Saturday, February 19, 2011
My submission for the Real Simple magazine essay contest that I didn’t win. -
Lucy, Ethel, Little Ricky and My Family
My name is Jan and I have donkeys. I didn't want them, but my normally reasonable husband insisted. Is there a support group that? After buying a home on four acres in the wide open farm land of northern Washington, with a barn and corral, John immediately leaped to the irritating conclusion that we needed animals. In spite of my profound objections and pleading for dignity he bought two miniature donkeys, naming them Lucy and Ethel. It was a decisive win for him and a blow to my normally impressive tally in the marital compromise arena. Four months later Little Ricky was born. The previous donkey owner delivered my hubby's two new lady pals to the corral then he gleefully waved his hand out the window, with $750 dollars tucked in his pocket, and shouted, "I think you may have a surprise in the spring!" Sure enough, four months later Lucy had a baby boy. It's all the more special that our new little jack ass was born on my dear husband's birthday. Now my formally respectable and balanced life is teetering on the brink of Green Acre-dom.
The path to country life was paved with my fervent desire to move near my family, who all migrated to the Pacific Northwest from the northern California suburbs over the past several years. I was the lone survivor living a comfortable and familiar suburban lifestyle. I liked my life, living close to my good friends, an assortment of excellent restaurants and tons of darn good shopping to boot. But my pull to be near my siblings and mother was even stronger than my gravitational pull to Nordstrom's. I needed them in my daily life and I wanted to raise my kids in the folds of an extended family. But, of course, being a married woman I had to convince my husband that moving from everything he had known was a good idea. Who would have guessed what the trade off would be? Donkeys weren't on my radar.
When I was in my lobbying mode to transplant my family, I imagined buying an old Craftsman style home on a hill near Western Washington University in the artsy, hip college town of Bellingham. I thought of the hilly neighborhoods that would remind me of the Bay area, with views of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands and quirky, independent book stores and coffee shops with in walking distance of our new home. I thought I'd have friends next door to share kid stories with over a glass of wine in the evenings and a block of neighborhood kids to play with our children. I never suspected that city boy was conjuring up his own vision of heaven on Earth that included a barn, tractor and manure.
It took about 8 years but John finally came on board with the big move. He retired from a position he held for over 20 years and was open to embracing a new life 900 miles from the place he had always called home. He agreed to move here where my mom, 3 siblings with spouses, nieces, nephews and a new generation of their children lived. He was/is a brave and strong man. The tricky part came when we started to search for our new home. It was funny how we never discussed our perceptions of what our new home should look like. This communication faux pas was a zinger. Our realtor was a confused man jumping from my idea of the ideal home to John's. In the end, of course, I agreed that hubby should have his little slice of country paradise. After all, he moved here to plant me near my kin, the least I could do was give him space to roam and a shop in a barn to hide from all of us. There was, however, no mention of donkeys while we signed the papers to the new homestead. We were in the house about month when he told me of his plan and only a few short months after that when Lucy and Ethel arrived. I was blind sided.
We settled into our new life in the country with clear views of the Cascades to the East and the Canadian range to the north. We enjoy the fresh, crisp air, wide open spaces and a quieter life. I've grown to love it here. Outside my kitchen window, I see my neighbors charming black and white dairy cows scattered on the hill near their big red barn and snow capped Mt Baker gleaming at me throughout the day. It's beautiful. It's beautiful and strange. As I drive up my long gravel drive, past the corral, I see Lucy, Ethel and Little Ricky grazing in the pasture and think, - Wow. You never know where your life may lead. I'm often asked by my friends back home, "Why donkeys?" The answer is simple. John likes them.
On July 5th, 2010 I got an early morning call from my sister. I heard the panic in her voice when she said, "Kirby's been hurt." Her oldest son is a Captain in the army and has served three tours in war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the call we have dreaded since he joined in 2001. That morning his vehicle was blown up by an IED. The explosion killed two men, critically injuring another and seriously injuring my nephew and another soldier. I was with my sister soon after that call and camped in her living room for days while she and her husband frantically made calls to get information on their son's condition then made travel arrangements to get to him. I was here for her when she needed me. I was where I needed to be. I've been near my family to share the joys of the graduations, weddings and the baby's births. I've been here for the disappointments, illnesses and troubles. Gratefully, I always have a packed house during the holidays which is filled with stories of my dad, who passed away years ago, but who is brought back to us through our shared love for him and the familiar stories. I've been tucked into my family for all of it. But the greatest gift of all is that my kids are an integral part of this extended family that will give them a precious love and security through out their lives.
John generously gave this to me. He gave this gift to all of us and in return I have to live with a few donkeys. It was a good trade. And to be completely honest with you, I should say that I've grown accustomed to them. They're sort of cute in a goofy donkey way.