Nothing special but also nothing lesser.


Even as a child, I understood that families like mine, poor rural farmers, were low in the pecking order. Television shows and movies portrayed us as buffoons and hicks, always the butt of the joke. Our presumed incivility, and even monstrousness, was suggested in conversations, often to laughter, by humming the banjo tune from the 1972 film “Deliverance,” present in many VHS collections during my 1980s childhood. “Squeal like a pig,” some jokers continued — a reference to that film’s infamous rape scene.

We didn’t need those cues to know that society held us in low esteem, though. All we had to do was look at our bank accounts.

We worked the land and killed animals so that others would eat, so that we would afford propane for the winter, and so that the rich, rigged industry we supplied grain to would become a little richer.

The profound humility instilled in me by my upbringing left no room in my worldview for exceptionalism of any sort. It also left me troubled by the ways that most humans calculate the value of things — animals, plants, land, water, resources, even other people — according to hierarchies that suit their own interests.

More than once, while wrapping meat, I sliced my finger on the sharp edge of the butcher paper. There was nothing special about my blood. It was red just like the pigs’ and the cows’. It was clear to me that there was nothing special about me or my family, either, doing that most essential work of feeding others. Nothing special but also nothing lesser.

Sarah Smarsh, excerpts from an essay titled “What Growing Up on a Farm Taught Me About Humility” (NY Times, December 21, 2022). Smarsh is the author of “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” (Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, New York PostBuzzFeedShelf AwarenessBustle, and Publishers Weekly)

Encourage all to read the entire essay….

Heartland

During the wheat harvest of 1977, when Betty was thirty-two and Arnie forty-five, Betty drove every evening from her full-time job as a subpoena officer at the Sedgwick County courthouse in downtown Wichita to Arnie’s farm. She took over the house, cooking for Arnie and his field help, driving tubs of fried chicken, paper plates, and jugs of iced tea to fields where yellow dust followed red combines. She learned the blowing dirt of the country summer, when teeth turn gritty in the wind and shower water turns brown between shoulders and toes. She rode the combine with Arnie, a rite of passage for any would-be farmer’s wife, and woke up the next morning with clogged sinuses. She sweated through the harvest nights of midsummer, when fans blow hot air through hot bedrooms and sleep is possible only because of how hard you worked.

~ Sarah Smarsh, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth


More on this book:

%d bloggers like this: