65 / 365 – Change of Plans

LARS NILSSON

I knew it and I hadn’t wanted to look. I’ve been going to the bank and not looking at the numbers for the past few months. But today I know: the bank account is empty. I had a cashier’s check made for Laura’s rent in New York and was going to take out fifty dollars but there is only thirty left. I’ll eat beans this week. I had to call Laura’s roommate to say we’d empty out her room before the end of the month. It was probably a stupid way to drain my savings but I hoped that if I kept her apartment maybe she would turn back up to take her place. It seemed like a positive thing to do at the time, when nothing seemed positive. Now it just seems stupid. Like so many other decisions.

The grain is still in the elevator and I will have to sell it. There was hope at work there, too. Prices were lousy back in the fall. They’re worse now. When I’m done I don’t know that I’ll have enough to get through another year. Maybe only enough to plant part of the field. And then, year upon year, I can plant less and less until nothing. I have no idea how Josh and Jodi are doing on the other half of the land, but I expect it’s just as bad. I know a lot of people out further west who never quite make it back and so every few years they sell off a little bit. They’re buying time so they can stay on the land, but they won’t be able to pass it on. That was always the idea here, work the land hard, faithfully, live frugally, and pass it on. Now it’s just to stay on it for yourself, let your children move away. It seems very selfish.

I thought I had this figured out. You have to be an optimist, to be a farmer. You put something in the ground in the Spring and you hope it won’t freeze late, as it does sometimes, and kill the shoots. You hope we don’t get any hard weather in the late spring and summer, like terrible winds or hail or flooding. You hope we don’t have early snow. You hope that after a season of hard work doing the best by your crops that when you harvest them there will be people willing to pay for them at a modest profit. That’s all it is, but it takes a lot of optimism to do that any more. Usually one of those things doesn’t happen, especially the prices.

I worried a lot, when the kids were growing up. I took over the farm and I wasn’t sure I could do it, wasn’t sure I could support the family. I wondered if I was being the right kind of father. My ex-wife tells me I should still wonder, although I don’t worry now about that. The children were healthy and good, I got a job with the Department of Natural Resources so we could even afford college. When Laura left for Columbia — New York, wow — I had thought the hard work was over. I felt settled. I think I was happy.

Then something happens and you realize the house you’ve built is on a crumbling foundation. I had no idea Laura was in such pain, and maybe I will never know. I will never forget the night, Christmas Eve, that Laura told us she was a lesbian. It was impossible. I was shocked. I didn’t even know what it meant, but I had always understood that good people were not like that. And there was my daughter trying to tell me this is who she was. I felt as though I had never met her.

It was shock on shock. Before we went to bed Jodi had called the pastor. He told us we couldn’t let her stay in our house. Our own daughter. Christmas was ruined. Jodi wouldn’t make Christmas dinner. Laura and I cooked it together while I tried not to be angry with and tried to understand this. Jodi and Josh sat and ate in the other room with the TV on. Loud, even though we get terrible reception. I had always hoped Laura and Finn would have married, high school sweethearts, like Jodi and I. I had lots of ideas for good things that might happen, my farmer’s optimism. Now I wasn’t sure if they had ever been sweethearts. I don’t know if I can explain this, but I suddenly wondered if I understood anything that was going on.

Jodi could not get over that Laura was a lesbian. She became a stranger, too. She said it went against God. She railed about it, to the pastor, to our friends. I had to leave the church because I refused to turn Laura out. The more Jodi went on about it, and Josh too, the harder it was to believe that we were family. It was as if I had started a family with people I didn’t know, people who were the opposite of who I thought they were. It was about a year ago in the spring she said I had to choose. By then it wasn’t hard.

We had to split the farm, the farm that my great-grandparents homesteaded more than a hundred years ago. It’s been our place. Now we may lose it. Everything I’ve worked for my whole life I’ve lost or I’m about to lose: my farm, my marriage, my family. I lost all that for Laura’s sake, and now it looks as though I lost her, too.

I’m frightened, some. I don’t care a lot about my job with the DNR. But when I drive out the farm each morning before work, that’s when I feel happy. That’s the post I’m tied to, that keeps me from blowing away in the wind. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that farm to go to, even if I can’t afford it. There are times, though, when I wonder if I’ve really lost. These things I worked for have turned out to not be what I thought they were. Maybe they weren’t worth being so dedicated for. Finn was trying to cheer me up about it today, and he said, Maybe there is something else that is coming that is better. I can feel a part of me grasping after this hope, even while I don’t believe in fate like that. I don’t see it, but I hope it’s true. The old optimistic in me. If I don’t live to plant another season on the old family land, maybe there’ll be a different kind of season for planting different seeds. After everything that’s happened, it wouldn’t surprise me.

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