Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When Times Change

Every summer of my childhood was in part a journey north from Florida to Ohio. Those long road trips in a white Chevy Nova with dark blue interior and the windows down, lulled me to sleep. Some years my dad drove straight through (eighteen hours) and some years we slept along the road- Dad stretched out on the front seat, Mom on the back seat, and me on the hood in a rest area (it was the 70s). Now they break up the drive with a hotel. All those miles in the car reading the same comic books (Archie, Casper, Richie Rich), listening to AM radio when it would come in, and all that heat and wind whipping past, put my brain into auto-drift. I spaced out for hours on end. Sometimes I sat up front with my dad to "navigate" while my mom napped in the back or read a book. Dad and I would track the signs for how many miles to the next town or try to spell town names, but mostly we sat in a companionable silence and watched the land roll by.

Eventually we arrived at the cool greeness of Ohio. Summer nights, we slept with the windows open and blankets on. We stayed at my grandparents' house which was across the street from the family farm. I only went over to the farm a few times in my memory, but I loved my dad's stories of working on the farm and of his grandpa who ran the farm in my dad's youth. The farm was one of the largest dairy farms back in the day. When I asked my dad as to the whys and hows of this particular event he laughed and said, "It was because my grandpa was lazy so he mechanized early. He was one of the first dairy farmers to use machines to milk the cows." I filed that away hoping that one day my own laziness might serve me so well.

Late summer is when the corn ripens and is ready for harvest; corn fields stretched as far as the eye could see- some were for animal feed and some were for market. Summer meals were based on corn and tomatoes. Back in Florida there were wild dewberries, but in Ohio we ate all kinds of fresh vegetables. Summers in Ohio was the smell of cut grass and eating fresh shucked corn and ripe tomatoes. There was also a lot of pie. I discovered bacon there too- my grandma fried bacon every morning and then fried eggs with lots of black pepper on them in the grease. I usually had cold cereal and cinnamon toast for breakfast with pancakes on Saturdays. Going from cold cereal to bacon and eggs was marvelous. My grandma even had juice glasses.

My dad grew up working on the farm both for his grandpa and his uncle, but decided to go into the Navy after high school. I always loved his farm stories and once asked him why he didn't become a farmer. His answer was something along the lines of, "Farming is a lot of work. It never ends." Instead he worked on jet engines and kept the planes going all the time- another never ending job. He worked on the farm from about the age of eleven- it was how he bought his car in high school. During our summer holidays, in the early years, he would sometimes help out by bailing hay. He was always mowing or tinkering in the garage. Gardens and farming interested me- that miracle of production. I often read stories about farmers.

When I worked out west as a cardiology nurse, an older patient who was enduring my nursing lecture about improving his diet, told me this story. "Back when I was a kid we had a prized Jersey cow. She was a prize because of how much butterfat was in her milk. Back then you wanted fat in your milk. Nowadays, all this fat free stuff has no flavor! We're talking 5.8%. Now that was something!" It prompted me to ask my dad about drinking real milk with fat in it. For reference I should add that I grew up drinking skim milk sometimes with ice at about every meal so it never occurred to me that milk should taste any different. I asked my dad if he remembered drinking full fat cow's milk. He told me, "I remember the day we switched." "You switched what?" not following. He said, "We used to get local milk delivered and then it stopped. We had to go to the store and buy milk after that." I asked him about the taste. He said, "There was no comparison. The store milk had no flavor." "Then why did everyone do it?" I pondered. "It was just what was," he replied. This was the seed of the thought that the stride toward modernity can blind us from the better way. I understood my patient's frustration with how the times had changed.