Last weekend was my Aunt Marl’s 80th birthday, and it was a very happy moment in the town of Lowville, NY, which sits between the cities of Utica and Watertown, if you care about these corners of upstate New York that haven’t seen much action since the Erie Canal went out of fashion. All my aunts and my mother are German, and lots of Bavarian relatives arrived for the occasion. These people are specialists in the fields of eating all day long and animated conversation at the dining table for sixteen hours straight, so it’s impossible not to have fun when they’re around.
At some point, I mentioned that I am 48 and my Aunt Marl reminded me that she was 47 when she did a very bold thing. She’d grown up in a benighted time that not only included the elevation of all the stupidest and meanest people in her village under Hitler–but also a general feeling that even an eldest child who loved farming wouldn’t inherit the farm if she happened to be a girl.
So her younger brother got the farm, and she started a heating and plumbing business with her husband and was very successful. Then in middle age, as often happens in middle age, she suddenly no longer had any patience for anything that kept her from the life she’d always wanted. She couldn’t stay where she was. Land in Germany is so expensive, there was no way to assemble a farm if you didn’t inherit one. So Marl sold everything and got ready to drag her two small children and her husband out of their home, their country, and their culture and head for Canada to become a dairy farmer.
She bought a nice farm there, but eventually figured out that she could have an even bigger operation in the freer market of New York State, which is how she wound up in Lowville.
She told me, "I was about to leave Germany when I ran into someone I went to grade school with. I told him I was going to Canada to farm, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s the kind of thing young people do, not people our age.’
"’No,’ I said, ‘I am going to Canada.’ So he said jokingly, ‘Maybe I’ll move to Canada, too.’
"’No,’ I said, ‘you’re too old. You’ve been an old man since kindergarten.’"
My God, it is important in middle age to behave as if your whole life is ahead of you. If you admit defeat just because you’re getting a little wrinkled and wurstlike in figure, you may well spend forty years in that state of defeat.
I suspect that a lot of our professional readers have a similar story–a decision at some point just to chuck it all and be outdoors, where they want to be–even though, Lord knows, there is not a lot in this culture that rewards farming, landscaping, or running a nursery. And people look at you strangely when you’re dirty.
But there really isn’t any substitute for a life spent out in the sunshine and soil, is there?