Our back porch is a mirror of our lives in many ways. In the summer, it is the habitat of the barn cats. As winter approaches, it is something else. We put some wood there to be on hand for nasty weather. Maria has trimmed the gardens, we added one of Ed Gulley’s milk can chairs, Flo and Minnie have taken over the wooden kindling box, Maria greets me and the dogs when we have come back from a walk or some chores. The porch tells the story of the farm in many ways.
We had dinner with Carol and Ed Gulley Saturday night, Carol made a hearty farm stew, we did what we always do when we see Carol and Ed, we sat and talked for hours. I’m learning a lot about friendship, that was always a struggle for me. I think friendship is the glue that holds life and faith together sometimes, it is often as important as family, in my case more so.
On the way home, Maria and I were talking about how comfortable we are with the Gulleys, how much we like them, how easy it is to talk to them. On the surface, we could hardly be more different. Maria and I are both urban people, transplants to the country, ours is a life of the mind, the farmer’s life is very much of the body and spirit, of family, the earth, animals, tradition.
Yet beneath all of that, below the surface, we are soul mates. Our lives feel very similiar I think the definition of friendship for me is that friends see the world in more or less the same way. A friend is someone of whom I often say, “yes, me too.”
What makes friendship, I often wonder? Maybe it’s where I am welcome any time.
I think friendship is about trust, you can talk openly with a friend. I think it’s about humor and connection, the Gulleys have a lot of great stories to tell, life on a farm is rich in tales and memories. I think it’s about empathy, they want to know about our lives, how we are doing. T
I think it’s about seeing the world in the same way. Ed and I probably have different politics, I don’t really know, but I knew he would not like the bullying of Hilary Clinton by those arrogant congressmen and women any more than I did. They are always looking to help us if we need help. Ed read about my adventure with planing wood the other day, he suggested we get a piece of glass next time and tape one end, and we can plane easily and for free.
If I ever run out of hay in a cold winter, he said, just drive over to his barns and get some. I am going to help Ed get a blog up, he has a lot to say. A friend is someone you know you can call.
The Gully kitchen is a classic farmhouse kitchen, animals snoring all over the place (three dogs sleep out in the barn, along with Sadie the goat), there is always something cooking on the stove. They have a new antique ice dresser (on the left) to keep jars and jams cool in when the kitchen is hot. Dinner is after seven at the Gulleys, when the second milking of the day is done. The family is usually streaming through the kitchen when we are there. I always remember to leave before it gets too late, they get up at 5 a.m. The are always uncomplaining and cheerful in the face of brutally long and endless work.
The Gulleys seek a life of individuality and meaning. The Gulleys are crazy about animals, a seminal part of their lives. Ed is undergoing a great awakening, he loves farming but wants to also pursue life as an artist, his creativity is fairly erupting inside of him now. He sold a bunch of his “junk art” at our Open House in October. He wants to devote more of his life to making art when he can. Ed is interested in joining the Fabulous Old Men’s Club, which lost a third of it’s membership when Paul Moshimer died earlier this year. He would be great, he is a Fabulous Old Man.
We talked about our mothers, our dreams, our dogs, the farm. Ed has a host of sometimes funny, sometimes horrific stories of farm life and animal life. He was saved from a silo gas encounter by a dancing Native-American jogger who ran barefoot in the winter. His dog Jake hunted coyotes threatening the farm and fought and killed them. He adopted a hawk that visits him in the field. He and Carol had baby racoons living in the kitchen.
Ed has been maimed, injured, nearly killed more times than I could count. He has great stories to tell. Carol presents herself as a typical farm wife, but she is not. She is a loving partner and sensitive friend. She is ferociously loyal to her husband and family. She helped advise me on my play, “Last Day At Mapleview Farm,” at Hubbard Hall last January.
The Gulleys are very real, no pretense, no games, no acute sensitivities or sharp words or tempers. They love one another very much.
