It was mid August and it was hot and dry.
I was expecting some friends to come stay for the weekend with me and the girls on our little farm. I so badly needed the company of good friends; the companionship and laughter I knew they’d bring with them was exactly what my soul needed. I was so excited I could hardly wait!
As I bustled around the house tidying up, my mind was building a grocery list for a trip to town later that afternoon. I knew exactly what I needed for my special friends—farm fresh organic eggs from the farm about ten kilometers from mine. The elderly lady who lived there raised healthy chickens and she always enjoyed showing the girls how to collect the eggs from the coop.
“Come on girls! Let’s go to Martha’s farm to get eggs before we go into town for groceries. Maybe we will even stop for ice cream,” I called out.
“Yay!” came the excited squeals as first one little brunette head appeared in the kitchen, followed closely by a strawberry blonde on chubby three-year-old legs. As they rushed past me into the mudroom to get their flip flops on, I could tell by their faces that this was going to be a special outing.
I expected farm eggs, but I wasn’t expecting the life lesson that was about to come my way.
I buckled one little peanut into her car seat, the other into her booster seat, waved goodbye to our faithful golden retriever, and turned the truck onto the red dirt road.
In no time at all, I parked the truck in front of a little white farm house. I helped the girls out of their seats and we headed toward the backyard where I was fairly certain we would find Martha digging in her beautiful vegetable garden.
When we spotted her, I waved hello and called out, “I hope you don’t mind that we just stopped by? I was hoping you had some eggs we could buy.”
Martha stood up, stretched her back and took off her straw hat to wipe her brown. “You haven’t been around for a while now, have you honey?”
“No, I haven’t. Things have been—busy,” I said lamely as my mind flashed back to the difficulties I’d been trying to overcome in the past few months. I was dealing with aftermath of my husband leaving and taking my business and all the cash with him.
“Well then you probably haven’t heard that I’ve sold the farm to an oil and gas company. I’ve given away the donkeys and ducks, sold the horses and sent the pigs to slaughter. I only have a couple of chickens left because in three days, Mikey and I will be heading to our new condo on Vancouver Island,” she said, pointing at the old farm dog lying in the shade under a big crabapple tree.
I couldn’t believe it. Martha wouldn’t leave her farm to live in a condo! Bewildered, I looked around and finally started to notice what I hadn’t before; the donkeys weren’t at the fence to greet us when we drove in, the ducks and chickens were conspicuously missing from the farmyard and there wasn’t any hay stacked in the open barn in preparation for winter.
Not a lot of farm people leave their properties to live in a condo. Once you’ve tasted that type of freedom and peace, it’s hard to live a more confined existence.
She must have sensed my confusion because she shook her head sadly and said, “I’ve been trying to run this farm on my own for ten years and it’s just too hard for a single woman. The place is starting to fall down around my ears. I thought it best to take an offer while the farm still had some value. Besides, I’ve about had enough of these long northern winters.”
“Falling down around your ears?” my gaze swept around the farm is surprise. “Martha, your farm is neat as a pin. I’ve only been on my own for about ten months and I feel like my farm looks like it’s been neglected for a decade!”
“So you’re on your own now honey? Oh dear, I don’t envy you the struggle that’s ahead,” she said with empathy, as she patted my arm.
“My girls have lost so much. I am trying with all my might to hold onto the farm for their sake but it’s so hard!” my voice started to crack and my eyes filled with tears. I looked quickly down at the ground so she wouldn’t see my weakness. This lady might be sweet, but she was as tough as nails and I didn’t want to her to think that I was a soft city girl and lose respect for me.
She looked at me with kind, knowing eyes and said, “You’d better come in the house and have some homemade lemonade and cookies and tell me your story.”
Hearing the word cookies, the girls eagerly followed her into the house, chattering her ear off about what kind of cookies she’d made while I trailed reluctantly behind. How was I going to tell her my story without sounding like moron? How would I tell her that I went from earning a million dollars a year to signing it all over to an abusive narcissist even though my gut told me that he would screw me? What if she thinks I am a terrible mother because I can barely provide for my children and I had to ride a bike 80 kilometers round trip to town to get groceries for the first while because he took all the vehicles?
Sensing my hesitation, Martha stopped at the top of the porch stairs and turned around, “Come on honey, we all have stories and lemonade makes them easier to swallow.”
