By Lisa Everhart-Myers, Demeter Farm
I’m beginning to notice a recurring theme in this blog. “Get back to work” seems to keep cropping up here. When I wrote the April blog, the winds were brisk and the snow was still flying nearly every other day. Spring wasn’t even bothering to taunt us with an occasional appearance. Sitting in the living room and planning garden beds and seed purchases while watching the snow fly seemed like drudgery but, now I realize, was a relatively easy endeavor. While waiting for the weather to break, I got two phone calls.
The first phone call came mid-April. The urban high school where I regularly guest teach had lost another English teacher. Would I be willing to step in for the rest of the year? My heart rose and sank simultaneously. I had stepped in for this same group of sophomore kids at the end of the first semester. It had been the most difficult thing I had ever done. This particular class was known throughout the school as being the worst class the relatively young school had welcomed through its doors. I looked at the pile of seed catalogs and the mile-long list of wants and needs along with its hefty bottom line. I called Julie.
“Don’t do it,” she said. “We don’t need the money that badly.” I did it anyway.
I can’t give you a definitive answer as to why. I learned a long time ago to listen to my gut. While a tad ambivalent this time, it still seemed to be telling me to go. So I did. I left the pile of seeds and the wish list lying on the table, tucked the flats of seedlings I had managed to get planted safely into the small greenhouse I had bought, and began the 30-minute commute into Indianapolis every day.
It was the right thing to do even though the farm suffered for it. When I appeared in the classroom this time, I was the fourth teacher (counting my first appearance) this group had seen this year. I was the one who came back for them and who earned their trust. I won’t lie and say it was all sunshine and flowers. There were days I wanted to walk out and not come back like the other two teachers had, but I didn’t. I began to see some really positive improvement in many of the students.
Then, I got the second phone call. My 93-year-old grandma had fallen. This time my heart had no soar. It was all fall.
Grandma Shirley was a force of nature. She had been defying death for a couple of years now. She had the worst case of osteoporosis anyone had ever seen, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. She still lived alone and had no intention of going anywhere until this fall. When they did x-rays, they found four broken ribs and a spot of pneumonia on one lung. We all sort of knew what this would hold as soon as we heard this. I packed a bag and prepared to sleep on a hospital couch for a while.
I have been a fortunate woman. I have had both of my grandmothers all 51 years of my life. Dad’s mom, Grandma Shirley, was the quintessential grandma. She read books. She played games. She pitched a softball to me for hours on end. She bought the best Christmas and birthday gifts. She was a true matriarch who stepped into the role of farm manager with grace and relative ease after my grandpa was killed in a car accident in January 1987. She was just 62. She kept the books and made the decisions in a manner that would have made my grandpa proud. She did this while working as a cook in the high school my sister, my cousin, and I attended. She persevered. She rose above. She worked and worked and worked some more. Up until her very last day in her home, she got up at 4 a.m. to say her devotions and start her morning chores although she had to use a walker and drag an oxygen tank around with her.
The last coherent day on earth she had, she told me that she was disappointed in herself because she had lived 93 years only to become lazy. Lazy! Broken ribs, a spine that had been fused together with a cement-like compound to hold it together two years before, a heart that was barely working, and the woman was lying there thinking that she needed to get back to work. They gave her the first dose of morphine to combat the pain and ease her breathing two hours later. She passed 36 hours after that.
When Grandma passed, my family was in Philadelphia watching my son, Thomas, graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. The next few days were a whirlwind of planning services, figuring the logistics of getting Thomas home in time for the funeral, and attempting to get up in front of 20 sophomores and teach them English when my head and heart were in shreds. I went straight from Grandma’s funeral to my niece’s eighth grade graduation ceremony then to my niece Olivia’s college graduation open house a couple days later. Then I was back to teaching for a week before hosting Thomas’s graduation celebration. We got the pool opened, mowed, prepped food, and welcomed Thomas’s paternal aunt into our home for the weekend. I gave my students their final exams and got them graded and into the gradebook.
We worked. We worked through my tears and exhaustion. We worked until I ended up on the couch inside, sobbing, while I had a pool full of guests outside. We worked after I stopped crying and pulled it together for my last week of school.
I pulled up the driveway after the last day of school with a mind racing with questions.
Where does Demeter Farm stand through all of this? Well, to be honest, it is just about non-existent. My seedlings were severely neglected, what plants I did get out were drowned in weeds, and, in true Indiana fashion, the weather through all of this went straight from winter to summer as in 90 degrees and dry. A chunk of me has been thinking about giving in already. This all just seems too much. How can I possibly balance teaching and farming and these unexpected major life events or even the expected ones? I did what I know how to do when unanswerable questions haunt me. Julie and I got up early yesterday morning. She prepped a bed while I cut suckers off the apple trees and pruned low-hanging limbs off all the trees. I swept the pool. She built a compost bin. We hired a neighbor to come cut our hay. My mind stilled as I worked. I thought about Grandma and the farm and what she would have done. I realized I was doing exactly as she would have.
“Get back to work,” I heard her say. “It’s not going to get done if you’re sitting in the house crying.” Demeter Farm is off to a slow start but it’s all going to be okay.
This blog is part of a series hosted by Indiana Farmers Union. We post blogs written by Hoosier farmers at all stages—from just beginning to long-established. If you’re an Indiana Farmers Union member and are interested in writing for us, please contact Sherri Dugger at firstname.lastname@example.org.