Saturday, October 29, 2011

Becoming Part of the Collective

I grew up a city girl. Right in Des Moines, Iowa. South side. Lincoln High School, 1986. Imagine my surprise when I started dating Rob, a country boy, through and through. He only lived 20 miles from my house in Des Moines, but parts of the culture were thousands of miles away. 

I have to say that the biggest adjustment was the "one finger wave." You know the wave, when you're driving down a country road and someone passes you and they lift one finger off of the steering wheel and wave it at you, like some sort of secret farmer greeting? Well when someone would wave at Rob and me as we were driving near his house and Rob would wave back, I'd ask, "who was that?" To which his response, 95% of the time, was "I don't know. A neighbor." So being the suspicious city girl I was, I'd ask, "If you don't know who it is for sure, why are you waving at them? Don't they teach you in the country that you're not supposed to talk to strangers?"

Usually he would laugh at me and not answer, but apparently one day he had enough of my questioning, and he said, "Geez, Barb! He was just being friendly! Just waving! It's just ONE finger! That's all! Why do you have a problem with that?" 

To which I answered as honestly as any true south side girl would answer; "Because, Rob! I grew up on the south side of Des Moines and THIS (showing my index finger) isn't the finger we waved at people when we were driving!"

Oh, yeah. Giving the finger. Flipping the bird. South side salute. Flipping someone off. Iowa State Bird. 

Rob found the humor it it, and I realized that I should stop asking him who these "friendly" strangers were. We reached an unspoken agreement. That was the first phase of my journey into becoming part of the collective. 

That was in 1989 and it wasn't until 1995 that we moved to rural Altoona, just a quarter mile east of where Rob grew up. It's still mostly the same neighbors who wave one finger. The ones who don't are usually the ones who thought it would be "fun" to live in the country, but were then surprised when large farm implements would occasionally knock over your mailbox and sometimes you would wake up to wayward livestock in your yard eating your beautifully manicured grass. They are the ones who almost run off of the road when they see a little girl walking her calf down the path from her grandpa's house to her house, getting the calf used to walking on a halter. The ones who only stop ONCE to talk to you when they see you returning home after a day of working in the hog barn. The ones who need to move back to town.

I've slowly adjusted to country living after living in town for over 25 years. If I have to stay overnight at my parents' house for some reason, I am up all night wondering what all those noises are. I took to country living much easier than Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor on Green Acres), but I'd like to think I'm not as countrified as Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. (okay, maybe sometimes I am.)

I still lock the doors when I'm home alone, and I make sure the doors are all locked at night. I mean seriously, didn't you read "In Cold Blood?" That all took place in the country, on a farm! On the other hand, I get the mail in my pajamas, sit on the patio and have coffee in my robe, and mow the yard in my bikini top; all things I would NEVER do in town. Not even when I looked good when I DID live in town. 

I've learned to drive the tractor, I've mucked out pig pens, I've helped build fence. I've ear-tagged cattle and pigs, helped give shots and clip needle teeth on piglets, and I've handed piglets and the scalpel to Rob when he's castrated the boars. (as piglets, of course) 

Our girls have done all of these things, too. They have grown up doing these things, they don't know any different. But we also dress up and go to the Civic Center for a show, we've dined out at 801 Grand, we've rubbed elbows at the governor's inaugural ball, and we've even shopped at fancier stores than Target or Wal-Mart. I DO know how to act in public, it's just that most times, I choose not to.

So I guess if you asked me today if I was a city girl or a country girl I'd tell you I was a country girl. So far I haven't live in the country as long as I lived in town, but slowly I've become a farmer's wife and prefer living here to the hub-bub of the city. I've got a long way to go before I am truly a farm girl or a country girl, but slowly I am becoming a part of the collective.

I've even been known to raise my index finger while driving to greet a passing motorist or neighbor. But sometimes, depending on the neighbor and depending on how slowly they were driving their farm implement in front of me, as soon as they can't see me, I switch back and wave another finger in their direction. Some habits die hard.

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