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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The farmer's husband -- part one

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Catch the title?

Yeah, that's me, the farmer's husband.

For you see, I've suddenly changed roles. Since my own retirement, a few years ago, I'm no longer the immaculately bathed and nattily dressed professor with a great vat of expertise in writing and understanding of American literature that I'm aching to impart, in amounts ranging from thimblefuls to washtubsful, to my students. No more "Dr. Nash" or "Sir." If you call me by any of those appellations, I'll probably turn my head to look for such a creature standing behind me. No, as of several years ago, I'm just plain "Chuck," "Hey, you," or "Farmer's Husband."

You see, the first twenty-something years we were down here in Nevada, wife Ginny and I recently figured, were my time, you might say. I'd been the ABD (almost doc), after all, that Cottey College, in its infinite wisdom, had hired to teach English down here in Nevada. And all during that time -- until the moment the CCPA entrusted the making of all their costumes to her, granting her a maximum of 25 cents per costume (including those lovely, highly intricate dresses that would've made Queen Elizabeth feel underdressed); until, somewhat later, Curtis Real Estate had the good sense to hire her, she thereby being in a position to sell Nevada's Carnegie Library twice -- she always had to play second-fiddle to me, most graciously, I might add -- for the most part.

She accompanied me when I wanted to take some of the Phi Theta Kappa (scholastic honorary) kids to a Springfield convention; she agreed to host and prepare dinner at our house for a whole suite of Cottey students who'd outbid others in a raffle to fund some worthwhile college project.

And, finally, she even got out of her muddy jeans, in which she'd been trying to plant a tree at Nevada Manor Nursing Home that she'd been given by Cottey College, after a notable downpour in an immensely rainy season had weakened its roots' grasp of the circumambient (There! I've always wanted to use that word.) soil, and into a dress to accompany me, the faculty sponsor, to the Sunday formal Scholarship dinner, there to sit at the head table and make small talk with administrators.

That last really cost me. "Boy, do you owe me big time!" she always hissed discreetly into my ear as we walked together out of Rainey dining room and into the gathering dusk, around 5 p.m., having sacrificed five hours of sunlight, that she wanted to use doing something besides chat and smile and munch finger-food. There was one of those dinners each semester, and I sponsored PTK for somewhat more than a decade.

Boy, did I owe her a heap by the time I retired a few years ago! You can imagine how I suffered over the escalating debt I was incurring, a little like the North Koreans when they learned Douglas MacArthur was finally heading their way with a lot of U.S. soldiers, in the mid-1950s.

Well, I thought I was getting off easy when she told me, a couple of years ago, that she'd really love to drive west and then, once in California, drive up and down the coast, spending a lot of time in Steinbeck country, where he'd spent his most formative years; but especially at the large and fascinating aquarium there, which we'd visited briefly and tantalizingly on our first trip to California, a few years earlier; and in Oregon, where the two of us had driven down to Corvallis, a college town, and visited my former colleague and dear friend Marjorie Goss, and where we'd been enchanted by the scenery along the state's coastline.

This sounded to me like a slow, relaxed, even lackadaisical journey that we both could enjoy and profit from.

But when the time came for us to depart, the price of gasoline suddenly leapt up into the stratosphere, and we decided that if we wanted, at our death, to bequeath daughter Jessica anything material beside all our many thousands of books, we'd better cool it on the excursion.

"Maybe we could use the money we planned to spend on our California trip, to sort of start up a little nursery out on our 10-acre farm, you know, the one with the 1865 stone house and the two underground wine caves," Ginny said one morning -- sort of off the top of her head, I thought.

Yes, that sounded like a Ginny-project, all right. She's never been the kind of gal who can enjoy a purely passive vacation -- you know, the kind where the vacationer has first to work like a dog to earn enough dough to buy a ticket that will entitle her to lounge in a deckchair on a ship deck and be brought breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and countless soft drinks in the intervals, without having to move a finger, by a slavishly kow-towing "server," who's probably earning $1. 45 an hour.

No, Ginny's an innate small-d democrat, always has been. Her natural inclination in a case like that would be to pop up from her deckchair, grab the foods and soft drinks from the woman, set her down in her own comfortable easy chair, and proceed to pamper the gal, gratis, for the rest of the trip. The only way to avoid this kind of socially embarrassing, faintly Puritanical mix-up is, she finds, to get lost in a kind of perpetual motion. Besides, and this is the crucial point, my wife is much like a shark: she'll perish if she stops for any extended length of time. She even reads and does crossword puzzles on the run.

So, by starting a nursery Ginny would bring pleasure to any number of lucky customers for bargain-basement prices; get a nice summer tan by spending untold hours in the sun-drenched precincts of our nearby 10-acre spread; make sure her retired college-teacher husband did more during the day than read and grow comatose in front of Charlie Rose on PBS-TV. Most important, she'd be able to sustain the kind of motion that'll keep her moving until age 105.