Carol is funny, smart, utterly devoted to her children and grandchildren. She and I shared the experience of Open Heart Surgery last year, and that can connect people in a fairly basic way.
Friendship is part chemical, part happenstance, part mystical. In the past several years, friendship has been coming into my life, our lives. I think it happened when I was open to it. It is comforting to know that kitchen will be up and running this winter when it gets dark and cold. And that we are welcome there any time.
Fate and I were out in the pasture, she was testing the sheep, giving eye, an Pumpkin kept charging at her. Suddenly she rushed up to him and licked him in the nose. He was startled, so was I.
He jumped back and came at him again and backed him up a bit. I don’t think kissing the sheep is part of the herding lore people love to much. I don’t imagine you will see it in those herding trials or videos. I think the border collie swells would not like it. Fate is a very sweet and affectionate dog, perhaps she was trying some charm. I think Red would have been mortified. I can’t wait to see what follows.
In the fearful nation, the playgrounds have disappeared, even on Main Street, where community still lives. The new playgrounds are portable or fenced, rubber or soft, supervised and shoeless, done in by lawyers and anxious Boomer parents. Slides and twirl-a-rides are almost extinct.
I wondered at this idea of a Halloween thing, but someone explained to me that there are very few safe and risk-free public things for children to do. To go in the Bouncy House, you have to be small, take your shoes off, only go in three or four at a time. Even then, the House is encircled by parents watching.
There is not much unsupervised play left in the lives of children. Even the dogs have play groups with parents watching. Tonight in my town, there will be a Halloween Parade, then some trick or treating on Main Street.
In the country, it is still possible to see kids alone, doing things by themselves, walking to school, riding bikes. Today on Halloween, the Hubbard Hall Arts Center had a Halloween Fair, the Bouncy House was the centerpiece.
It is ironic to me, still, as I spent most of my childhood by myself, nobody was ever watching. The lives of children and grown-ups was quite separate, different worlds, neither one knew too much about the other. Today is Halloween, of course, and I couldn’t help but thinking the crypt where i used to go on North Main Street in Providence to hide out, listen to my portable radio, read my comic books. That was where I learned that Buddy Holly had died in a place crash.
There was an unlocked gate, a heavy iron door that opened, and four or five iron caskets stacked on top of one another. There was a gorgeous skylight that made it easy to read my comic books or those I had taken from the library. It was a good place to hide, and kids were expected to fill their own time. The Irish kids from Hope Street never chased me there or caught me there, no parents came or disapproving teachers.
I never thought of the cemetery as a scary place, it was actually my safe place. A place of imagination and radioactive memory. Once in awhile, the police would catch me there and bring me home, but my parents usually weren’t there, and didn’t seem to really mind or care much that I was hanging out in some other family crypt.
The police weren’t too upset either. There was no talk of being arrested, the officers usually gave me a lollipop and old me to stay out of the cemetery. They seemed to worry about the cemetery, which didn’t want me hanging out there, but there was no talk of my being in danger, and I don’t think I was.
One day I’ll go back and bring flowers there for the family, to thank them for the sanctuary. Aloneness can be a gift, it is true that if you are comfortable with yourself, you can never really be lonely. It is also true that aloneness is fuel for creativity, when nobody tells you what to think, you can think, when nobody is talking you, you learn to talk to yourself, you make up your own stories.
I am wary of nostalgia. I had a lot of freedom when I was a kid, but too much really, I did things I should not ever have done. I am lucky I never hurt anyone or hurt myself. Nostalgia is, of course, a generational trap. The kids in the Bouncy House will surely look back on their time today as pure and sweet and unsullied by the changed lives of their own children.
I did want to take my shoes off and join in, bounce around the Bouncy House, but that would really have frightened the children, probably their parents too.
The best portraits of Red,I think, are when he is watching the sheep. Eyes wide, ears down, body low. Ready to move.