"I grew up on a farm." If you've ever met me, or read one of my blog posts, this is something I say like a broken record. When people ask me about my childhood, or we're swapping stories about dumb thing we did as kids, it inevitably comes back to that phrase. When I was knee high to a grasshopper, I wasn't riding bikes around a suburb, I was pretending to be a cowboy on my pony Bootsie or playing in the mud. ("Farm" in this instance does not mean hundreds of acres of prime Wisconsin dairyland, but rather 20+ acres of land in a valley, surrounding a spring fed pond. It was a hobby farm; as chaotic as it was idyllic.)
It was small town living, which meant I lived miles from my friends. That was ok though, because my siblings and I definitely made our own adventure. Our parents were Chicago natives who, after a stint in the Peace Corps, made the move to rural Wisconsin to try their hand at farming. I imagine that a lot of my childhood stories sound like Pinterest fails as my parents tackled life as horse owners, pig wranglers, gardeners, DIY-ers, and everything in-between.
I'm the firstborn child, which means I was definitely the experiment child. When I was one, my dad's friend shot a deer on his hunting land. My mom was gone which meant Dad had to take me with him to help his friend get the deer out of the woods. As a result one-year-old Meg held a flashlight as my dad and his friend gutted a deer.
Other fond memories include kneeling in a horse stall as my dad held down a sheep so that I could vaccinate it and the time that a bunch of full grown pigs busted through their fence. It was the first (and only) time I realized what "swearing a blue streak" means as I listened to my dad invent new swear words as we all tried to get the pigs back.
Growing up on a farm meant that summers weren't full of vacations, they were full of chores. In the winter, our house stayed toasty warm with a wood-burning fireplace, so in the warm months, we all prepared by cutting and stacking logs. Since we didn't own a pool, we'd cool off by running through a sprinkler with the dogs.
We still had our share of fun. Although as a kid it was easy to resent Mom and Dad for not taking us to Disneyland, they were the King and Queen of DIY-ing. On a tight budget, they made shit happen. In the summer months, my dad would go through his woodworking shop and warehouse to find any tarps or plastic sheets he had laying around. Together, my whole family would make a massive slip and slide along the length of the yard. It was never anything exciting, just plastic covered in ice cold water from the barn hose and whatever soap we had lying in around, but we would dive up and down that thing for hours.
During the early farm years, my parents had sheep. Cute balls of wool they may be, they were hard on the fences and hard to keep. Pregnant ewes (lady sheep) were prone to prolapses (a gross thing that happens where the vaginal wall turns inside out), which is not something your average 8-year-old knows about, but is something that young Meg educated kids about on the bus ride to school--resulting in a stern but funny lecture from both the bus driver and my dad.
At another time we Scottish Highlands, big furry cows, that we named Scotty but who my dad lovingly referred to as "Dinner." As kids, my sister and I would traipse across our 23 acres, much of which was pastured, and while the horses we had were sweet and kept to themselves, Scotty would chase us from corner to corner.
That much land meant plenty of space for my siblings and I to run free. My parents often talk about how, when they were young, they were outside playing until the streetlights came on. We didn't have streetlights, and as we weren't allowed to have video games until much later, we spent hours baking in the hot sun of Indian summers. Freckled and barefoot, we were the kinds of children who could run shoeless on gravel and through waist-high grass.
We scraped our knees while climbing trees, scratched our arms on Buckthorn, and seldom told our parents. Unless we were bleeding or dying, we occupied ourselves. As my sister and I got older, we'd ride horses bareback on the land, creating jumps out of logs and adventures out of thin air--one day we were cowboys the next we were princesses. My brother didn't share our love of horses, and instead would use the property as a battleground, where he and his friends would play with airsoft guns.
"I grew up on a farm" means that my parents worked hard, and although money was far from overflowing, the memories we all have more than make up for it. One fall we watched a foal be born. There were years we raised orphan or unwanted lambs in our kitchen (to this day I can't eat lamb, I loved Bob and Trouble too much). We were a close knit family, and although us kids were given a plethora of independence, every night the entire family sat down and had dinner together. Weekends, we squabbled over what movies to rent, and my parents put us to bed with stories where us kids were heroes and heroines or just with their tales from their time in the Peace Corps.
On rainy days we'd pray for thunderstorms and pouring rain, so that we could run outside and jump in puddles. Afterwards, we'd tramp inside, take turns at a hot shower, and all cuddle up together to watch Lonesome Dove or Jurassic Park. Our imaginations always ran wild, because there were only us three siblings to play with. Inside, we'd take apart all of our couches and most of our beds to transform our small living room into an epic pillow fort: dogs welcome, parents banned. Outside, hide and seek always involved the dogs so that we'd have more players.
I can't say we never wanted for anything, because of course we did. We were kids who dreamed of shopping sprees and water parks and sunny beach vacations. But we grew up on a farm, and instead of sandy trips, our parents gave us ice cream on lake days, nights where we stayed up late and caught fireflies, backyard camping trips where we listened to the sounds of frogs (but were too scared of the Big Backyard to camp out all night). For every sliver or bruise we got, at the end of the day, we all trouped back into the house, barefoot feet black with grass stains and dirt, and bursting at the seams with stories we'd concocted ourselves.
I grew up on a farm. And for that, I couldn't be happier.