The essay below is a part of our Love Letters to Rural America project. Participate with your own love letter by submitting it here or tweeting at @cfra with #LoveRural in your message. In this essay Erin Schoenberg explains how a simple comment came to stick in her head and make her reflect on what "rural" means.
My sweet former neighbors and landlords must have be feeling festive, or feisty at least. They called out to me, "Hey, Erin! You're looking pretty rural!" I was crossing the yard, headed home from a veggie delivery run, but turned back with the “What?!” response you'd expect. I mean, who says that? And what does it even mean?! Does everyone think I look rural? Is that my look, RURAL?! Jose was smiling and so glad to see me. What could I do but laugh, give him a big hug, and drink wine with Peggy on the front step.
But for some reason, that “rural” comment stuck with me all winter. I'd be putting on my chore boots, layering up with my insulated “ranch wife” coat. Head outside and think to myself, “lookin' pretty rural.” Come back in, add wood to the stove, watch the sunrise color my morning, and think “Pretty rural. Ooh, pretty sunrise, but pretty freakin' rural.”
My husband and I would finish a beef delivery and stop at the local tavern on our gravel drive home. Glance up at the crystal clear stars, pass the bulletin board with notices like “Farm Auction” and “Custom Harvesting.” Unstrap our coveralls, place our work gloves on a nearby stool, and you know I'd be thinking it: “Geez, Erin, you're lookin' pretty rural tonight.” I'd realize the dairy farm aroma was coming from me, “smelling pretty rural.” The bartenders know our regular drinks, which has always surprised me a bit, just because damn we all look alike in this bar, changing our rural uniforms with the seasons, but always making the change together. This time of year, lots of canvas bulk. It probably makes the job easier that what we drink doesn't change along with the seasons and our clothes.
What is "rural" takes so many forms. I've got an account —two actually— at the small-town lumberyard. My truck has revolving loads to haul: germination mix, compost, rebar, live chickens, rolls of drip tape, straw bales, farm pups, plants, coolers loaded with veg....back to seed-starting mix soon! That truck's rural as hell. My neighbors are too. One rode up to my house on her horse this past summer, and another neighbor —“I'm 82 years old. My name is George”— gave me a standing offer to bring his tractor and blade over to scoop us out, anytime this winter. I had just shaken his hand for the first time, and here he was, telling me to call him in a pinch! George gladly accepted the bunch of beets I offered as a hello and thanks. “I'm the only one who eats 'em,” he told me. Must not have heard about the burgeoning local food movement—or is that a city thing?
I don't know why I've let myself spend so much time weighing that one comment. I heard, “Hey, Erin! You in the rubber boots! You in the jeans with both knees torn out! You with the sticky tomato seeds dotting her shoulder; with dirt under her nails on her big calloused man hands; the one headed home to get some more work done; smelling of sunscreen and sweat. You. Yeah, you! You're looking pretty rural!” It makes me giggle. I'm SO RURAL. Beyond rural. While I've gotten a kick out of teasing myself and rating each day's outfit and aroma based on a 1 to 10 rural range (I'm always 7+), truly I relish every second of the rural.
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