City Girl, Country Girl

Jane Sanders Illustration

For 22 years now, I have been a farmer’s wife. We grow horse hay on our 225-acre farm in rural Louisiana. I can drive a tractor. I can milk a cow. I have delivered newborn calves and shoveled manure and sold watermelons in my front yard by the highway.

As anyone can plainly see, I’m a country girl. Since I get paid to write a magazine column about our life on the farm, you might even say I’m a professional country girl.

Unfortunately, there is at least one person who isn’t buying any of that country girl business. I have known this smirking skeptic my whole life. When I try to impress her with my country girl credentials, she laughs in my face. No matter how many decades of farm life I have under my belt, she never lets me forget that I grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, where my father wouldn’t even let me operate the lawnmower for fear I might hurt myself. She is always bringing up my un-country past as a magazine journalist in Atlanta. This merciless critic never tires of telling me that I am a big, fat phony among country girls.

City Girl, as I call her, lives inside my head. City Girl – or “CG” for short – is also the cause of many of my failings as a country girl.

Take the canning thing. If I were a real country girl, CG likes to say, I would have a pantry stocked with preserved fruits and vegetables. No doubt, I should hang my head in shame that, despite all the vegetable gardens we’ve made (heck, at one time we were in the homegrown produce business), I don’t know even know how to can. A friend tried to teach me once, but CG kept complaining that this was ‘way too much work for a few cans of green beans. Especially when they are two-for-$1 at the grocery store. CG is lazy.

CG makes fun of me for claiming to be a hotshot farmwife when the only livestock we own are dogs and cats. Apparently, she forgets the 200 head of dairy cattle that roamed this land just a few short years ago. Those 200 cows had to be milked twice every blooming day of this world, fed, vaccinated, doctored and occasionally rounded-up on the highway in the middle of the night. Deep down, CG knows that, like homegrown green beans, cows are an awful lot of trouble for something that isn’t a necessity.

But that doesn’t stop her from throwing horses in my face, too. CG loves to taunt me with the fact that, when I was a little girl who read a lot of horse books, I vowed I would own a horse farm when I grew up. Yet look at me now, CG says. I’m a grown-up with a farm – a horse hay farm, of all things – and no horse. Again, I blame CG. She has been on the horse hay scene long enough to know that horses are like cows, only a lot more trouble. Plus, now that she is older and wiser, CG knows something they don’t tell you in all those romantic children’s horse books: Horses can kill you.

Same with the chickens we don’t have. As CG is so fond of saying, there is no excuse for that. A real country girl would certainly be producing her own fresh eggs right there in the yard. Her children would be learning whatever valuable life lessons you learn from chickens. And just as a bonus, she would be in style, thanks to the backyard chicken fad made popular by the Martha Stewart crowd. Yet here again, every time I consider the possibility of getting some yard birds, CG can only think of the mess, the hassle, the smell and the inconvenience. Plus, back during the bird flu epidemic, CG found out that chickens can kill you, too. That was pretty much the end of cutesy chicken idea.

CG won’t even let me enjoy dressing like a country girl. For the last couple of years, our farm has helped sponsor a local rodeo. I was looking forward to sponsoring our first rodeo, partly because it was the perfect opportunity to wear my new cowboy boots. Miss Smartypants had to go and ruin it by pointing out that real cowgirls don’t buy boots on the clearance rack at Macy’s.

CG makes it tougher on my country kids, too. She prevents them from doing certain things their friends get to do, like owning four-wheelers, because she thinks it is dangerous. She gripes at them for using popular yet improper terminology such as “he don’t” or  “hindcatcher” to refer to the baseball player who squats behind homeplate.

And CG is almost certainly the reason I am the worst 4-H mom in recorded history. Last spring, my 10-year-old came home from school with the news that he had exactly one day to complete the 4-H book he was supposed to have been working on all year. Not only was I unaware of this neglected project, I was only vaguely aware that he was 4-H member. Oh, all right, as long as I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what 4-H was. I kind of thought it had something to do with farm animals. Or maybe not. Either way, my son was one of two or three kids his class who didn’t get to go to 4-H Day, all because his mother, the professional country girl, completely failed to fulfill her duties. I could lose my country girl card over that, and I know CG will never let me live it down.

It’s not always easy to be a country girl with a city girl living inside her. Still, I know things could be much, much worse.

I could be canning.