmers face many challenges that we cannot control: droughts, floods, animal and plant diseases, market instability. We keenly understand the need to protect our natural resources, especially our waterways. I want to be able to have a reliable water source for my animals, so that I can keep farming for the rest of my life. I want to contribute to protecting our waters, so that I can enjoy a clean water source for my own use. And I especially want to see all Americans embrace the opportunity to protects our waters, so that I can continue to enjoy their beauty and share my favorite riparian spots with more of my friends!
Monday, July 16, 2012
I have been thinking a great deal of late on mentoring. This has been a prominent discussion item during my time as a member of the board of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. How can young farmers be aided in their development as farm community leaders? How can young people be encouraged to consider agriculture as a career? What can we as farmers do to illustrate that agriculture is fun and engaging? To me, the most important question addresses how we shape young people into the future men and women who will lead our communities and our nation.
My perspective on mentorship is probably different than most, since I have had the opportunity to work with a bounty of young people. I thoroughly enjoyed my years as a teacher, I adored teaching my brothers how to do things on the farm, and the time I spent working with my student assistants has allowed me the privilege of interacting with young farmers as they grow in their abilities. I have had many FFA students work with me to complete their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects, I have had the pleasure of hosting OSU students for internships, and this summer will bring two different visiting students to stay & work on the farm. Over the years, these young people have become extended members of my family. I fondly think of them as my kids -- human variety -- and I love keeping up with their adventures!
This year, I have also been blessed with two new "junior farmers"! My neighbors who live west of the farm are a wonderful family. Their two youngest are Joseph and Eliza. Joseph is a very intelligent & industrious young man of 13, and Eliza is adorable 7 year old with beautiful doe eyes & a gap-toothed grin. If they see me working in the barn, one or both will often pop over to see if they can help out. I thoroughly enjoy their company, and have been impressed with how much they have learned over the last few months. Joseph was an indispensable aide to me while I was in Wyoming, by helping out with the morning chores. I have been especially pleased to observe the manner in which Joseph will master a skill or learn something new, and then share it with his younger sister.
Last Friday was a busy day for me as I prepared for the weekend. I had a planned three hour drive to Van Wert that afternoon, in order to attend the annual educational event "Sheep Day" on Saturday. On Saturday evening, I was excited to attend a wedding in Lancaster, then I had a catering job scheduled for 6:30am on Sunday. With all these fun items on my agenda, I was mindful of a short time period for preparation on Friday morning. Joseph & Eliza arrived at 10:00am to help me with some basic tasks on the farm, which I anticipated would allow me time to pack and organize myself.
Shortly after starting the morning chores, my junior farmers came back to the house. I was in the midst of a telephone call, but could tell from Joseph's serious expression as he stood at the door that he needed me. After finishing the conversation, I stepped out to meet him . . . and discovered he was holding in his hands a baby bird. Joseph explained that he had found it on the ground in the box stall. The barn swallow's nest (that we had first observed just the afternoon before) had fallen to the ground and was in shambles. This one baby bird lay all alone. As I looked at the poor little thing with only tiny feathers, I knew the reality that it would probably starve or be eaten by a cat. I knew it was simply the way of the world. I also knew I had to focus on the tasks at hand if I was going to be on time to my meeting later that day. Then I looked at Eliza's big brown eyes -- so worried for the bird, so full of hope that I would know what to do -- and I realized that there would always be another meeting. There would never be another chance to capitalize on this opportunity to teach two precious young people.
As luck would have it, I had recently come across some information on handling baby birds -- although at the time I had no idea I would need it so soon! We searched through the recycling for a suitable plastic container, drilled holes in it so we could use baling twine to hang it, and then carried it to the barn. We placed some hay in the new "nest". As Eliza held the bird, I explained to her that we would try to put the replacement nest as close to the previous nest as possible. Even though we could not feed & teach the baby bird ourselves, we could at least try to put in a position where its mama bird could find it. We discussed that all animals are different, and since this was a wild animal, it was best that we help it stay wild. Joseph manfully helped prepare the nest for hanging, and then steadied the ladder as I tied it up and placed the bird in it. Just as we vacated the box stall, a swallow flew through. Eliza was delighted that this could be mama returning!
I was -- of course! -- late for everything that day, but the baby bird was only the first item that delayed my schedule. I love being a farmer, and I believe that it is my responsibility to contribute to our farm community by supporting organizations that look after the best interests of farmers . . . and part of that responsibility is going to meetings. But more important than that is my responsibility to help teach boys and girls who are interested in farming. While I am proud to raise livestock, I am much more proud to help raise the young men & women who will be the future of our country. Those of us who farm are so incredibly blessed to be involved in a truly noble endeavor. We were fortunate enough to have someone teach us how to farm, how to be a contributing citizen, how to be a good human -- and now it is our responsibility and our great opportunity to help those who follow us learn these same things!
