The farmhouse was next to the highway, close enough for me to hear the train come by every night, and far enough away from the tracks to get used to sleeping through it. No houses could be seen from any window — just trees, sky, and lots of cornfields.
It was a peaceful place, sometimes too peaceful for a twenty-two year old. Weekends were the longest. I’d head to Omaha for Saturday nights. But Sundays were slow, doing chores, grading papers, and wandering around the farm.
The barn was creaky, full of mice, and ready to fall down. Behind the barn, I had a lovely garden, compliments of my landlord’s father, Doc (a retired dentist). He brought over his rototiller and turned up the earth for me and taught me how to plant – broccoli, cauliflower, peas, string beans, lettuce, radishes, carrots, and something turnip-like called kohlrabi. I loved to go back there and dig in the dirt.
There was an outhouse from way back, a pig pen full of hogs (I avoided that), a car port, and a place to burn trash in a big steel drum. You were supposed to stay there while the trash burned, just in case. It was after one trash-burning session that I wandered over to some bushes along the highway and found a bazillion asparagus plants just breaking through the spring soil.
I’d never picked asparagus, but I recognized the stalks at once, greenish brown with their familiar torpedo tops. They were about six inches high. I couldn’t believe my luck and ran back into the house to get a bag. I picked and picked until I had a heavy sack of the stuff. I took my bag of treasure back inside and put it in the fridge. I had no idea how to cook the stuff so didn’t prepare any that day.
A couple days later, I heard a knock on the kitchen door. No one ever came by but the landlord. This time it was his brother, John.
“Hi, uh, do you know what happened to our asparagus?” he asked.
Oops. I was just a renter. John and his brother owned the farm. They also owned the veggies on it.
“Here,” I said, opening the fridge and pulling out the bag. “I didn’t know you wanted it.”
“Keep some for yourself,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said, embarrassed.
Later, I learned how to cook the stuff to a bright green (as opposed to army green) and preferred it as a side dish to kohlrabi.
I moved to Omaha, then San Diego, and then a bedroom community near San Francisco. When looking for houses, I always chose the ones with the biggest yards, even if the houses were smaller and older. I didn’t want a McMansion where the neighbors were so close you could lean out the windows and brush each other’s teeth.
I’m an Iowa girl, one who has lived on a Nebraska farm, burned her own trash, and picked wild asparagus. I want land around me.
My friends live in condos or townhomes and pity me for having to do yardwork. What they don’t know is that I love it — playing in the dirt, planting trees and bushes. I got rid of my grass and went native with flowering mallows, yarrows, grasses, butterfly bushes and other natives whose names I’ve forgotten. My water bill is teensy tiny now. I can’t see my neighbors.
My friends can have their no-yard-maintenance dwellings. I am happy to look out my windows and see green, pink, orange, red, yellow, purple, but no houses.
I learned all about it in Ashland, Nebraska.
I’m a Midwestern girl.
Don’t fence me in.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve denied picking the asparagus, I would’ve saved it all for myself, overcooked it, thrown it out, and never eaten asparagus again. I never would have planted a garden and would be living in a condo and brushing my neighbor’s teeth.