- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
One day, at the farm, God spoke to me (which, to tell you the truth, I half-expected). He said, "Okay, I am getting a headache from all these prayers coming at me for me to take care of people. People, people, people. What about animals? Somebody down there has to take charge of praying for the animals." So He anointed me. It wasn't a big deal. It wasn't like He promised that I'd one day show up on a stained glass window or anything. It was more like, "Hey, could you do this for me? Could you pray for the animals?" And I said, "Sure." So I began looking out for the welfare of turtles. I became an activist for chipmunks. I had meetings with many neighborhood cats on a bill of rights I was drawing up on behalf of the sparrows. Eventually, I became a crusader for the eternal life of all animals. I would bless myself, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, every time I saw a dead animal on the road. This act would send the animal to heaven. This was my job. I took pride in my job.
As I got older, I never quite abandoned my animal friends, but by the time I reached junior high school I was done being shy. I turned into a loud mouth. I won the award for Wittiest and Peppiest in the Eighth Grade. I had discovered, rather late, that there was more to being a person than just having an inner life. And the outer life was a blast. I was having so much fun in the outer life that I stopped doing homework and played hooky and took up bowling and smoking and almost flunked out of school. My mother yanked me out of that school, dressed me in a uniform, and whisked me away for ninth grade to a private all-girls school. My siblings had all gone to private schools. I was my mother's public school experiment, which she saw as a failure.
I didn't see it that way. Leaving public school was the worst tragedy of my entire life.
I turned shy again. I couldn't quite figure out how to have both an inner and an outer life at the same time. The inner life was safe. The inner life, which I had come to equate with the farm, the animals. The farm, the animals, they brought me toward God. Toward prayer. Toward an urge to step back, really far back, and try to understand what was going on in the giant universe. It was strange how the inward would catapult you upward. I turned inward and inward and inward. By the time I got to college I felt like the only place I really belonged was in my own head. I discovered writing. Thank God for writing. It was a way of getting all the inward stuff out. It was like installing a ventilation system, a link of fans blowing through duct work, releasing emotion and thought to the wind.
Right after graduation, all my college friends got married, settled quickly. They had clear paths set out for them. They were turning into accountants and middle managers, and soon they all got Subarus.
I had no clear path set out for me. There was no set path toward becoming a writer. I moved to Pittsburgh to go to graduate school because I didn't know how else to become a writer.
Pittsburgh opened my eyes. In Pittsburgh I understood how someone could actually be a city-person. I loved the neighborhoods, each one its own minisociety tucked in the fold of a hill. I loved the huge sycamore trees. I loved all that energy, which wasn't the same as the collision of energy in the East Coast cities. In Pittsburgh there was collaboration, participation, a weird but contagious spirit of civic pride. I loved the way drivers wouldn't cut you off when you were trying to merge. In Pittsburgh, they waved you in.
I took to exploring the city neighborhoods on my bike. One day I crossed the bridge into South Side, and I was hooked. That neighborhood captured me. I loved the abandoned steel mills, huge hunks of orange and brown, bent this way and that, stretched across the sky. I loved the hilly, cobblestone streets. Some of the streets were so steep, they weren't streets at all, but stairs with street signs. I loved the flower gardens in patches of dirt surrounded by little plastic picket fences. Tiny flower gardens adorned with aqua blue Virgin Mary statues and yellow and purple pinwheels. I loved the red brick houses that leaned into each other, held each other up. I loved the utter absence of straight lines. I loved the way everything was so old and hobbled and slumped.
Soon South Side became my every-Sunday destination. I would go to the Lithuanian church there and sit in the wooden pews darkened by generations of prayer, of hope, of thanksgiving, and I would bask in the whispers of my ancestors. One day I rode my bike down Eleventh Street and there it was: 136 South Eleventh Street. A house for sale. It was like a lot of them: It needed help. Paint, new windows, pointing, chimney repair; it needed a lot of help. I loved it instantly and without reservation. "This is where I belong," I thought, and soon I was a home owner. Soon I was an urban dweller. I had a newsstand four blocks from my front door, a corner market, a dry cleaner, and shoe-repair place within skipping distance. I felt as though I had entered a storybook, and I half-expected to bump into Gepetto walking Pinocchio to school.