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The Harrison Farm Blog is now proudly back after a summer break! There have been many changes -- both joyful and sorrowful -- in that time, and there are numerous new stories to share! Grandmother has embraced some new changes in her life, I had an amazing experience traveling to Wyoming for 17 days with my girlfriends, and I had the pleasure of attending my first annual summer retreat for the Ohio Farm Bureau board. It has been a busy and delightful summer thus far!
Most recently, I had the wonderful experience of hosting a student from Brown University for a week. Emma is a biology major, who plans to continue on to vet school. In an effort to gain more knowledge about farming and livestock, Emma traveled to Ohio for some on-farm experience. By the time Emma arrived at Harrison Farm, she had already visited two of my favorite local operations: Pleasantview Farm (an organic dairy near Circleville owned by the awesome Perry Clutts) and Jorgensen Farm (a diverse organic farm and event venue owned by one of my personal heroes Val Jorgensen). www.jorgensen-farms.com From there, Emma braved the world of the goats and the Goatherd at Harrison Farm!
Emma's arrival managed to coincide with a powerful storm and the return of my student assistant Aubry -- both of which are remarkable forces of nature! Aubry worked for me for two years while she was in high school, and has worked as-available with her college schedule since then. She is a beautiful & remarkable young woman, and I am flattered every time someone asks if she is my daughter! Emma and Aubry got along wonderfully! This was a good thing considering the conditions they had to survive during their visit . . . trees toppled over from the storm, no electricity (thus no running water or air conditioning), and 100 degree temperatures. All of this was in addition to the usual craziness of life with the Goatherd! Fortunately, Emma was absolutely charming: intelligent & kind, with a thoughtful inner beauty! Midway through Emma's visit, we did regain power. We were most grateful, however, for the loan of a generator from Blystone Farm -- which had given us just enough power to water the livestock and take showers! www.blystonefarm.com
During my week with Emma & Aubry, I was incredibly appreciative of all that my friends did to welcome them and help them to learn! We had fantastic meetings with Beth Vanderkooi (Director of State Policy for Ohio Farm Bureau), Dr. Leah Dorman of Farm Bureau's Center for Food & Animal Issues, Jody Carney (Organization Director for Delaware, Franklin, Madison, and Union County Farm Bureaus), Janelle Teeters Mead (Deputy Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture), and Angela Ottman of the State Auditor's Office. These women illuminated Emma & Aubry on their work in agriculture, discussed how it is related to what I do as a livestock farmer, and shared their perspectives on being a professional woman in their field. For two biology majors, it was a great opportunity to understand the diversity of careers in agriculture -- and I learned a great deal as well! We also had fun adventures like having dinner with Auntie, meeting the Meat Inspectors at Blystone Farm, riding in the Hilliard Independence Day Parade, working a morning at the slaughterhouse, watching the movie Elf, touring the Animal Diagnostic Lab at the Department of Agriculture, and trying kayaking!
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
This is a beautiful morning on the farm, full of sunshine -- much as it was four years ago on 15 May 2008. It was dark out that morning at 5:15am, but by 6:00am the sun's rays were starting to show on the horizon. By 8:45am, I was setting up the slaughterhouse for the day, and we opened promptly at 9:00am as we did every morning. The first customer was a grump, and he complained a great deal about having to wait for his sheep to be processed. He then proceeded to accuse me of stealing some of his meat. Under normal circumstances, I probably would have laughed: I am not a fan of mutton and my Somali workers were dedicated goat consumers . . . we had no interest in stealing the meat of a fatty, old cull ewe! Unfortunately, I reacted poorly that morning, and severely reprimanded the customer for his accusation. Once I calmed down, I apologized to him. He could not have known that he chose a very poor day to make such an outlandish insinuation. That morning I had lost my best friend, my business partner, my mother.
My mother is still so much a part of my life and my heart that it is difficult to believe it has been four years since she passed on. Four years that seem like decades; four years that passed like a whispered breath. My memories of my mother are so entangled with my childhood on the farm, and these memories still surround me -- much as the farm does -- like a living testimony to her existence. I live in the house where she grew up, I ride my horse in the fields where her ponies lived during her youth, and as the days pass by I see her face more and more often in the bathroom mirror that she also used. Every inch of this farm holds memories of our life: baling hay on hot summer days, working the sheep in the barns, harvesting produce from the garden.
