73 year-old Laura Stratten Friel talks with her husband Don Freil about the harsh realities of growing up on a farm and living off the land.
Laura: All my life I've had to live...been forced to live in two worlds at the same time. Sometimes its added a great deal to my life and also its frustrating. When I was a young person I was confronted early with the harsh realities of life. That was my upbringing. I drank milk from the cows that I actually milked. I ate meat from the chickens and cows and sheep and deer and pigs that I actually helped to kill. I knew what a toothache was when my parents couldn't afford a dentist. I work like a man in the fields and yet I'm a small woman. I saw my family suffer after a baby's death. I ate vegetables from our own garden. And if I wanted fruit I just climbed up into the cherry tree or the peach tree or the apple tree and eat the fruit while I was playing in the tree.
Then on the other hand from the time I was very young I was born as a dreamer. I actually used to hang all the clothes for my mom. We had seven children. And while I was out hanging the clothes I used to hide behind the clothes so I could talk to myself and make up stories. So, I didn't mind hanging out the clothes.
And on being so connected to the earth and reality my work life involved something that was very different from reality. I majored in English and the English language in philosophy and imaginary places and talking heads is how I saw myself. I taught English for 15 years and I published a novel and short stories and a feature article. I write about my life. All day, everyday, words, ideas, paragraph, stories, memories float inside my head. And yet, I have to vacuum. That's the thing I hate the most is the housework. And yet I have to use my physical body and I'm tied to doing that.
We've raised three sons together and I've spent a major part of my life being the chief cook and the bottle-washer of the family. I garden and I fish and I hunt. I've written a novel, and a feature article and I do children stories for our grandchildren for Christmas. So, I live in that make-believe world. And yet, I want to be grounded in the earth. You know, I don't want to live this esoteric life. How I find refuge from the artificial world of technology that we have now and of all the things we have now..the media, the religion, the philosophy that I have read...some of the greatest authors. And I'm trying to think that I don't want to be influenced by all that because in my life I want it to come from me and yet I know that I am all a part of the culture that I've been raised in. And so how I ground myself is I think about raising the garden. And I think that more than anything else I realize how close we are to plants and how close we are to the earth. Because what is true in the garden is true for me. And Emily Dickenson has written a poem that I think just captures what I want to say there. It goes like this:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight,
The truth's superb surprise,
As lightning to the children eased,
With explanation kind,
The truth dazzle gradually,
Or every man be blind.