This is a special weekend. Not because the peonies will be in bloom (see photo above). Not because we’ve ALMOST finished planting the vegetable garden or because we are ALMOST caught up with all of the soap orders. This week the farm is hosting some special guests…my grandparents.
My grandmother saw the farm this winter and was eager to come back to see it in bloom (and when the house was a few degrees warmer). My grandfather, on the other hand, has only seen the farm in pictures, and his trip is bittersweet. It will, without doubt, be the only time he gets to visit.
My grandfather turns 80 next year, and his feet have been firmly planted in the soil of North Carolina his entire life. He has never been on a plane and avows to stay that way, and the 13 hour drive will be a challenge for him. I’m certain that he will ask me for an old home remedy for his back pain. He is an abstainer, so it doesn’t involve Jack Daniels or any other form of southern comfort. When I was a child, he would lie on the floor of the living room and have me walk on his back. I remember vividly trying to keep my balance while trying to simultaneously accomplish the tasks of controlling my belly laugh and digging my heels in. As I grew older and far too heavy, he would have me pound his back with the edge of my hand. He could take it as long as my forearm muscles would hold out
So the planning for the visit has been thorough, and I’m trying to serve as many things that I’ve grown or raised as I can.
Here’s what I’ve planned for the menu during their visit.
Omelets made from fresh eggs and fresh chevre with chive and asparagus
A sour cherry pie using up the last of last season’s harvest (with some rhubarb thrown in)
Cherry almond muffins
Goat milk yogurt topped with rhubarb compote
But no matter my culinary or farming skills, he will most likely be impressed by the size of my forearms, strengthened from shoveling pea gravel across the garden pathway. He will, no doubt, put them to good use.
The walking stick my grandfather used when hiking around the farm, now resting peacefully against an elm tree in the side yard.
Because my family was visiting, I invested less sweat equity than usual this weekend.
I did spread a few more shovels of pea gravel, planted a few plants in the garden, and transplanted a couple of the smaller peonies from the front of the house to the back. (It’s amazing what a shallow root system they have.)
Instead, the weekend was spent showing my family around the farm and trying to convince them that the young boy, the doctor, the businessman they thought they knew, was now truly a farmer (or at least really trying to be one on the weekends). It can be very hard to change people’s opinion of you when who they think you are is someone you were 25 years ago.
My grandparents brought with them a housewarming gift. It was my father’s banjo.
My father, normally very calm and reserved, paced anxiously for a month while he was waiting for this instrument to be hand made. It ‘s crafted of beautifully rich cherry wood and the rim is plated in 24k gold. His initials are etched into the surface. It probably cost him 2 months salary at the time, and I remember going with him on the weekends to the craftsman’s shop to check on its progress.
I hated the banjo. When my father formed a small bluegrass band, I shrunk away in embarrassment. Bluegrass was not the music on the radio. There were no banjos on MTV.
I resented the banjo.
My father died from colon cancer when I was 11 years old. The banjo went into hiding, smothering in its velvet-lined case. But over these years while we’ve been waiting to reunite, I’ve come to really enjoy the unprocessed/uncomputerized purity of the music. It’s authenticity as unquestionable as that of the gospel hymns we sang in the one-room church house of my childhood.
As I lifted the instrument out of it’s case, my grandfather told me a story of how my father learned to play. He bought a stack of old bluegrass records and put them on a turntable going at a very slow speed. As each note played, he would pluck away until he found the combination of finger positions that matched the pitch perfectly. Once he learned the notes, he would speed the record up gradually until he could play the entire song. He mastered it in just under two years, which was really just about all the time he had.
I now realize how much love had been poured into creating this instrument and every single note that ever poured forth from it. My father must have known that one day he and it would return to me.
My father’s name on the leather strap of the banjo.
Learning to play will be my winter assignment. Maybe next spring this blog will have musical accompaniment!