My mother taught me to read, to cook, to sew, but most of my memories revolve around outside activities. I cannot say at what point I began to recognize that the existence of our family was so enmeshed with our lives as farmers, but even from my youth I had the innate understanding that our farm was virtually a living part of our family. We were Harrisons; we were farmers. Many of the hardest lessons I learned from life on the farm were accompanied by adages from my mother. I recall being thrown by Abraham the Mule when I was nine; he managed to step on my ankle as he ran off. Through my tears, I protested as my mother led him back to me so I could ride him on the return to the barn. "If you get thrown, you get back on." It was a hard lesson that day, but as I matured I grew to understand that it was not simply an instruction for horseback riding. So many of my mother's sayings that I heard over and over have proven to be such.
My mother was vibrant, she was fiery, she stated her opinion clearly, and was more than a little stubborn. We could exasperate each other, but we loved each other fiercely. Undoubtedly, the bond of a mother to her only child is unique. For us, it was unbreakable despite any tests. That stubbornness served my mother well when she was diagnosed with cancer. A routine mammogram revealed a spot, and a further biopsy proved that it was not breast cancer, but rather metastisized melanoma. Easter 2007 was a difficult holiday as we awaited the results of a full body scan. The following week, we learned that the melanoma was throughout my mother's system, including a brain tumor. Despite no symptoms, my mother was given the devastating news that she probably had only six months. Her response was classic Becky, as she informed the doctor that six months was not even Christmas and so it simply was not enough time.
My mother had always loved being outdoors, and eventually that lifetime spent outside in the sun resulted in this horrific illness. Those who have lost a loved one to cancer understand the terrible progression of watching someone fight and fail: the overnights at the hospital, the chemo, the blood draws, the prayers, the frustration, the anger, the tubes, the weight loss, the fear. It is a time of my life that is so burned into my memory. When I see pictures of myself from that year, it is as though I do not know that girl. But I can feel the extraordinary fear and exhaustion that haunted her, and I pity her because I know what is yet to come. In December 2007, the cancer spread to Mother's intestines, but she rallied and survived a risky surgery to remove part of her intestines. That was the first time I rushed my brother Joshua to the hospital to say goodbye, but it would not be the last. Before she went into surgery she made it clear that despite the small chance for survival she had no intention of missing Christmas. And she didn't.
The challenges kept coming though, and my step-father & I were helpless witnesses as the person we loved the most bravely endured this illness. While I adore pictures of me & my mother taken during the adventures of my childhood, I am convinced that she was never more beautiful than in those last months of her life. My mother lost her hair and lost an astounding amount of weight. But as those physical things fell away, it was as though her soul radiated through such temporal barriers. Her smile and her heart only grew more profoundly and breathtakingly gorgeous. All she wanted was to spend her last days with her family, on the farm that she loved, in the house she had painstakingly restored. She wanted to be surrounded by her friends and her books and her dogs. I am grateful that she had this.
In 2008, May the 15th fell on a Thursday. My mother died at 5:15am on 5/15. It does not matter how old you are when it happens, the moment you become an orphan changes you forever. There will never again be someone to parent you through life's challenges, to protect you from the pains of the world, to stand in your corner whether you are right or wrong with a parent's love. I called Auntie at 6am, I called the hospice nurse, I called the funeral home, I called my mother's friends. And then at 9:00am, I opened the slaughterhouse and I worked. My mother was the toughest human being I ever knew and she was a worker -- I had a legacy to live up to. On Friday, Joe & I planned the funeral, and on Saturday we endured the calling hours. I had a migraine, and I wore my favorite black hat that my mother loved. We buried my mother on a Sunday. The funeral home had lost power, but the staff had lit hurricane candles throughout the chapel. I have never seen so many flowers, and I was grateful for the people who overflowed the chapel. My mother's friends, her fellow teachers, her former students, farmers, local business people, my friends, our customers from the slaughterhouse. The outpouring of support was sincerely appreciated, and will never be forgotten.
I miss my mother every moment of every day. I doubt a human ever heals from such a profound experience, and I do not know that I would want to. My mother was a character, and was one of a kind. I am eternally grateful that I had her for a parent. As her illness progressed, my mother lost her ability to speak. My mother died on a Thursday; the last time she was able to speak was on the previous Monday. As I did every night, I told her I loved her before I fell asleep on the couch next to her hospital bed. That night, my mother was able to respond. Her last words to me were "I love you". In retrospect -- whatever words she used -- that was all my mother ever said to me.