I slowly followed her into the house, full of shame and hating myself for the story I was about to tell her. To this day, I am amazed how she kindly and skillfully managed to get the entire sordid tale out of me. I sat at her old worn kitchen table for probably two hours while she lanced every nasty boil that rose up out of my aching heart and let the poison drain away.
To say that it was cathartic was an understatement. No one had been able to do what this winkled, grey haired, tough-as-nails farmer had done for me, not even my mother, my sister, or my best friends.
Eventually she stood up and with a hand on my shoulder said, “Why don’t we go get some vegetables from the garden for you and the girls. They are just going to rot in the ground after I leave.” We both knew it wasn’t about letting vegetables go to waste; she now knew the depth of my financial struggle and she was offering to help. I appreciated her attempt to tread softly on my already very damaged pride.
I put my hand on top of the wrinkled one on my shoulder. On top of everything else, I had just lost my beloved grandmother; a woman I had adored and looked up to for her sage pieces of wisdom and never ending love. I would have given anything to cry on her shoulder those few months past. I closed my eyes and for a moment and I swear I felt grandma’s gentle, soothing presence. The tears were so hard to hold back but I was stubborn and I won the battle.
I followed Martha to the garden while the girls eagerly ran to the chicken coop to collect eggs. Every time we filled a basket to overflowing, she would say, “You should take some of this or that. The girls would like it.” Eventually the girls wandered back with their baskets of fresh eggs and began to stuff their little faces with vine ripened cherry tomatoes and snap peas. They ate until their little bellies stuck out while I dug vegetables out of the fragrant soil, the smells filling my senses and the sun warming my soul.
After all of our treasure was safely stowed away in the in truck, I turned to Martha, totally humbled.
“I wish I could do something more to help you love,” her soft blue eyes were full of concern.
I took her soft, wrinkled hand in both of mine, “Sometimes a glass of lemonade makes all the difference in the world. Thank you so much for your kindness.”
My eyes welled with tears and though I fought hard, I could not stop them from falling down my cheeks. I wiped them feeling embarrassed by my show of weakness. I was usually able to keep my emotions under tight control and I would never cry in front of someone I hardly knew.
This sweet little lady wrapped me in a gentle hug and whispered kindly, “It’s ok to cry honey. You can’t always be strong. Sometimes you just have to let it out. Don’t you know that tears can wash away the anger we have for ourselves if you let them?”
And there was my life lesson. I came for organic eggs and I came away with a few lessons that were more valuable than all the money that I had lost.
Of their own volition, the flood gates opened in a cathartic release of fears and stress.
First, I learned that I didn’t need to atone for my stupid mistakes by trying to prove to the world that I was strong and capable. No one was there to pat my back at 2 a.m. when I had to trudge outside in the snow and lift three foot-long logs into the heater so that my children would stay warm. No one gave me a high five or “attagirl” when I learned to fix fences or cut out a piece of leaking water line in garage and bypassed it. All this while I had thought that I was proving to the other farmers that I deserved to be there when in fact, I was proving it to myself. I was so busy beating myself up for my mistakes that I had lost my self confidence and doubted my renowned capability.
The only person’s opinion of me that mattered was my own.
I also learned that forgiving myself was much harder than forgiving my shit of an ex-husband for all of the nasty things he did to us. When I would talk about my mistakes, I was able to take ownership of them like a grown-up who admits her imperfections. However, when I was faced with having to look at those mistakes with the love and forgiveness that Martha had showed me, I realized that was a much harder task.
To this day, it is still a personal growth goal of mine to be able look at all of my mistakes with love and forgiveness. I am willing to bet that there are a few people reading this article who are suddenly realizing just how hard that can be. It sounds easy until you really think about seeing that mistake from the outside and feeling love for it.
Lastly, I learned that kindness costs us nothing but it can be invaluable to the person who receives it. In my recent article, “How Women Ruin Good Men,” some people questioned whether or not my friend just used me for his own pleasure. My response was that over the course of our friendship, he had never given me a reason to believe that he didn’t deserve my kindness in that moment.
I have never forgotten Martha’s kindness, and I try to pay it forward when I can because it’s free and you never know how it may touch another person.
I’ve never looked at organic eggs the same way again!
Author: Jennifer Lemky
Editor: Lieselle Davidson