I was twenty-six years old. My house became my coming-of-age house: I renovated it, and it renovated me. I tore down walls, opened up rooms, added windows and skylights, spent three months chipping plaster, inch by inch, reclaiming a wobbly brick fireplace. In this house I learned how to handle a hammer, a socket wrench, a leaky faucet, a frozen downspout, a trowel, and many, many bags of tulip bulbs. In this house I acquired a community of friends who came to represent family: Beth up the street, B.K. and Kit over the hill, Nancy and Lynn and Sally across the river, and the rest of the so-called "babes," a group of single women who encourage one another's dreams.
It was while living in this house that I discovered my love of gardening. In that most wonderful garden. By the standards of the neighborhood, my yard was large: an L-shaped piece of land, about a quarter acre, going alongside of and behind the house, separating me from the Conrail tracks. Freight trains would come moseying by a few times a day. I came to depend on the clatter, and I liked waving to the engineers when I was out there pulling weeds. This was an urban garden, a little oasis, a miniparadise surrounded by the noise and smells and warmth of the city.
It was while living in this house that I became a writer. I wrote essays for The Washington Post Magazine, traveled the world and wrote about the collapse of the Soviet Union for Life magazine, and for GQ I traipsed around after a cult of very happy people who believed they would live forever. I wrote about rock stars and preachers and old ladies I met, as well as plenty of characters I stumbled across in my own head.
But the writing life, it turned out, was difficult. It wasn't like you could sit down and flip a switch and crank on the ventilation system. Sometimes it didn't work, and sometimes you couldn't even find the switch. The truth about writing was, writing made you nuts. It made you adopt weird napping habits. It made you overly sensitive to smell, touch, sound. It made you eat nothing but popcorn for thirty straight days, and then nothing but carrots, and then nothing but Pop-tarts. It made you not belong anywhere. And there were all those old college friends trading in their Subarus for even better Subarus, and they got condos and then one of them had a baby, so then they all did. Then they traded in their Subarus for minivans and started driving through the Taco Bell Drive-Thru. And South Side didn't even have a Taco Bell. I was way, way, way off track. Married? Kids? Minivan? Hell, I didn't even have a boyfriend. And, as anyone knew, first you had to get a boyfriend to get the ball rolling. But really, the only men worth any time at all, I found, were men you met in foreign countries and brought home to show your friends. I brought home a man from Israel, a man from Switzerland, a man from Russia. Funny how these men revealed their tragic flaws only when on American soil. These were relationships that could exist only when I was in another place, another time zone, another planet.
I was terrified of love. Love was so chaotic. Love was freedom and passion and Wittiest and Peppiest in the Eighth Grade. Freedom and passion meant you flunked. Freedom and passion called for intervention. Freedom and passion meant you should wear a uniform. You should stop having freedom and passion and start having a structured environment. Well, you had a choice. You could have an intellectual and spiritual life. Or you could have love.
You couldn't have both. You couldn't have inward and outward. It was impossible. Inward was order and outward was chaos. How could you have both?
I chose order. Of course I did. We always choose the familiar path first.
And so this is how I ended up, at thirty-seven years old, at 136 South Eleventh Street, the last house on the right. I spent my days writing stories and magazine articles. I had a garden, a cat, a dog, a good life.
And I had a farm dream, a song I couldn't get out of my head.
Posted November 27, 2001
I thought about my hometown, my upbringing, my childhood,my life and had an exact picture of what this farm was like. Such a true description of life I found it hard to believe. I laughed, I wept, with the book. It made me want to return again to my hometown.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2001
Ever since I accidentally discovered Jeanne Marie Laskas' 'Significant Others' column in the Washington Post Magazine a few years ago, I've been hooked on her charming vignettes and great descriptions of the funny, little things in life. So of course, I was excited when I heard she had a book coming out, and I wasn't disappointed when I finally read her account of farm life in transition. Laskas writes with poignancy and fun, never ceasing to point out (in hilarious ways) the lessons learned while pursuing an unlikely dream.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2001
I found 'Fifty Acres and a Poodle' absolutely delightful! Like Laskas, I, too, am making the transition from city dwelling to farm and country life. And like her, I am also a writer who deals with rural electronic and FedEx connections to the rest of the world in between barn repair, drop in neighbors, and taking care of the animals. She has the ability to describe the trials and joys of how the two-dimensional dream of the simple country life becomes 3-D reality with humor and sensitivity. It's been awhile since I found myself laughing out loud while reading a book! Anyone who's lived this metamorphosis -- or who's considering it -- will find dozens of characters and events hitting very close to home.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.