© Another Day in the Country
My Aunt Naomi was a hard-scrabble survivor who remembered the Depression with a capital “D” but had some of the lower case as well. She worked hard and did all those things that farmers’ wives did to help their families survive.
She canned produce from the garden, butchered chickens, sold eggs for groceries, and made clothes out of feed sacks and hand-me-downs. She scrubbed mud off her immaculate floors, hung clothes on her sagging line outdoors, and put three square meals on the table every single day. And she was a good cook.
Eventually, as her kids got older, she parlayed that cooking ability into a part-time job at the sale barn, and part of her job was to make pies. She became famous — at least within her circle of family and friends — for her cherry pie, which makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
My aunt knew what it was to pinch pennies. I don’t believe her children ever felt poor, but she did. Worrying about having enough money to make ends meet was a constant irritant to her.
Sometimes “we girls” would sit around her table in the summer and talk about what we’d do if we had money.
“I’d travel to Europe,” my sister said.
“I’d buy that little run down house on the main street,” I said.
“I’d get me a new refrigerator with an ice maker,” Aunt Naomi said.
And then one day, Aunt Naomi became rich — at least by our standards! Rich is always relative.
At this point I had to look up the meaning of “rich” in the dictionary.
“Owning a lot of money or expensive property,” is the first definition.
By that definition, my aunt had been rich for several years because she had inherited a piece of land — not from a parent, because her daddy had lost his own inherited land in the Dirty Thirties and farmed on rented land — and not from her husband, who had already died. She received this land from a relative of her deceased husband.
Now this is a richness that is a delightful surprise, but my cautious aunt did not really feel rich because this land’s value fluctuated and required her to be responsible for it, making sure it was cared for properly.
This didn’t feel like wealth to Aunt Naomi, and it certainly didn’t mean she could get that new kitchen appliance because who knew what the taxes were going to be next year and what if the crops failed?
She was no fool, this lady, and she knew about hard times.
And then, the day came when someone offered to buy her land and she decided to sell.
Now, she was rich — by our standards at least. We cheered her on as she bought that refrigerator and said, “You’re rich!”
But she still didn’t feel rich. This lovely chunk of cash could dwindle, and how could she trust the investment bank where she’d been encouraged to deposit her wealth?
“And why does it take so long to get cash?” she wondered “when it’s my money.”
Feeling rich is a tentative thing, and the meaning changes constantly. Rich for one person can be having your bills paid. For another person, “rich” is having your health.
A friend of mine who is, in fact, a millionaire several times over, once said to me that he never feels rich.
“I’m always so aware of the debt load that’s required to do business,” he said.
I drove past that piece of ground that made my aunt rich. The wheat stood tall and golden and I wondered whether the farmer who owns it feels rich?
The thick, tall green hay had just been cut in the waterways and lay there drying to a grey-green hue on a perfectly dry 85-degree day.
I feel rich looking at the blue sky, the golden wheat, the hay in the field. What an abundant place the Kansas prairie can be!
I’m remembering Aunt Naomi, her rich life, the good kids she raised, her cherry pies, and this good land given to her so she could eventually feel rich.
It took her a while, but she made it.
“I guess I am rich” she admitted with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. (She was in her 80s.)
It’s another day in the country, and I’m wondering whether those few ripening cherries on my poor struggling cherry tree are enough to make us a rich, even if they’re just for a small cherry pie.