“I know you love the country,” I complained from my seat in the back of the dirty Monarch, “but we wouldn’t have to bring bushels of it along every time we go to the city.”
Dad snorted his impatience and flicked on the left-turn signal, swinging into the fast lane. Not surprisingly, a horn instantly blared in my left ear. I tried to fold my adolescent legs into accordion pleats so my head could disappear below the window level, forgetting for the moment that no one could see me through these mud-streaked windows, anyway.
“Seriously,” I continued, repeating my usual back-seat commentary on outings with my parents, “I bet we look like a moving dung heap.”
We had just emerged from our own portion of ‘true country’ – one of those few remaining soggy, pot-holed roads that are truly reminiscent of the 1800’s. It was a beautiful place to live: verdant, rolling, and abundant with fishing holes (which are not to be confused with actual fish). It was a place where even teens loved to stay home … because of the rib-jarring discomfort of trying to get anywhere. I never discovered if it was a tight county budget or dilapidated equipment that kept our township from rambling to the far end of its jurisdiction with graders and gravel trucks. Whatever the case, there wasn’t much actual road left where we lived, and the little there was endearingly distributed itself across any vehicles it met. This was the cause of much self-conscious suffering on my part in the days when I trundled everywhere in the back seat of my parents’ car.
When I drove my own vehicle, I determined, I would leave the dust where it belonged … in the country. So the cars that blared at me were not surprised free-way drivers who couldn’t spot my signals, but rather frustrated neighbours poking up-hill and down behind a nonchalant teenager exploring the whole road in hopes of discovering the track of the least mud-eruptions. The car wash developed a wolfish hunger for a good portion of my budget, since waving that magic wand became an essential ritual before my car and I appeared anywhere. My ‘emergency kit’ in the trunk wasn’t the shovel, salt and snowsuit of most winter-wise country travellers. Mine consisted of rain-gear regularly donned over my good clothes to catch the muddy splatters as I banished the marks of the country to the car wash drain.
When did I tire of the magic wand, the gobbling hunger of the car wash, the tidal wave down my neck whenever I re-opened the sun-roof? I can’t remember an exact day my feelings changed. Perhaps I learned to love country the day I went shopping in Toronto and made gas-induced decisions under a haze of smog. Maybe meeting a few jobless people who would have loved to dirty their hands making a living made me less ashamed of our way of life. My thoughts on rural life have certainly changed since I married a man who chose to be a farmer so he could watch his sons become men.
However it came to be, I find I now regularly, perhaps even a little proudly, display a sugary frosting of country on most of my trips into town. When a gleaming Mercedes glides into the parking space next to me, I don’t try to slide under my steering wheel anymore. I step out and nod a country howdy at the sleek owner, and watch her jaw drop at the archaic display of friendliness. And during those muddiest three weeks in the spring and fall, I don’t even try to keep my car clean. Farming is, after all, a full-time occupation. One doesn’t need another part-time job washing cars.
The only thing I dread now is the whining from the back seat when our own children become peer and dirt conscious. What will I say to their complaints? I can sense the futility of explaining to a teen the sentiments that urge me to flaunt a little dirt on my vehicle.
Perhaps I’ll just smile and tell them, “When you really love the country, it only seems right to take a little of it with you wherever you go.”
Originally appeared in The Voice of the Farmer,March 1999