Kyle Ingrid Johnson

It’s Time to Go

Porteira (Farm Gate) by Antônio Parreiras

There is a farm for sale in Vermont. In our family since 1939, its history goes back to the Revolutionary War. It’s been on the market four years with multiple price drops as no one knows what to do with a farm these days, particularly one with two houses, five barns, and acreage. In search of HGTV equivalents, potential buyers scorn this elderly relic.

I started life on the farm being breast fed. Evidently, I bit my mother badly one day and she gave up. Next, I had raw milk; my father brought it up from the barn. When I was older, I was given a cow.

My sisters were born, twins and premature. Swedish grandfather and Scottish grandmother, also living on the farm, set up an entire pasteurizing operation on their porch. I stood and watched as they took turns cranking the handle of the separator that sent cream down one chute and milk down the other.

Soon my father was too busy to milk twice a day; his new interest was in beef cattle. My mother and I went to the farm down the road with our galvanized tin and bought milk from our neighbors. I remember we paid with a coin.

Suddenly we were eating a lot of beef: roast beef, pot roast, beef stew, steak, hamburgers, ground beef in spaghetti or casserole, shredded beef in Shepard’s Pie, and leftover beef of any kind in a sandwich with mustard or mayo.

Sometimes I just wanted to eat something different. Next door at my grandparents’ house, my Swedish grandfather would hand me hardtack, a dry rye cracker. We’d eat cheese. At the kitchen table I would read out loud from a Swedish schoolbook. One of the first words I learned was mat. Food. Bra mat. Good food.

As our English grandfather was no longer living, our Irish grandmother came to sleep in our dining room. She was the only Catholic in the family and prayed to Saint Anthony each year when we went looking for dandelion greens. We had to pray because Irish grandmother couldn’t remember from year to year where the best dandelions grew. We always found them, though, and the best part was that after Nana cooked them up, my mother didn’t make me eat them

We ran all over the farm, in and out of barns, up and down hills. We picked wild strawberries in June for our mother’s homemade whipped-cream frosting. But mostly, we ran back and forth between the two houses. My sisters and I didn’t think about our Scottish grandmother getting tired. Who got tired?  Why would anyone get tired of us? But she did, and when she wanted us to leave, she had a ritual.

Scottish grandmother would get out paper napkins. In the middle of each, she would drop whatever she had that was small and sweet: a couple of green grapes, a mint, a piece of licorice. She’d pull each napkin around the treats so they nested in a perfect white basket. The top would get knotted off, and she would hand one to each of us. “Here’s your LuLu,” she’d say. We knew it meant time to go, back across the driveway to our own house.  I don’t remember who named them LuLus. We just knew what they meant.

Today, our realtor in Vermont calls. “I have an offer!”

It takes me by surprise. For four years the farm has been in a deep slumber, awakening only in my memories. While my memories are vivid, the farm has become gray.

The offer is low. I call my sisters. Although the farm has been shown to many prospective buyers over the years, this is our first offer. We decide to take it; we’re weary of responsibility. I contact the broker and tell him our decision as I walk into my city kitchen, reach for a square paper napkin and try to remember how to make a LuLu. This is for real, I think. It’s time to go.


About the writer:
Kyle Ingrid Johnson holds a degree from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Goddard. She won First Place in the Taboos & Transgressions anthology published by Madville, an Honorable Mention in the Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction contest by Cutthroat and has another award-winning essay forthcoming in Madville’s Being Home anthology. Kyle Ingrid has also published in the Harvard Bookstore’s travel anthology Around The World and in other online and print literary journals. She lives in Boston, MA.

Image: Porteira (Farm Gate) by Antônio Parreiras (1860-1937). Oil on canvas. 34.5 x 45.1 inches. 1933. Public domain.





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